Appetizers are often on the menu when hosting a more formal dinner party. The smaller of the first two courses, yet perhaps the most important one. Guests have just been seated to a beautifully set table. Candles are lit, music drowned by cheerful chatter and laughter. Napkins lifted, airborne for a second before landing on peoples laps. Wine glasses chinking and cutlery clinking.
This is why the appetizer is so important: They are the first culinary experience guests will have and often a prelude to adventures to come. I like to take the time to observe expressions around me. See how they observe what’s on their plate. Watch them lean slightly forward, better to catch a whiff of aroma.This is when you must impress your guest. If the appetizer is visually appealing and the first bite a hit, they will know they are in store for a treat the rest of the evening.
Now, despite what I just said, don’t become a slave to the kitchen just to impress your guests. I used to be that slave and I decided it had to end one dinner party when, just before dessert, one of our guests walked into the kitchen just to see if I was still in the house. She hadn’t seen me most of the evening. From that dinner on, I set limits for myself. Years later I am still sticking to them. When thinking of a potential dish for a dinner party, if much of it can’t be made in advance, then it’s off the list. I like to make sure 75% of my time is spent with my guests and the rest in the kitchen, not the other way around.
Remember, planning is key. Choose dishes which are easy to make and where part of the dishes can be made in advance. The more that can be done in advance the less stress you will have hosting a multi course dinner. It wont be so daunting.
These tomato tartelettes are a great “prepared in advance” appetizer. All the steps except final assembly and baking can be done before anyone arrives. You only need 5 minutes to assemble them. Then go and hang out with your guests while they are baking.
The people around the table are your family, friends, or simply someone you want to get to know better. You wouldn’t have invited them otherwise. Relax and enjoy. Make sure you see them. Remember, they are coming to your house to eat good food, sure, but mostly they are coming to your house to see you.
200 g sifted flour
100 g unsalted, cold butter.
pinch of salt
2 tbsp ice water
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded
5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
75g goat cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Add the egg. Pulse the food processor and add the tablespoons of ice water one at a time. Keep pulsing until it forms a ball of dough. It shouldn’t take more than 30 to 45 seconds. You may need a third table spoon of ice water.
Remove from the processor and flatten the ball somewhat. Dust with flour, and place in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour to rest. It is important not to over manipulate the dough to ensure flakiness.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Roll the dough out as thin as possible, ideally about 1/8”. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Line 4 4” diameter pie shell. Prick the bottom with a fork, fill with dry beans or pie weights and blind bake in the middle of the oven for 10-12 min until cooked. Take out of the oven, remove beans or pie weights and let cool.
In the mean time, finely dice the jalapeno pepper and sundries tomatoes. In a bowl, mix along with the goat cheese. Divide the mixture between the tarts and spread out along the bottom of each pie crust.
Slice the tomato in 1/4” slices, and place one slice in each tart.
In a bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add the liquid to the tarts until it just covers the tomato.
Sprinkle with a little bit of grated gruyere cheese.
Bake in the upper half of the oven for 20-25 min until set and golden brown.