Archive for Summer Appetizers

Swiss Chard Tart With Feta And Currants

I came across this recipe last year and have made it a few times since.  So far, everyone who has eaten it has given it two thumbs up!  And as Swiss chard is available for most of the year I think a good recipe to keep handy!

For the Filling:

1 Tbsp. EVO
1 onion, chopped fine
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 bunch Swiss chard (approximately 12 oz.)
¼ cup currants
1 egg
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta (Greek) – I prefer Dodonis
3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

For the Tart:

1 Sheet (225g) puff pastry, bought or homemade
Egg wash:  1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp.

Make the Filling:

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium–low.  Cook the onions until soft,  then add the cinnamon & salt, stirring to combine.

Meanwhile, chop the chard leaves into small ribbons & add to the onions when they are soft.  Cook uncovered, until very soft (10-15 minutes.)

Plump the currants by covering with hot water & allowing them to stand for 10-15 minutes.  Drain well & add to the chard.  Cook on low for another 5 minutes or so.  Allow to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg with the feta & Parmigiano.  Add the chard mixture & combine thoroughly.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Meanwhile, lay the pastry out on a baking sheet that has been lined with baking parchment.  Fold the outside over ½” or so to form a lip all the way around the edge.  Prick the surface with a fork & brush with the egg wash.  Refrigerate for an hour or so.  (Keeping the pastry chilled will increase its ability to puff up.)

Spread the chard mixture evenly over the pastry.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or  until the crust is beautifully browned.

Tomato Bruschetta

There is simply nothing like your own or purchased local tomatoes in the summer. I am a confessed tomato junkie and I adore these bruschetta. Tomatoes and basil…a combination sent from the gods!

DSC_3559 nx2Makes 4 Servings

4 – 6 tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 Tbsp. each fresh basil & flat-leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup EVO – the best you can find
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 loaf Italian bread or a baguette** (I am addicted to Rise’s Artisan’s Market Loaves)
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Combine tomatoes, basil, parsley, garlic, salt & pepper in a bowl. Cut bread diagonally into ½” to ¾” slices, place on a baking sheet; brush with EVO; grill or broil 1 – 2 minutes until lightly toasted. Turn bread over. Spoon tomato mixture onto the toasts; sprinkle with the Parmigiano; place in oven & bake 8 – 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

If you would like to check out Chris Brown’s breads, they can be found at Finest at Sea on Arbutus St., Batard on Fraser St.  He makes both full size and mini Market Loaves that are wonderful for bruschetta or crostini.

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Caponata (Sweet And Sour Eggplant)

You just gotta love summer!

It’s delicious! The recipe makes a lot, but it keeps very well, for up to 1 week. It’s bit time consuming but I think the end result is well worth it and you can cut up everything but the eggplant the day before. Terrific to have in the fridge in the summer to serve with Italian bread or as part of an antipasti platter. Heck, I can’t see why it would not be good in a pasta salad or as a condiment in a sandwich, or like our friends did, served it with grilled lamb! Like I said, it’s delicious and when I make it everyone loves it! Who doesn’t like praise?

Makes About 1 Quart

DSC_3828 nx22 lbs. eggplant
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
EVOO oil for frying the eggplant
11 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 28 oz. tin Italian tomatoes, finely chopped, juice reserved
5 celery ribs, cut into ½” pieces
1 large onion
1  red or yellow bell pepper, cut into ½” pieces, or half of each colour
1 cup (6 oz.) green olives (Sicilian or Greek olives) in brine, pitted, cut into ¼” pieces or so
¼ cup drained bottled capers, rinsed
1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Cut eggplant into 1/2 “cubes & transfer to a colander. Toss with 2 Tbsp. sea salt; let drain 1 hour.
While eggplant drains, heat 2 Tbsp. EVOO in a 4 – 5 qt. heavy pot until hot, but not smoking, then sauté ¾ of the garlic, stirring, until golden, but not browned, up to 1 minute. Add tomato paste & cook stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes & their juice; reduce heat & simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, 20 – 25 minutes. Set aside.

You can make this the day before & chill until ready to proceed with making the caponata.

Bring 3 cups water to a boil; add 1 tsp. salt. Cook celery until tender, 5 – 7 minutes. Drain in a colander & rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.

Gently squeeze eggplant to remove excess moisture & pat dry. Heat ¼” EVOO (about 2 cups) in a 12” heavy frying pan over moderately high heat to 360 F, then fry eggplant in 4 batches, stirring & turning constantly with a slotted spoon until browned and tender, 3 – 5 minutes. per batch. Bring oil back to 360 F between each batch.. Transfer eggplant to a paper towel lined baking pan.

I like to use my trusty electric frying pan for this because of it’s built in thermometer.

Pour off all but 2 Tbsp. of the oil from the frying pan. Turn the heat down to moderate & return the pan to the burner, or continue using the electric frying pan. Cook onion, bell pepper & remaining garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. It’s always a good idea to add the garlic half way through this process so that it won’t burn. Add chopped tomatoes & their juice, eggplant, celery, olives, capers, vinegar, sugar, pepper & remaining 1 tsp. salt & simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.

Cool to room temperature, uncovered, then chill, covered for at least 8 hours.

Just before serving stir in the parsley and basil. Serve at room temperature. Yum, yum!  And…for a little extra yumm you can add 1/3 cup each golden raisins & either toasted pine-nuts or slivered almonds after the caponata is cooked but still hot.

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3 Mediterranean Dips

I just crave these dips in the summer. Transports me straight to the Mediterranean! Good pita and some great wine; just about perfect. I think dips are a wonderful thing to take to a party or get-together in the summer. Great with my Greek lemon-oregano chicken or marinated lamb. You might want to drain the yogurt the night before for a nice thick Tzatziki.

Phyllis’ Tzatziki

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

_DSC2041 resize2 cups Plain Yogurt (I like Liberte Mediterranean, but a good thick Greek yogurt would also be great)
½ English cucumber
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. EVOO
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

Take a large piece of well rinsed cheesecloth (Julia Child always recommended rinsing to remove the medicinal aroma of cheesecloth). Line a metal sieve with the cheesecloth. Place the yogurt in the sieve; place over a bowl and cover. Allow to drain in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Grate the cucumber and place in a sieve over a bowl; salt the cucumber & allow to drain for about 20 minutes. Remove yogurt and place in a large bowl. Squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as possible, using your hands, and add to the yogurt. Smash the garlic and sprinkle with a little sea salt. By pressing & spreading with the back of a chef’s knife, puree the garlic & add to the yogurt mixture. Add the lemon juice, EVOO, Dijon mustard and dill. Blend well. Place in the fridge for an hour or so to blend the flavours. Season with salt if required and serve with pita bread or as a dip for kebabs or anything else that takes your fancy! Tzatziki will keep for a few days in the fridge.


This is another wonderful dip from the Mediterranean. It is not only delicious with warm pita bread but I also use it for sandwiches & wraps.

Makes about 3 cups

1 19oz tin chick-peas (garbanzo beans), rinsed & drained
½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste), well-stirred
1/3 cup EVOO
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cumin
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup cold water
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Tahini can be found at most grocery stores, usually in the ethnic section, or at any Greek grocery store.

Place chick-peas, tahini, oil, lemon juice, coriander & cumin in the bowl of a food processor; puree until smooth; transfer to a bowl. Stir in garlic, parsley, water, season with salt & pepper. Hummus is a good keeper and will last a number of days in the fridge.

Baba Ghanouj

Boy do I love this! It just screams summer. Serve either with warm pita or as a spread on a wrap. Try and get some fresh, local eggplant for this if possible.

Makes about 3 cups

2 large eggplants (2 ½ lbs. total)
¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste), well-stirred
2 – 3 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste with ½ tsp. sea salt
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 – 1 ½ tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. EVO
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Garnish: Smoked paprika and a drizzle of EVOO

Tahini can be found at most grocery stores, usually in the ethnic section, or at any Greek grocery store.

Turn oven to broil. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet and broil 6” from heat, until very soft, turning occasionally. Cool 20 – 35 minutes. Cut eggplants in half and remove the flesh, discarding the skin. (I usually strain the cooked eggplant pulp for 30 minutes to remove excess liquid). Place in food processor with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin & salt until combined well. Season with salt if necessary. Transfer to a serving plate or shallow bowl, drizzle with EVO, sprinkle with a few pinches of smoked paprika and then scatter on the parsley.

If you would like to make the chicken to have with the tzatziki, click Greek Lemon Chicken.

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Eggplant Relish Filled Cheese Tartlets

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Just because they’re vegetarian, doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious! Veggie appy’s are always a good thing in my books and the tartlet shells can easily be made ahead and frozen. All you need to do is thaw, refresh in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up, cool and fill with the yummy relish. If I just happen to have a jar of Caponata in the fridge I use it instead of the relish here…why the heck not! Seems like a “good thing” to make at the end of summer and beginning of fall when local eggplants are everywhere!

Makes Approximately 20 Tartlets

DSC_1151 nx2For the Relish:

½ of a medium eggplant
1 Tbsp. EVOO
¼ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. tinned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. dry red wine
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
¼ cup Greek Kalamata olives, pitted & chopped
1 Tbsp. Mediterranean pine nuts or slivered almonds
1 Tbsp. capers, rinsed & drained (either preserved in salt or in brine)
1/8 tsp. each salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Tartlet Shells:

2 cups unbleached flour
½ tsp. each dried oregano & basil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup each chilled unsalted butter & shortening or lard, cut into 1” cubes
½ cup finely shredded Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
4 – 6 Tbsp. ice-water

Garnish: Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese shavings, fresh basil or oregano sprigs

Make the Relish:

Peel the eggplant & cut into ¼” cubes (you should have 2 ½ cups). Heat the EVOO in a large skillet; add eggplant, onion & garlic. Cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally; stir in the tomatoes & their juice, red wine, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce the heat & simmer, uncovered about 5 minutes or until liquid is evaporated. Remove from the heat; stir in the olives, nuts & capers. Allow filling to cool & use to fill the cheese tartlets just before serving. The relish can be make one or two days in advance of using.

Make the Tart Shells:

Combine the flour, salt & herbs in the bowl of a food processor. Using a few on/off turns combine; add the cold butter & combine until the butter & flour resemble coarse crumbs, using on/off turns. With the machine running, add tablespoons of water, one at a time, until the mixture just clumps together. Remove the dough from the processor onto a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap & form into a ball; flatten to a disk, wrap & chill for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Roll the dough out to about 1/8” thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut into rounds using a 2 ½ to 2 ¾” biscuit cutter, dipping the cutter into flour between cuts. Reroll the dough as necessary to make 20– 24 rounds.
Spray with non-stick cooking spray, or grease small tart pans or mini muffin cups. Fit the circles of pastry into the prepared pans, pressing dough to fit. Prick each shell with a fork to keep the pastries from rising while baking.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes or until golden brown. Checking after 8 minutes & If they have risen a bit, re-prick again. Once the pastries have cooled for 5 minutes, remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

 Assemble the Appetizers:

Arrange the pastry shells on a serving plate & spoon about 1 tablespoon filling into each one. Garnish each with a shaving of cheese & either basil or oregano sprigs, serve immediately.

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“Tuscan” Fig Salad

The other day a friend dropped off some fresh figs from her garden…

In anticipation of the fig delivery we had picked up some Pecorino ReNero and a bit of a French bleu cheese (they were out of Gorgonzola Dolce).  We figured this would be the perfect time to assemble a bit of a antipasto/salad so we could use some of he delicious olive oil we bought at Azienda Agricola Casamonti that we only use for drizzling on stuff and also to dribble some of the amazing mosto cotto we picked up in Panzano in Chianti at Stefano’s place, Accademia del Buon Gusto.  Some nice crusty bread might be a good thing too!

DSC_8818 nx2For the Antipasto/Salad:

Some fresh figs, quartered (approximately 2 per person)
Fresh greens
Slices of Proscuitto di Parma, 2 – 3 slices per person
Thin slices of Pecorino
Gorgonzola Dolce (preferably) or another very creamy type blue cheese
The best EVOO you have
Mosto cotto or a good aged balsamic vinegar



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Chinese Style Barbecued Chicken Wings

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 Who just doesn’t like wings, sticky fingers and all!  Get out the napkins.  These make great appy’s too!  Don’t leave out the five-spice, it adds a delicious dimension to the chicken!  If you prefer, you can use bone-in chicken thighs.  Delicious!!

DSC_8024 nx2Makes Approximately 4 Servings

1/3 cup hoisin
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. minced gingerroot
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder**
¼ to ½ tsp. Sambal Oelek (chili paste) or to taste
2 lbs chicken pieces
1Tbsp. liquid honey

Stir together hoisin, orange juice, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, orange rind, Chinese five-spice powder & Sambal Oelek; pour over the chicken in a glass or ceramic dish large enough to hold the chicken in one layer, turning to coat all the pieces. Marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat your barbecue medium-high (375 – 400 F) & prepare it for indirect cooking by placing a drip pan under where the chicken will be cooking.  Place the chicken on the barbecue skin-side down & cook for 20 minutes, lid on.

In the meantime, place the marinade in a small pot, bring to a boil & boil for 1 minute, add the honey; remove from the heat & reserve until ready to turn the chicken over.

After the 20 minutes, remove the lid, brush the chicken with the reserved marinade; turn the chicken over, brush with the remaining marinade; cover with the lid and continue to cook another 10 – 15 minutes more or until all the chicken is cooked and nicely browned.

**If you would like to make your own fabulous Chinese five-spice, click here.

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Roasted Tomato Crostini With Lardo

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Never will I forget my first taste of lardo! It was in Panzano in Chianti and oh my, was it amazing or what. I might have been a little hesitant but my friend convinced me to “go for it” and am I glad I did! Oyama Sausage** is a good source for sliced lardo.  Whenever I am back in Panzano I can hardly contain myself!

_DSC1564 nx2Makes Approximately 20 Crostini

1 lb. mini San Marzano tomatoes or other red cherry tomatoes (preferably in-season), halved
2 – 4 Tbsp. EVOO
¼ tsp. salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ lb. lardo, thinly sliced
1 Baguette for crostini

To Roast the Tomatoes:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Wash & cut the tomatoes in half, place in one layer in an oiled 9 x 13” glass pan (you may need two pans). Toss with the EVOO, adding 2 tablespoons to start with & more if there is not enough to generously coat the tomatoes; add the garlic;  season with salt & pepper; toss then place in the oven for 30 minutes. Check to see if the tomatoes are getting some small brown spots on the skins, if not cook for a bit longer until they do. There will be some juice remaining in the pan but the tomatoes should not be swimming in juice. When done, remove from the oven, set aside while you make the crostini.

Make the Crostini:

Meanwhile, turn the oven on to broil & place the oven rack on the top level. Slice the baguette into 1/2” thick slices & place on a rimmed baking sheet. Pop under the broiler until the bread is lightly toasted on one side 1 – 2 minutes, turn the slices over & broil until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven then place a heaping tablespoon of the roasted tomatoes on top of each slice of crostini, immediately place a slice of lardo on top of the tomatoes. Place the crostini under the broiler until the lardo looks slightly transparent.

Mangia, mangia! (Eat, eat!)

If you would like to pick up some lardo at Oyama Sausage, please see my Source List for their location.

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My First Arancini

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The other day I was trying to figure out what the heck to do with that left-over saffron risotto from the other night. Having just returned from Italy guess what sprung to mind? Aww, you guessed! This risotto is not totally traditional…but it worked great! Of course you could make the risotto and use the entire batch and make more arancini. Hmmm, not a bad idea I think!

DSC_7342 nx2Arancini – Makes 6

1 ½ cups firmly packed cold risotto (recipe follows)
1 beaten egg
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
6 (1/2”) cubes of Fontina cheese
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh marjoram
½ cup + Dry breadcrumbs
Canola oil or other vegetable oil for frying

Stir the beaten egg & cheese into the risotto with a fork combining well. Using wet hands shape the risotto into 6 balls & place onto a piece of wax paper. Press an indent into each one with your finger. Roll each piece of cheese in the chopped marjoram before placing into the hole in each arancini. Reshape into a ball; then roll each in the breadcrumbs. As the arancini are formed place them on a rack set on a baking sheet & once all are rolled in breadcrumbs, refrigerate for an hour or so.

When ready to fry the arancini, heat 2 – 3” of oil in a deep-fryer, or you can use a deep electric frying pan (which is what I do), to 350F. When the oil is hot, carefully lower the arancini into the oil & fry until they are nicely browned , approximately 7 minutes. Remove from the oil onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Cool for a few minutes & serve (they don’t need to be piping hot).

Saffron Risotto (Makes more than required for 6 arancini)

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup chopped onion
½ tsp. chopped garlic
½ tsp. Spanish paprika (not smoked)
1 cup short-grain risotto rice
¼ tsp. saffron threads
2 ½ cups unsalted chicken stock, either homemade** or bought
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Heat the chicken stock until hot. Add the saffron, cover & keep warm.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat; add the butter until it’s melted & hot; then add the onions & sauté until softened but not browned; add the garlic for a minute. Stir in the paprika & sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes; add the rice & stir until the rice is coated with the butter.

Stir in the hot chicken stock & ½ tsp. salt; bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low & let rice cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until stock is absorbed & the rice is tender but still moist; season with additional salt & freshly ground pepper to taste & stir in the parsley.

**If you would like to make your own chicken stock, please see Homemade Stock.

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Warm Artichoke Parmigiano Spread

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When I noticed on Facebook how many people made that Mexican layered bean dip for their Super Bowl Sunday appetizer, I was quite surprised! I mean, that is one old chestnut if there ever was one and one that I have made a lot over the years. I used to make it and take to the beach for a picnic to have as a snack. Always could be counted on to make people happy; it’s vegetarian and probably gluten free too! This got me thinking about appetizers I used to make for entertaining and this was one of them…kinda slutty but when I made it for Valentine’s Day, we both agreed, it’s still a winner! Serve with toasted baguette slices.

DSC_6656 nx2Makes Approximately 1 1/3 cups

1 (14 oz.) tin artichoke hearts
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano (large grate on a box grater)
¼ cup light mayonnaise
1 tsp. lemon rind (finely grated on a Microplane)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (Meyer lemon is great)
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch each of cayenne, paprika, salt & freshly ground black pepper

Drain the artichokes well & squeeze out as much moisture as possible; set 1 tablespoon of the Parmigiano aside.
Place the artichokes, remaining Parmigiano, mayonnaise, lemon rind & juice in a food processor; process for about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides after 1 minute, until fairly smooth. Stir in the garlic, cayenne, paprika, salt & black pepper & pulse just until combined.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Grease or spray with non-stick cooking spray a 2 cup ovenproof serving dish. Place the mixture in the dish, spreading evenly; sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges are golden; serve warm.

Note: You can prepare, cover & refrigerate the spread for up to 8 hours; it may take a few minutes longer to brown around the edges, having been in the fridge.

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