Turn nuts, potato chips, crackers, prosciutto, and salami into fancy party snacks.
You know how it can feel impossible to find a date with friends to get together, but somehow everyone’s schedule aligns for a last-minute meet up at the last minute? I love those moments; it’s like the universe has endorsed your desire to eat and drink together; the immediacy of the timing makes it feel like your gathering has been blessed by kismet.
But then, you need to figure out what exactly to eat and drink. And fussing over either of those things isn’t keeping with the idea of an easy, last-minute party. But a quick trip to the grocery store can set you up for a night of easy laughter and delicious snacks. Here are a few ways to turn everyday grocery items into restaurant-level snacks.
Season a bag of potato chips like your favorite pasta
Potato chips are pretty irresistible almost anytime, especially at a cocktail party, where the crispy, salty fried potatoes are a perfect match for Champagne or any dry sparkling wine. “The wine’s high acidity and the prickle of those bubbles are the ideal preparation for the next chip, and the next, and the next,” explains Food & Wine’s executive wine editor, Ray Isle, a longtime fan of this pairing. As wonderful as a plain potato chip can be, I like to season them with grated Parmesan and black pepper. Start with a bag of chips; kettle-cooked chips are best, as they are sturdy enough to stand up to being tossed with extra seasonings. Spread them out on a baking sheet and heat them in the oven for a few minutes, until the oil in the chips has released, so the seasonings stick to the chips. Remove the chips from the oven, sprinkle finely grated Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper on top, then return them to the oven so the cheese melts a touch and helps the pepper adhere to the chips. The seasonings work nicely with that sparkling wine, as do bright, floral white wines and lighter reds like Pinot Noir. I like to serve these in the fanciest bowl I’ve got: a gussied up potato chip is a glorious thing that deserves only the best.
Recreate New York’s favorite bar nuts
Union Square Cafe has been one of New York’s most iconic restaurants for years for its hearty pastas and unwavering hospitality. A seat at the bar, a cocktail, and a bowl of their ever-popular bar nuts is a particular kind of heaven. The recipe in owner Danny Meyer’s cookbook calls for a mix of cayenne pepper, brown sugar, butter, and rosemary. I’ve made these dozens of times, and over the years have at times gotten creative with the spices, adding a touch of freshly ground and toasted cumin, a hefty pinch of garam masala, or aleppo pepper. The technique is similar to that of the potato chips; simply spread about four cups of nuts out onto a rimmed baking sheet, then place them in an oven heated to 375°F. Heat the nuts for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the oven and toss them with two tablespoons of ground spices and an equal amount of chopped rosemary and thyme. Add salt if needed, but only if the nuts are unsalted. Return them to the oven for another five to 10 minutes, then serve. The nuts will be slightly soft when straight from the oven, but will crisp up again as they cool. These are especially nice served in small dishes by the bar or scattered around the room.
Crisp up prosciutto and salami chips
Of course, you can always serve sliced prosciutto and salami — they are party regulars for a reason. But why not turn them into chips? Place slices on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper, making sure to not overlap or crowd them. Keep prosciutto and salami in separate baking sheets, as they will crisp up at different rates. Bake them in a 400°F oven for five minutes, then check them; the prosciutto will crisp up in just a few minutes, but salami slices may take longer, depending on their thickness. Let them rest for five minutes before serving, so they crisp up again.
Dress up your hummus
Hummus has enjoyed a renaissance in the last decade or so, and while we love making it from scratch, the store-bought options are better than ever. Pick up the best you can find, and spread it into a shallow bowl, swirling it with the back of a spoon. Then, it’s time to style it any way you like. You might want to stir in a spoonful or two of pesto or harissa, or top it with canned chickpeas, pepitas, or sunflower seeds. A generous glug of a quality olive oil on top is essential. Sprinkle a tablespoon of spices pimentòn, or a blend like baharat, za’atar, or ras el hanout and serve it at room temperature with sliced cucumbers, carrots, and pita.
Slather crackers with herb butter
Sometimes the best bites are the simplest ones, and this snack is one that will surprise you with its buttery perfection. When I don’t have time to make anything, I like to smear room temperature butter onto crackers. If I have fresh herbs on-hand I’ll chop them and sprinkle them on top. A pinch of dried herbs is nice here; spices and seasoned salt also work well. The key is to use a high quality cracker and butter — the best ingredients make even the simplest snack something special.
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