“Amuse-Bouche”, One Bite Appetizers
Dish by Kara Scharer
Hors d’oeuvre, a French term translating to ‘outside of work’, conjures images of delectable little bites which are enjoyed by many cultures around the globe. The Spanish tapas, Italian antipasto, Swedish smorgasbord, Russian zakuski, Middle Eastern mezze and the English appetizer are a few examples of different countries interpretation of the hors d’oeuvre, which all share the same tradition of eating small morsels to stimulate the appetite before the main meal. Whether you live in Spanish Town, Road Town or somewhere overseas, the tradition of gathering friends together for cocktails or a three-course meal, often precipitates with multiple rounds of hors d’oeuvres served by the host who relies on these tasty goods for the beginning of an enjoyable evening.
The history of the hors d’oeuvre dates from ancient Rome and Greece where eggs, vegetables, shellfish, cheeses and meats were offered to the guests before the elaborate banquets were served. During the 17th - mid 19th Century, aristocratic French followed the traditional ‘service a la Française where sequential services comprised of a choice of dishes served throughout the evening. Hors d’oeuvres consisting of small plates of eggs, pâtés and slices of beef were placed on the table for the guests to enjoy between the services. The hors d’oeuvre changed when the rigors of the ‘service a la Française dissolved into the contemporary multi-course meal. The hors d’oeuvre, hot or cold, was either served as a separate course prior to the first course or as a bite-sized portion with cocktails. The fundamental role remained to whet the appetite with a small morsel before the substantial meal.
Since the middle of the 19th century, the Spanish tapas has become one of the most celebrated examples of the hors d’oeuvre or appetizer. Tapas derived from the Spanish word ‘tapa’ which translates into lid and signifies its origin as a piece of bread, cheese, or meat which would cover the drinks on the bar protecting them from flies. The tradition of tapas, enjoying lively conversation, cocktails and small bites of savory treats is revered in Spain and has become wildly popular in many other countries. Tapas are meant to be enjoyed in successive bars, allowing physical exercise to aid digestion and heighten the appetite for the following meal. Originally tapas were simple plates of chorizo or cheese and have now exploded into a vast array of choices, illustrating the inventive cuisine of Spain.
Italy, another country rich in culinary traditions, enjoys the ‘Antipasto’ which translates as ‘before the meal’. The tradition of serving raw meats, marinated vegetables or seafood continues in Italy where the practice of antipasto is widespread. From Alba to Rome, every trattoria has an elaborate display of antipasto, ranging from prosciutto, culatello, chunks of salty parmigiano reggiano and grana padano. The ever popular bruschetta, a crusty bread that’s been grilled and rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, is also offered complimentary with your drink.
The appetizer or hors d’oeuvre was also offered by American hosts. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was common practice for guests to arrive punctually for a dinner party. Upon their arrival they were offered a cocktail and a smaller sampling of food once seated at their table. By the 1920’s lively hostesses offered cocktails at home, consciously ignoring the prevailing laws, and served small bites of food to be enjoyed with their drinks.
James Beard the prolific writer of American cuisine suggested that prohibition popularized the enjoyment of cocktails at home which in turn popularized small bites of food needed as an accompaniment to the alcohol. After the repeal of prohibition, the modern cocktail party gained popularity and continues to be a favored mode of entertaining.
Today many guests are welcomed in restaurants with a small amuse-bouche, a hors d’oeuvre to be enjoyed by compliments of the chef with an aperitif, while they navigate the menu. These little surprises often change to highlight the use of seasonal ingredients and display the chef’s creative talents without the confines of the menu. The cocktail party allows a host to offer many diverse tastes without having a formal sit-down dinner.
The small size of the hors d’oeuvre allows the guest to balance their cocktail while enjoying the one-bite treats while the informality of the cocktail party allows guests to mingle freely, never being tied to one conversation as so often happens when seated at a dinner party.
Hosting a cocktail party allows for a festive gathering without the economic and time constraints of cooking a multi-course dinner.
In the spirit of the American hosts from the 1920’s – offer your guests delicious savory morsels to enjoy with their cocktails.
Following are two recipes which would be wonderful for this occasion. Bon Appétit!
Gougère are a savory pâte à choux. They are easy to make and widely popular – I have never had any left after a party!
1 cup water
1/3 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup cheese (use either gruyere or Swiss) grated
1 small onion - diced finely
green olives - (I use Manzanilla olives)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat water and butter to a rolling boil in a medium size saucepan. Stir in flour and salt. Stir hard over low heat, about 1 minute or until the mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs until smooth. Stir in cheese and onion. Drop rounded teaspoons full of dough on greased cookie sheet. Place 1 olive on each gougère. Bake until puffed and golden about 20 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen.
Bruschetta with White Bean Puree
Baguette or Ciabatta bread sliced about 1 inch thick on a diagonal
1 can Cannellini beans - drained and rinsed
2 large cloves garlic (chopped finely)
2 leaves fresh sage (chopped finely)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
Brush olive oil on baguette and either grill or place in oven and toast until golden. Cut garlic clove in half and rub on bread. Place beans in blender with garlic and olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Spread the bean puree on the bread. Top with chopped sage and enjoy!