A New Year’s celebration, whether on the Eve itself or on Jan. 1, is a great time to showcase fresh, casual food that’s not just delicious with drinks, but a snap to prepare. My goal this year is to avoid overthinking and over-shopping; after all, my fridge and pantry are stuffed with all sorts of good ingredients and leftovers, and I’ll bet yours are too. Let’s enjoy them—and not just now, but all winter long. Happy New Year!
The spread called fromage fort (“strong cheese”), made from remnants of various cheeses, stems from the waste-not-want-not thrift that’s a cornerstone of any good French kitchen. In short, this is what you do: Discard the rinds, if any, from 1 pound of room-temperature leftover cheeses such as Brie, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, and/or goat cheese; it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit cracked or dried out. Grate hard cheeses and cut soft cheeses into 1-inch cubes. Whiz them up, along with 6 tablespoons unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons dry white wine, in a food processor until very smooth. Serve on crackers or slather onto slices of baguette and run under the broiler. If any remains (hope springs eternal), shave curls of it, cold from the refrigerator, over cooked cauliflower or broccoli, or a burger or steak, and presto-chango, it becomes an instant sauce. One last note: Fromage fort is famous for its funky, barnyard quality, but it should be pungent, with a nip to it, rather than unpleasantly acrid. In other words, don’t be shy about discarding a cheese that’s a real throat closer.
Guacamole with Pomegranate Seeds and Persimmon
Skip the cilantro—this time of year I want something more lush and festive. I learned the trick of embellishing guacamole with pomegranate seeds from the Mexican-cooking authority Diana Kennedy, and upped the ante with squat Fuyu persimmons, which can be eaten when firm as well as when soft and ripe.
Roasted Pepper and White Bean Spread
This terrific pantry recipe was a mainstay among Gourmet staffers; all you need is a jar of roasted red peppers, a can of white beans, and an anchovy fillet, which is optional but gives depth of flavor without a trace of fishiness. Combine the following ingredients in a food processor: 1 cup each of drained bottled roasted red peppers and rinsed canned white beans, ½ cup coarse fresh bread crumbs, 1½ teaspoons chopped flat anchovy fillet, and ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Purée until smooth and season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with pita toasts or baguette slices.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found a number of ideas in the recently published Martha Stewart’s Appetizers that fast-tracked their way into my culinary repertoire, albeit with a few tweaks of my own. A sampling is below.
Pat an 8-ounce block of feta dry and let it stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Put it in a flameproof (i.e., not Pyrex) baking dish, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and broil, turning once, until browned, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh oregano or thyme leaves and red-pepper flakes; drizzle with a little more oil. Serves with warmed pitas, cut into wedges.