As the holiday entertaining season approaches, I can't get the fabulous food of Tuscany out of my mind. Something about the simplicity of the fresh ingredients has stuck with me - like the prosciutto and melon pictured above, and the sheep's cheese, walnut, and honey platter below.
I truly think that fresh, local ingredients are what make the food I experienced in Italy so excellent, but I think that we can translate these foods into our own local and affordable versions. These are the appetizers that I served to my family at one of our Thanksgiving meals this week, which added some variety to what we often serve at our gatherings. All are simple to prepare and serve.
Sheep's Cheese Platter
For the cheese platter, I chose a Manchego cheese over an Italian peccorino, since I have not yet found fresh peccorino I like here in California (mostly I have found Peccorino Romano, which here is usually a hard matured cheese rather than fresh). Since "peccorino" just means sheep's cheese, I found the Spanish Manchego to be a pleasing alternative sheep's cheese, which is readily available at Trader Joe's. Sheep's cheese is also a good option for the lactose intolerant in my family, since it has less lactose than cow's milk cheeses.
I also chose a Havarti (not a sheep's cheese, but very mild) at the request of one of my brothers, and both cheeses paired well with the California Premium walnuts, bits of 85% Columbian dark chocolate, creamed honey, and crackers I also obtained from Trader Joe's. I had prepared crostini by cutting a sourdough baguette in thin slices, brushing them with a mixture of half melted salted butter and half canola oil, lightly sprinkling them with fresh ground pink salt, and baking them at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until appropriately toasted. This is a great appetizer since people can experiment with the combinations they like of the available options.
Shopping List: Manchego cheese, Havarti cheese, California Premium walnuts, 85% Columbian dark chocolate, creamed or regular honey, crackers, baguette
Prosciutto and Melon
This is the prosciutto and cantaloupe I served; next time I would go with a different source for the prosciutto, since this one was a little too salty for me, and for some reason I had to wait 20 minutes at Muzio's in San Luis Obispo in 0rder for a quarter pound to be sliced for me. Still, it's a nice salty/sweet and fairly healthy appetizer; it takes about 1/4 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto to be served with half of a large cantaloupe. Just slice the melon and drape the prosciutto over it! I let the guests cut off their desired amounts of melon and ham.
Shopping List: 1/2 of a large cantaloupe, 1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto
Finally, I stole this idea from a friend of mine in L.A.: crostini topped with mascarpone cheese (a milder cream cheese), fresh raspberries, and drizzled with honey. So simple, but so good! The crostini should be toasted plain at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, so that they are just dried on one side but not browned yet. These were sourdough, but a plain baguette would work just as well. Prepare just prior to serving so they don't get soggy, and the larger and plumper the raspberries the better.
Shopping List: 1 baguette, 8 oz mascarpone, 1 basket fresh raspberries, honey to drizzle