Let's state the obvious. We throw a lot of parties. Entertaining fools; we love to do it. (Alright maybe me a tad more than JC). Whether the scale is big or an intimate gathering, you always need good nibbles. And the small bites you offer should be tasty and as exciting to you as they are to your guests. Which is why I'm constantly toying around with ideas in the ongoing quest for a tasty appetizer.
I'm like everyone else, I have some fan favorites, and will admit that I recycle them for certain events. Heck, why not? If something works then play that tune again and again. But I have flavor curiosity syndrome. so I am forever surfing my brain, and my palate for new bites. Throw in the fact that I just like to experiment and thus the parade of apps. (By the way, I am trying to get that syndrome classified as an official disorder. I think there might be some benefits to that.)
Usually when I come up with an idea, I don't pre-test. I just take the plunge and serve it up to our guests before ever trying it myself. Bold and brazen, that would be me. Yet on the occasions when I have an idea but don't have a planned party I become impatient and make a batch to test on friends and family. So the irony didn't escape me when this particular recipe idea popped into my head at the exact same time that we had 5 weeks of revolving door guests in our home. That's right, captive prisoners, yet our sightseeing schedules left us with no time for food experimentation. Much like a lyric from Alanis Morisette's song Ironic, "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife". A perfectly good crop of guinea pigs gone to waste. So, I cooked up a different plan for testing this recipe.
Because no parties were in the sight, the next soonest taste tester opportunity was our plans to meet up with family at a restaurant in the Bronx. My plot: bring little samples in tupperware and hand them out prior to entering the restaurant. This is my interpretation of an amuse bouche. Appetizer BEFORE the appetizer. (The real meaning of amuse bouche is a bit of food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. To amuse your mouth. I think mine did just that.)
First off, Juan Carlos thought I was nuts, (as he often does), and I thought my idea would be met with surprised faces and thoughts of, “who brings appetizers to a restaurant and requests that they be gobbled up like contraband in a dark alley?” However, as I passed out my little samples, they were happy to oblige. I just love these people! Once they popped these fluffy bites into their mouths, they didn’t care where they were eating them.
Although this experiment went well, I have enhanced the original idea. Plus I highly recommend serving them at home on a proper platter to your guests. (Clandestinely handing them out from a plastic container on a Bronx street corner should be your last resort.)
1.5 c butternut squash, roasted
1/2 cup ricotta
1/3 c walnuts, roasted
1/3 c pumpkin seeds, roasted
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 good pinches red pepper flakes
1.5 t salt
1/8 tsp pepper
honey, to drizzle
French baguette, sliced
Pear (I used a Red Anjou)
Place the two halves of butternut squash on a roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 375 degrees until fork tender (about 45 min). Let cool.
Then scoop out the soft squash and put into a food processor. Add the salt, pepper, red pepper, nutmeg and blend until smooth. Add the ricotta cheese and blend until combined.
In a saucepan on the stovetop or in a baking sheet the oven, lightly toast the walnuts and the pumpkin seeds to release their oils and fragrance. Roughly chop them, keeping them separate.
Place the bread slices on a sheet pan and lightly toast one side, then turn and place the parmesan shards on the other side and toast until slightly melted.
Meanwhile, stir the pumpkin seeds into the butternut/ricotta mixture. Once the crostini are ready, spoon on the butternut cream mixture, sprinkle the chopped walnuts and drizzle with honey. Serve on your prettiest plate.
If you recall, I don't eat bread. Neither does my cousin, Therese, who was among the original taste testers. So I needed to come up with delivery vehicle that we both could consume and not feel cheated. I hate feeling cheated. Enter the pear for a gluten free version of this app.
Use a nice, thick slice. We both loved the crisp, freshness of the pear against the creamy, sweetness of the butternut squash, ricotta and honey. Not only did we not feel cheated, but we felt we had the better version. Shh!
I was really happy with how this ultimately turned out. The folks who had the crostini version liked the crunch of the bread against the creaminess of the butternut squash/ricotta mixture. Therese and I loved how the pear worked with these flavors. True confessions, and in authentic something from nothing style, I don't always know all the ingredients up front that will end up in a recipe. Case in point here, as there was no red pepper in the set up photo. The addition of red pepper flakes came upon tasting it and realizing that the squash and ricotta are quite mild and were desperately calling out for a punch. AND when I needed to bring an appetizer to a dinner party this past week I decided to make this. In recreating it I added the pumpkin seeds for addition texture and parmesan for additional saltiness. Neither of which was in the original version. See how it works, my friends. You keep creating, improving and stirring it with more love each time.