When it comes to appetizers on Thanksgiving, I hold back. I admit it. I’ve planned. I’ve shopped. I’ve prepped for days, and started cooking in the dark the morning of. If you think I’m going to let my guests walk in and fill up on hunks of cheese and crostini’s or dips, chips and deviled eggs, you are at the wrong house. I want my guests to belly up to my holiday table with a little concavity to that belly. I basically want them starving and salivating and giving thanks for the bounty before them when they finally sit down. Who wants guests taking child-size portions and pushing their plates away after six minutes, looking for the couch? After all that kitchen TLC you put in don’t you want everyone to remain at the table for a while, lingering over food, talk, wine, taking second helpings…making weird noises of savory delight and satisfaction? As it is, it always seems like dinner is over too soon, in proportion to the time spent preparing the meal.
But, I concede, you have to put out something for guests to munch on when they arrive—something to stimulate the palate, and rev up the senses. I opt for these simple appetite teasers to compliment the cocktail, champagne or prosecco you’ve poured them. A little salt, something acid, something sweet, a hint of umami, and a slight bitter note, gets all the taste buds standing at attention and getting ready for the feast, without spoiling one’s appetite for it. It’s all about restraint in the beginning of the meal…so you can go hog wild later!
Here is what will be sitting out at my house on Thankgiving Day: Citrus and Fennel Marinated Mixed Olives…
White Truffle Oil and Black Pepper Popcorn and…
…Candied Spiced Pecans with Rosemary. This trio is good for making any gathering more delicious… the pecans go just as well tossed in a salad as they do on vanilla ice cream… And the popcorn…well the popcorn is good anytime. I take a bag of it stashed into my purse when we go to the movies. It’s not that I’m too cheap to buy snacks at the theater, it’s that I prefer olive oil and truffle oil and black pepper to the fake butter, transfats, mega-sodium levels, and yellow dye # 4 in my popcorn. So, you might want to make a double batch of everything and hide some away for after Thanksgiving too!
Spiced Candied Pecans with Rosemary
adapted from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Makes about 2.5 cups
2 ½ cups pecan halves
¼ cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup, or corn syrup
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or sea salt
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1. Preheat over to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet pan with a SilPat or parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, toss the pecans with all the remaining ingredients, until evenly coated. Spread in a single layer on the sheet pan.
3. Bake the pecans, rotating the pan once to insure even cooking, until they are golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
4. Immediately transfer to a clean, large bowl and toss continuously as they cool and use your fingers to separate any clumps of nuts that stick together. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Will keep well for up to up to a week, longer if refrigerated.
Truffle Oil and Black Pepper Popcorn
Makes about 2.5 cups
10 cups of popped popcorn ( not microwaved, use pan or popcorn maker popped corn using olive oil)
3 tablespoons truffle oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Toss warm, freshly popped popcorn in large bowl with truffle oil, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Serve! Can be stored in airtight container or ziplocks for 3-4 days.
Citrus and Fennel Marinated Olives
Adapted from Home Cookng With Jean-Georges, Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Makes about 2.5 cups
1 ½ cups mixed brine-cured olives of your choice, pit-in
½ cup kalamata olives, pit-in
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
Juice of one orange
2 (4-inch) strips of orange zest (use vegetable peeler and take skin only, avoiding white pith)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (good quality)
1. Rinse olives under cold water to remove the oil or brine they come packed in. Place olives in a colander and allow them to drain well for 5 minutes, pat dry with paper towel and place them in a large bowl.
2. Toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chile flakes and toast until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to inhale the steam/smoke coming off the toasting red pepper, as it can be caustic to the lungs. Remove from the heat and add the orange zest and oil to the hot pan. Steep until cool.
3. Pour the oil mixture over the olives and then transfer into a container that has an airtight cover. Allow the olives to marinate at room temperature for 6 hours before serving or holding in refrigerator for up to 5 days.