I love food for sharing.
I love arranging it in the middle of the table with a pile of plates and cutlery so that everyone can dive in. I love the fact that there is passing round of dishes and leaning over each other to reach the best bits. I love that food to share sparks off conversations – it’s friendly food.
It’s also, often, casual, easy, ‘throw it together at the last moment’ food. It is not pretentious or fancy – it’s simple, laid back and stylish. And it can be entirely shop-bought or much more homemade – see how you are feeling on the day. Or if you know you are going to be in a rush, this could all be prepared in advance – you can even get everything ready in individual bowls and chill them in the fridge. Be sure to bring all the ingredients to room temperature before it’s time to eat – the flavours will be so much improved.
When we have friends round for dinner, I often choose at least one sharing course – often the starter … I think of it as a ‘picky starter’. We can chat, eat, pick and share while we relax into the evening and while the rest of the dinner is cooking.
There are so many possible combinations that make for a perfect ‘picky starter’. Here I used –
- Roasted peppers – 2 red, 1 yellow. Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Cut the peppers in half and remove the stalks and seeds. Place cut side down on a baking tray covered in foil (it will be horrid to clean if you don’t!) and bake in the oven until the skins are blistered and becoming black. Place them straight into a plastic bag and seal the top. When they are cold, the skin will remove easily. Tear the flesh into large strips. Season and drizzle with a little extra virgin oil or even some chilli oil if you fancy.
- Fresh pesto – this time I made some (recipe below) because I had a large bunch of basil to use but buying it ready-made from the deli counter is perfect too.
- Olives – these were left over from another dish so I had already removed the stones but any type or colour that you like would work well.
- Parmesan – choose the best that you can afford. It’s very strong and so you will probably use it in thin slithers. You absolutely get what you pay for.
- Caper berries – they even come with their own handles to make eating easier.
- Ciabatta bread – I sliced it fairly thinly and toasted it.
And everyone will do their own thing with a ‘picky starter’ like this. I like to create my own DIY bruschetta by spreading some pesto on the toast and piling it high with a slither or two of Parmesan, a strand of roasted pepper and a couple of olives. The caper berries work well in between mouthfuls. But some people prefer to eat the whole thing with a fork and that’s great too.
Whatever you serve in your ‘picky starter’ you will need some little bowls and maybe a wooden board to display your delicious array of loveliness – experiment, have fun, see what dishes you have lurking in the back of the cupboard ….
And what other flavour and ingredient combinations work well?
- Pâté, roasted garlic and caramelised onions – cut the red onions into quarters and cook them gently in olive oil with a touch of sugar. Drizzle with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Or use a jar of chutney to be even less fuss.
- Hummus, roasted aubergines, olives and warm flat breads
- Smoked salmon with soft cheese, gherkins and dill mayonnaise
- Ring the changes with a soft Brie instead of the Parmesan and choose some unusual breads.
- The possibilities are endless ….
This is Drop Dead Gorgeous food – with ABSOLUTELY no fuss …
- 50g pine nuts
- large bunch of basil
- 50g Parmesan
- 150ml olive oil, plus extra for storing
- 2 garlic cloves
- Heat a small frying pan over a low heat. Cook the pine nuts until golden, shaking occasionally. Put into a plastic jug with the basil, Parmesan and garlic cloves. Add the olive oil a little at a time and process with a stick blender until smooth. Note - you could use a food processor to blend the ingredients but you will end up with a lot less washing up if you go for the stick blender approach.
- Season. Pour the pesto into a jar and cover with a little extra oil, then seal and store in the fridge. It will keep for up to two weeks.