December offers plenty of reasons to deck the halls, but even the most seasoned party planner can succumb to additional holiday stress. But since no guest ever wants to feel they have imposed, it’s imperative that you, the consummate host, make all the hubbub look effortless and worthwhile. Thankfully a little advance planning and a stocked pantry can have you sipping on champagne (instead of sweating in the kitchen) as soon as the first reveler arrives. Here’s how!
Cocktail parties and impromptu gatherings are the hallmark of the holiday season, and having a plan is the key to surviving the hustle and bustle unscathed. Crostini is a brilliant way to impress your friends while still remaining sane. Crostini are the building blocks of ingenuity, the perfect carrier vessel for delicious dips and decadent spreads. I mean, who can resist bite-sized morsels of goodness dolloped on toasted bread?
Having a well-stocked pantry is crucial to crostini station success. Now is definitely the time to hoard! We like to head to our local ALDI supermarket to stock up on our favorite specialty foods, including crackers and breadsticks; miscellaneous jars of marinated olives, artichokes, and red peppers; and an assortment of nuts, honeys, pestos, and jams, all for up to 50% less than traditional grocers.**
Don’t forget to keep some stand-bys stashed in your fridge: hard cheeses — think Parmesan, Asiago, Gruyere, and Jarlsberg — as well as cured meats and smoked fish are always ready to eat when you are. To be extra prepared, buy a few loaves of fresh baguette, slice them up and freeze in bags until ready to use. (Defrost, heat, and you're done!) And of course you can buy all your everyday staples at ALDI, as well, like garlic, salt and pepper.
Great crostini starts with a good foundation: your choice of bread, how you cut it, and the way you cook it are as important as the toppings themselves. Slice your bread into 1/2-inch rounds (no thicker!) using a large serrated knife in a gentle sawing motion; be sure to let the knife, not your arm, do the work. A common crostini mistake is to toast the bread in the oven, which actually drys it out. To achieve the perfect texture — crisp and golden on the outside, soft and chewy in the center — brush each slice liberally with olive oil and finish with a generous sprinkling of salt. Cook the bread on a piping hot griddle or grill pan until browned and golden, about two minutes per side.
Lastly, the garnishes — for both style and taste — are crucial to creating first-class crostini. Choose garnishes with contrasting textures and opposite colors to make crostini that look hard to resist. I like to top crostini with nuts or seeds for crunch, and fresh herbs, lemon zest, and a drizzle of oil for additional finishing flair. Chopped capers or olives add texture, and the flavor can help balance a creamy, cheesy topping.
This spinach and ricotta crostini is one of my holiday favorites, and a great example of using pantry ingredients that are always ready to go. You can bet there is always frozen spinach in my freezer, kalamata olives in the pantry, and Parmesan and lemons in the fridge. This recipe is bright and festive enough for the season, but easy enough to offer year round. All it requires is a whirl in the food processor, and then it practically serves itself — so all you have left to do is mingle under the mistletoe. Cheers!
Spinach and Ricotta Crostini with Kalamata Olives
1 cup Priano Whole Milk Ricotta*
1/2 cup Friendly Farms Sour Cream*
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 (10-ounce) package Seasons Choice Chopped Spinach*, thawed and squeezed very dry
1/4 cup grated Reganno Grated Parmesan Cheese*, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Nature's Nectar Lemon Juice*
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch Stonemill Essentials Crushed Red Pepper Flakes*
Kosher Stonemill Essentials Seat Salt and Black Pepper*, to taste
Specially Selected French Baguette*, for serving
Specially Selected Pitted Kalamata Olives*, finely minced, for serving
Grilled bread slices
Pulse the ricotta, sour cream, and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Add the spinach and Parmesan, and pulse a few times to combine; do not over mix. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add lemon juice, zest, red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least one hour to allow flavors to marry.
Place a dollop of spinach and ricotta mixture onto grilled bread slices. Garnish with minced olives and grated Parmesan.
* We found these brands at our local ALDI market, where we like to stock up on all our holiday and everyday essentials.
**Based upon a price comparison of comparable products sold at leading national retail grocery stores.