Today we have a timely guest post from Casey Barber of Good. Food. Stories. on Thanksgiving Day snacks, for both the cook and the guests. Thanks, Casey!
"A word about Mrs. Flax and food: the word is 'hors d'oeuvre.' Fun Finger Foods is her main source book and it's all the woman cooks." Winona Ryder, Mermaids
Cher had it right. Maybe I was warped by too much movie-watching during my teenage years, but like Rachel Flax, I firmly believe that finger foods are the best parts of any meal.
This goes double for Thanksgiving. When one is tied to making the same potato gratin year after year because the family won't have it any other way, appetizers allow a experimentally-addicted cook to sneak in some unexpected flavors without causing chaos among the nearest and dearest gathered in the dining room.
And though I might not serve cheese ball pick-me-ups accompanied by miniature franks and marshmallow kebabs, I've been known to sneak things that really have no business at Thanksgiving, like deviled eggs, beet-pickled deviled eggs, cheese-and-almond-stuffed peppadews, and a plate of rumaki or two onto my menu this way. No one's made a peep of complaint, not even the folks who are first in line for the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.
When planning your hors d'oeuvre sneak attack during a big meal like Thanksgiving, logistical concerns should help dictate your choices. Melissa Clark, the always-practical writer, suggests you pick an appetizer or two that can double as a lunch snackie for the hungry head cook. As someone who ends up eating random cheese ends and half the olive plate before it heads out into the dining room, this is a movement I can certainly get behind.
I also recommend choosing nibbles that can be served at room temperature, so if you and your guests are waiting for the turkey to hit its mark, you won't need to worry about reheating the first round of finger foods.
Meeting all these requirements and more are the humble arancini: Italian rice balls. Arancini are filling little buggers, so you don't need to make hundreds of them to keep the hordes satisfied‚ two or three per person are suitably ample. Though they're traditionally deep-fried and served piping hot, the following Food & Wine recipe lets you bake the arancini rather than frying to order, which makes me ever so happy.
Feel free to make these the night before Thanksgiving and throw them into the oven for a few minutes as soon as you remove the turkey. Like most Italian dishes, they also taste just as good eaten cold as breakfast leftovers.
Arancini with gruyere and parmesan
Adapted from Food & Wine.
(makes approximately 36 rice balls)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups water
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, divided in half
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
2 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, minced
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Heat the olive oil in a high-sided saucepan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the shallot and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil and aromatics, then add the water and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice completely absorbs the water. Transfer the rice to a large bowl and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to cool.
While the rice is cooling, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the panko and half the Parmesan (1/4 cup).
Remove the bowl from the fridge, stir all the Gruyere, the remaining half the Parmesan, and all the herbs into the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then gently stir the egg whites into the rice.
Roll the rice mixture into 1-inch balls, dredge with the panko-Parmesan coating, and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.