Saturday, February 24

What to serve as appetisers that won’t spoil appetites | food

What easy snacks can I serve with pre-dinner drinks that won’t fill people up?
She, Nottingham

Drinks without snacks is criminal behaviour, but so, too, is spoiling your dinner. “Little salty things that can be done in advance are what you want,” says chef Robin Gillwhose latest ventures include Parisian-inspired wine bar Bottle & Rye in south London. “The secret is that they’re handheld, fun and not too fussy.” The Basque pintxo gildas – anchovies, big green olives (“quite spicy ones”) and pickled green chilli on cocktail sticks – fit the bill perfectly: “They’re absolutely gorgeous with an Aperol spritz, sherry or beer.”

Ixta Belfragewhose debut book Mixture was released this month, is also a big fan of tinned fish. “One of my favorite pre-dinner snacks is toasts with anchovy butter (butter, anchovies and garlic blitzed together), but I like to add dried chillies, lime zest and a bit of lime juice as well.” Spread this on small bits of toast (“chargrill the bread so you’ve got a smoky flavour”), top with herbs (“I’d go chives or basil”) and get the margaritas going. Gill adds: “Everyone likes something fried, too.” He sandwiches anchovies between sage leaves, dips them in tempura batter, fries them, and serves with a wedge of lemon.

There are few occasions that can’t be bettered with an egg, and Laura Goodman’s “egg mayo serve-yourself spread” is a case in point. The author of The Joy of Snacks, published in September, lays out copious boiled eggs, “a bowl of mayonnaise and whatever garnishes you want (chives, pickled jalapenos), and let people get to work.” You shouldn’t underestimate the power of a good dip either, with Goodman’s go-to being a cashew, kale, and parmesan number, which involves blitzing the lot with basil. “Keep the cashews chunky – it’s good for scooping.”

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Other snack hits for Belfrage include fruit and cheese: “I know some people find it retro, but I love it.” Happily, the mango and pecorino salad from her book by Ella can be reimagined as skewers. “I spritz everything with a bit of lime, a drizzle of oil, maybe a circle of jalapeno, and a bit of flaked salt – that’s a really easy, delicious bite.” And the skewers come with the added benefit of getting that cheese course in early: “I love cheese but I’m always too full to have it at the end of the meal.”

Alternatively, says Gill, get a big chunk of pecorino or parmesan, “stick a small knife in and turn it so you get little chunks. Drizzle them with honey and put a little bit of thyme on top”. Goodman, meanwhile, throws in a curveball with, well, a cheese ball. “It’s literally a ball of cheese [cream cheese mixed with cheddar, honey, mustard and shallots, then rolled in crushed pretzels], which is thrilling,” she says. “Everyone can then attack it with pretzels.”

Perhaps the easiest solution of all, however, comes in the shape of Nigella’s Just Celebrated Crisp Cauldron. Goodman agrees: “Last year I got loads of Frazzles and Skips and everyone went nuts,” she recalls, adding weight to the potato snack strategy. After all, “everyone likes talking about crisps”.

Anna Berrill
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