Cool Little Plates for Summer

A few weeks ago Jim and I attended a food fest hosted by the St. Charles History Museum. Local restaurants offered tastes of their specialties, music played, the sun shone, and it was a nice time. My favorite dish was a small plate of nibbles from a St. Charles restaurant called Vintage53, a “rustic-industrial wine bar.”

Arranged beautifully on a small rectangular plate was a slice of really delicious salami, a slab of nutty cheese, a little bowl of seasoned almonds and another little bowl of olives seasoned with fresh rosemary. Topped with a toasted round of good bread, we nibbled these tasty bites along with a glass of chilled white wine. Then we tried their roasted red grape crostini with fresh goat cheese and prairie flower honey. Also good!

It occurred to me that I could live on this type of food all summer, and would never need to go near a stove for months (unless, of course, I wanted to make my own almond and olive nibbles–see below). The small plate of goodies was filling and would be perfect for a cool summer supper. (Though it didn’t stop us from trying Dave’s burnt pork ends, pierogi with sour cream, pasta with vodka sauce, several adorable (small) cupcakes, a cannoli, a chocolate truffle . . . and a vanilla ice cream sundae with caramel sauce. Reader, I looked longingly at the tiramisu, but knew it would kill me.)

So here is my own take on making a “small plate” of goodies for our cool summer enjoyment. By the way, Italians have their “little plates,” (piattini), Russians have zakuski, the Spanish have tapas, and Middle Easterners have meze–all little nibbles to enjoy. Lots to learn about!

First, we’ll prepare some almonds. This recipe comes from “Cicchetti and Other Small Italian Plates to Share,” by Wildsmith & Sforsza. I have adapted it slightly. (The almonds from Vintage53 were seasoned with fresh rosemary, but I really like these smoky almonds, as well.)

Spiced Almonds

1 teaspoon olive oil
1-1/3 cup whole almonds
coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Heat the olive oil in a a small skillet, then add the almonds and roast over medium-high heat for about five minutes. They will brown a bit and emit a roasted smell. Remove the skillet from the heat, and sprinkle with the smoked paprika and generously with the coarse sea salt. Allow to cool.

Note: I used whole, unblanched almonds from Aldi, and they worked perfectly. Smoked paprika is becoming more and more commonly available as cooks discover how versatile it is. It can be found at World Market stores and at spice shops.

Below, ingredients for seasoned almonds, almonds roasting in pan, and stored in a jar.

Rosemary Olives

This is my take on the marinated olives we had, which included huge, glistening black olives. I had kalamata olives on hand, so I used those. First, drain a 6-ounce jar of pitted kalamata olives. Then heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet; add the well-drained olives, three cloves of garlic, about one tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Heat the olives in this mixture for about three minutes. Let the olives cool a bit, and then pour them into a storage jar with several shards of fresh lemon peel and two small fronds of fresh rosemary. These can be eaten warm or cool, but the longer the olives sit in the rosemary-infused oil, the better they are.

Note: A grocery store near us has an “olive bar,” with an assortment of seasoned olives. If you don’t want to cook, this could be an option.

Below: ingredients, olives warming in pan, and stored in jar.

Then the fun begins as you assemble your nibbles. Add to the mix: good quality sliced cheeses, salami such as sopressata, marinated fresh mozzarella balls, roasted peppers, and for something sweet, add the most delicious dates you can find (try medjool), dried figs, fresh cherries, sliced peaches . . . and on and on. This just scratches the surface. Check out Piattini: 12 Small Plate Italian Menu Ideas by Vincent Scordo for more ideas.

Then, slice some of the best French or Italian bread you can find–toast or grill it for best flavor. Then, bring out the chilled Prosecco, and feast!

The cheese was a sharp cheddar and went well with the fresh cherries.
Provide little forks, toothpicks and spoons so everyone can grab a bite.

There is always drama in the world of birds, and I caught this kerfuffle with my camera just a few days ago.

All’s well that ends well. Peace to you. Fran




5 thoughts on “Cool Little Plates for Summer

  1. Hi Fran! Something else to add, that I took in to work tonight – Aldi has had some honey goat cheese in their special product section. Get some, then cut a date in half (I used the same kind as your warthog cookies), put a good smudge of the cheese in there then add a small wedge of fresh peach. It’s so good! I also put some of that cheese on a cube of watermelon, with a garnish of candied ginger root, very tasty too!

    Hope you are well! PS – I just got a lovely slab of agitated dinosaur bone, it’s so textured and colorful!
    Dawn Anderson

  2. Very cool. Auto correct does interesting, poetic things. Meanwhile, I’m still going to try the candied ginger root in things. Where did you get yours?

    1. You can get it at the Fresh Market that’s next to Joann fabrics, on Randall Road. The candied ginger is kept by the packets of spices.

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