During the holidays, I find myself saying quite often, "Oh, what the heck. It's the holidays," as I add a handful of cheese or have an extra cookie. But the "holidays" aren't just one day. They start around Halloween and stretch until New Years Day, at which point most people I know declare the beginning of their cleanse to redeem themselves for overindulging during the "holidays." I have to be honest and say that I am a little more lax during the holidays with my eating and I've never too happy in January when my jeans aren't too comfortable. This year I'm going to be a little more mindful and not use the holidays as an excuse to act like every night is my last supper!
My new favorite hors d'oeuvre is actually what motivated me to really try to find delicious recipes for the holidays that are also healthful. Not only am I crazy about these little Brussels sprout sliders, but they were such a hit at my house with my friends this year, as well as with my cooking classes this month. In fact, my friend Cheryl enjoyed them at my house for dinner one night and then asked my to bring the sliders to her house for a little get-together a few weeks later. Winner!
"Sliders" have been very popular the last few years at parties. They are basically mini-burgers. I've seen them as simple as a basic mini beef or turkey patty and bun all the way to topped with caramelized onions, gorgonzola and arugula. In this vegetarian and bread-less version, the sprouts are halved and roasted and become the "bun." And then you can put whatever you want in between. Do you get it? Crazy good, and GOOD FOR YOU, TOO!
Before you think, "Oh, it's the holidays. These aren't indulgent enough," I haven't seen anyone stop at just one. They are super tasty and very satisfying. I usually stick to the following fillings (which happen to go into my favorite grilled cheese): thinly sliced gruyere, sauteed onions, coarse-grain mustard, and roasted apple. Sometimes I add them all, sometimes two or three. Of course, you can add richer fillings, such as cooked bacon or a piece of honey-baked ham as well.
Not a lot of time on your hands? Here's what I would do:
slice the cheese up to a week ahead
saute the onions the day before and refrigerate
roast the sprouts several hours in advance and allow to sit at room temp
assemble the sliders a few hours in advance and warm through at 300 (or 350) for a few minutes
Since Brussels sprouts aren't all the exact same size like store-bought hamburger buns, the key step here is to keep the sprout halves next to each other so that you don't have to search around for the perfect match when you assemble. Trust me, this is a good idea!
I think this would be amazing to make as an hors d'oeuvre on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. And they would be perfect for any cocktail party when you need something hearty and green to balance out all the cheese dips. But, if you are planning on these for a cocktail party, consider that they are individual bites, and take a little more time to assemble than a dip. So you don't want to prepare a menu of too many items like this (=time-consuming.)
I hope you have the happiest of holidays, filled with joy, love, peace, light and nourishing, delicious food!
Serves: makes 20 full sliders or 40 half (open-faced) sliders
6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, DIVIDED, plus extra for greasing baking sheet
1 large onion, sliced thin
Sea salt to taste
20 medium Brussels sprouts, trimmed of any dry edges (but don’t slice off the whole core)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons whole grain mustard
Small block of gruyere cheese, thinly sliced and cut the same size as a sprout
Other add-in possibilities: Roasted apple or pear chunks, manchego cheese
Warm 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until they become more golden in color, about 15-20 minutes. Lower the heat a little and continue to cook until they are tender.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper and brush with olive oil.
Cut the Brussels sprouts in half from top to bottom, keeping the two halves close together. If you don’t, you will have to search for a pair that fits well together after they have roasted.
Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the sprouts and bake 15-20 more minutes or until tender.
Take one half of a Brussels sprout, smear with mustard, add a piece of gruyere and a pinch of onions. Take the other half of the Brussels sprout and position it so the two sprouts are like the buns on a burger, with the cut sides facing each other, and secure with a toothpick. Serve at room temperature or warm on a baking sheet in a 325 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Do you remember the first cookbook you ever bought? Not counting the Calling All Girls Party Book in second grade, I bought my first cookbook with my own money in 1987, the year I graduated from high school. My Aunt Maria drove me out to one of her favorite gourmet food shops in the Hamptons on Long Island. Loaves and Fishes was a darling little shingled cottage in Sagaponack and run by a mother-daughter team named Anna and Sybille Pump. All these years I thought I was their biggest fan, but apparently I’m not the only Loaves and Fishes admirer. The famous Ina Garten has adapted a recipe or two (or more) from Anna and even dedicated one of her cookbooks to her.
I basically taught myself how to cook from Loaves and Fishes. When The Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook came out, I scooped it up and read it cover to cover. Anna Pump taught me how to entertain with ease and it was from this book that I learned what I could prep in advance, an education that still serves me today. Loaves and Fishes is still around. I actually visited the cook shop in Bridgehampton last summer. I wouldn’t say that the recipes in the book are the most healthful or that I even use many of them today, but this recipe for zucchini-gruyere tart from the first book is my hands-down favorite hors d’oeuvre ever. It should be in the Hors D’oeuvre Hall of Fame. I have been making it for 24 years and it has never failed me (even when I’ve used zucchini from (shhhh!) Mexico when they’re out of season here.) I have also made it with heirloom tomatoes instead of zucchini and it’s always a showstopper.
Manhattan Beach has the potluck thing down. Last weekend my friends Kristy and Sarah hosted a lovely “small plates night” at Sarah’s home. You MUST do this sometime. Everyone brings an appetizer or a bottle of wine and has a fabulous time catching up and watching the sun set over the ocean (it helps that Sarah lives right in front of the Pacific.) I brought the zucchini tart which I cut into 64 slightly-bigger-than-bite-size pieces and it vanished faster than the chardonnay, which is saying something.
Please don’t be intimidated by the pastry crust — if you’ve rolled out sugar cookie dough, you can do this. But if you don’t want to, just buy 2 premade pastry crusts and fit it to the baking sheet. Puff pastry would be another option here. Every time I make it, I apply the tips I learned from my first books and I blind bake the crust the day before and leave it at room temperature. Also the day before I shred the cheese, slice the zucchini, make the herb oil and refrigerate them all separately. After working (i.e. cooking) all day and shuttling kids to their activities, all I needed to do before the party was assemble the tart and freshen up while it baked in the oven. Now, go find an excuse to make this and then thank Anna Pump.
Serves: yields approximately 100 1-by-2-inch pieces (I usually cut them larger to yield 64-72 pieces)
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or use all regular white flour)
¾ cup (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 small egg yolks
5 Tablespoons cold water
4 medium zucchini, about 1 ½ pounds
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated
⅓ cup finely grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
To make the crust, place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 5 times. Add the egg yolks and pulse 2 more times. With the motor running, and the water through the feed tube. Process only until the dough begins to stick together. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and quickly form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in parchment and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the zucchini diagonally into ⅛- inch slices and place them in a large bowl. (A mandoline makes this task very easy. You can do this the day before and refrigerate, covered.)
Put the parsley, garlic, basil, and thyme in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Sprinkle with the pepper and salt and process until the herbs are chopped fine. With the motor still running, add the olive oil through the feed tube. (You can dot his the day before and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.) Pour the herb mixture over the zucchini slices and mix well.
Roll out the pastry dough to a ⅛-inch thickness. Fit it into a 18-by-12-by-1-inch pan. Cover the pastry with parchment paper, including the corners. Pour pie weights over the parchment paper, filling the pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and bake the tart pastry for 5 minutes more. *
Spread the mustard over the bottom of the crust. Distribute the cheeses over that. Arrange the zucchini in overlapping rows, covering the cheese. Pour whatever herb mixture is left in the bowl over the zucchini.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake the tart for 30 minutes more.
The tart pastry can be blind-baked up to the day before, cooled and left covered at room temperature until ready to fill and bake.