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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Sophisticated appetizers simple to prepare but delicious

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

A presentation of pupu, clockwise from top right: Crostini with hot artichoke dip; fried parmesan baskets with goat-cheese filling; sausage balls; crescent rolls; polenta triangles with sun-dried tomato salsa; crostini rounds. Doing as much advance preparation as possible simplifies preparing appetizers at home.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Any one of these simple, quick and uncomplicated recipes makes a party, and all have in common that they look more complex and sophisticated than they are.

Some of these are from the collection of Jody Nakamura of Hawai'i Kai; some are from my own collection.

The easiest sophisticated pupu on the planet is as follows: Unwrap one 8-ounce package of cream cheese and put it on a pretty serving plate. Spoon over it the better part of a jar of mango chutney or pepper jelly. Surround the cheese with Wheat Thins or other crackers. Serve. Smile at the compliments.

The following is a rough version of an artichoke hors d'oeuvre that has been a favorite of my family and friends since I first discovered it back in the 1980s. The more sophisticated version involves processing the artichokes with mayonnaise and cream cheese, adding garlic and dill. This version dispenses with much of the work but still tastes divine. It's very like a popular appetizer served at Ryan's Grill. You could add crab meat to this and send people into orbit (along the lines of Bev Gannon's crab boboli at Hali'imaile General Store). When I tested this, I added three cloves minced garlic.

Hot Artichoke Dip

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 (6-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained

Roughly chop the artichoke hearts. Mix all ingredients in an ovenproof casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Serve with sliced french bread. (Crackers are OK.)

• • •

The following nibbles go down as easily as they go together. They're extremely popular in the South, where plain pork sausage of the Jimmy Dean sort is used, but you could use any finely ground sausage that isn't too fatty — Italian, chorizo or good-quality linguica, for example. The onions are optional; some recipes don't call for them. You can freeze these before baking and then thaw and bake when you need them. And yes, you don't cook the sausage first. Do NOT make these too large; they'll be nobby and uneven in shape.

Sausage Bites

  • 1 pound sausage, skins removed, broken up
  • 1 small round onion, minced
  • 3 cups Bisquick
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Form 1-inch rounds of mixture and place on cookie sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen.

• • •

Crescent roll-ups are another Southern specialty that makes use of a packaged product, this time those refrigerated crescent rolls that come in cardboard tubes. (The ones you used to like to whack against the counter when you were a kid, so you could see the dough bulge out.) Here, the dough forms the basis for an elegant-looking ham roll. This is another recipe that can be a starting point for inventiveness. You could, for example, use puff-pastry dough instead of crescent rolls. You could use Italian or Spanish ham instead of American style. You could even use very thinly sliced roast beef (but you'd probably have to get it commercially sliced in order for it to be thin enough). You could vary the cheese and mustard used. And the other night, I tried this with Bisquick biscuit recipe, using very cold milk and working this into a smooth dough in the bowl; I didn't even roll it out, just pressed it into oblongs.

Just be aware: You need to give the dough some time to chill in the refrigerator so it will be easy to cut. An hour is enough, but you can make this up to a day ahead and then cut and bake before serving.

Crescent Toll-ups

  • 1 (8-ounce) package refrigerated crescent roll dough
  • Honey mustard
  • 8 thin slices ham
  • 6 ounces shredded swiss cheese
  • Honey mustard

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (unless you're making this in advance). Grease a baking sheet, or spray with vegetable oil.

On a countertop, cutting board or rimless cookie sheet, spread one of the four rectangular segments of dough in the package (each one is meant to make two rolls). Pinch the perforations together so form a solid rectangle of dough, working quickly so it doesn't get too warm.

Spread dough with honey mustard. Line dough with ham so that the entire surface is covered; sprinkle with cheese (or you can use thinly sliced cheese instead of shredded).

Roll up the dough, as for a jelly roll, as tightly as possible. Repeat these steps with remaining three segments of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour or up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Cut the roll into slices 1/2 - 1/4 inch wide and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 13 minutes, until lightly browned.

A variation on this theme is to spread crescent or dinner roll dough with prepared pesto, roll up, slice and bake 11-13 minutes at 375 degrees. Or sprinkle well with good-quality parmesan cheese and do the same.

Yet another variation is to cut a long sausage in half lengthwise and roll each half puff pastry or crescent dough that's been spread with mustard or barbecue sauce; roll; seal with a little egg yolk brushed on the edges; cut into 1-inch slices and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

• • •

Now we get into the more sophisticated stuff: crostini, frico and polenta. All are designed to form tiny "plates" upon which to present a dollop of something wonderful.

Crostini: Thinly slice a baguette. Brush each slice with melted butter in which a few cloves of minced garlic have been cooked. Or brush or spray rounds lightly with olive oil. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Turn, brush or spray, and bake until golden brown. Variations: If you're using oil, scatter a little fine sea salt over the rounds once they're on the baking sheet.

Crostini can be served just as they are. Or top with sliced fresh mozzarella, a basil leaf and a half-round of cherry tomato. Or spread a flavorful dip, such as the goat cheese spread below, on top.

Frico: Frico, sometimes called cheese tuile, is simply grated parmesan cheese that's been fried or baked to form a lacy round or basket. To fry: Toss 2 cups freshly and finely grated parmesan with 2 tablespoons flour. Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Place 1 tablespoon of the cheese/flour mixture in the pan and pat gently into a 4-inch round. Fry 30 seconds until set and lightly browned. Using a metal spatula, carefully lift out the round and place on a paper towel to cool.

To bake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan on a heavy, non-stick baking sheet (or one that's lined with parchment). Spread or pat into a 3- or 4-inch round. Bake 3 minutes, until bubbling and golden.

To make little cups, first cup up an egg carton, making individual cups out of each indentation in which the eggs rested. Place these pieces upside down on a cutting board or other heat-proof surface. These become individual cups over which you can drape the hot and still formable fricos rounds. Quickly transfer the hot rounds from the frying pan or baking sheet to each piece of egg carton, gently shaping them with the spatula and the back of a spoon. Remember: You will want the crisp side up, because it's the more attractive side, all golden brown, so lay that side over the egg cup. To make half-rounds, quickly transfer the warm frico to a parchment-covered rolling pin and shape until set.

Frico rounds can be served plain, as chips, or topped with a very thin slice or two of ripe pear or tart apple. Frico cups can be filled with a dollop of any flavorful, fine-textured mixture, such as tapenade (olive paste), plain or flavored mascarpone (a rich Italian-style cream cheese) or a blend of goat cheese and herbs.

Polenta: Polenta is the golden cornmeal of Italy, cooked into a mush on top of the stove, spread out to cool and then cut into squares and fried or baked. The basic polenta proportion is 1 cup cornmeal to 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Boil the salted water, then add the cornmeal by the handful, whisking all the while. Cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes (it will appear to be done before then, but it needs more cooking time unless you're using the instant variety).

The polenta will spout and spatter; once it's thickened, abandon the whisk and use a heat-proof spatula to stir and dig under the polenta to the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking. You may need to add more boiling water if the polenta gets too thick to stir readily. (Keep a small pan of water boiling gently on another burner.)

Spread polenta one-half inch thick in a lightly greased rimmed baking pan. Chill for 30 minutes. Cut polenta into squares or rounds (using a cookie cutter or glass) or more decorative shapes. Fry in a very lightly greased frying pan over medium heat until golden brown, broil briefly until golden, or grill.

A variation: Stir 1/2 cup grated Parmesan into the hot polenta just before you spread it out. Creamy polenta variation: Whisk polenta in 2 1/2 cups boiling water; cook for 10 minutes, then add 1/2 cup whipping cream and continue cooking and stirring; add 1/2 cup Parmesan right at the end. Spread, cool and cut. (This latter variation is much richer and more sophisticated.)

Polenta squares or rounds can be topped with prosciutto or any flavorful mixture, such as the goat cheese blend that follows. In "Cocktail Food," Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford suggest topping the creamy polenta recipe (above) rounds with a dollop of sundried tomato "salsa": Top 1 1/4 cup julienned oil-cured sundried tomatoes, 3 tablespoons chopped basil leaves, 3/4 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Toss salsa ingredient together, place polenta rounds on baking sheet, top with a teaspoon or so of salsa and bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.

A useful spread that can be used with any of the above "little plates":

Chevre Spread

  • 2 (4-ounce) packages goat cheese
  • 1 (4-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon milk or cream
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Heat olive oil and saute minced garlic quickly to soften. Stir cheese together with milk or cream (or process in food processor). Add minced garlic. This is very mild and benefits greatly from whatever variations you enjoy.


  • Add 1/2 cup chopped, drained oil-cured sun-dried tomatoes and 2 tablespoons rinsed, drained, chopped capers.
  • Add a generous handful of finely chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, oregano, thyme, basil or tarragon.
  • Add 1/2 cup black olive or traditional caper and anchovy tapenade, or place a dollop of tapenade on top of the chevre mixture.