Holiday Appetizer Recipes

Small plates of fig crostini, stuffed peppers and crab cakes make a big impact.

Fresh Kadota figs sit on a bed of caramelized onions in this seasonal crostini.

Photo by: Image by Brian Woodcock

Image by Brian Woodcock

Fresh Kadota figs sit on a bed of caramelized onions in this seasonal crostini.

In her gorgeous cookbook Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating with Southern Hospitality, Atlanta chef/restaurateur Anne Quatrano features a "fig feast," including recipes for a fig cocktail, branzino steamed in fig leaves and served with fig butter and chicken roulades with fig stuffing. But it's her crostini of fig with caramelized onions and lonzino (air-cured pork loin) that stands out as a hearty holiday appetizer. Quatrano makes her own lonzino—which takes seven weeks to cure—but says thin slices of prosciutto work just as well.

Crostini of Fig, Caramelized Onions and Prosciutto

Makes 12 crostini

  • 1 loaf sourdough bread
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • Fleur de sel
  • Caramelized onions
  • 24 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 10 fresh figs (preferably the Kadota variety), stems removed and sliced
  • 12 leaves baby arugula, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large white onions, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt

Place the olive oil and onions in a large, thick-bottomed sauté pan on medium to low heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt to help draw out the moisture, which will quicken the caramelization. The goal is to gain color without burning the onions. Cook on low, stirring often, for about 1 hour, until the onions are a deep brown color. Adjust the seasoning with salt and cool slightly.

Transfer the caramelized onions to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, up to three days.

Cut the bread into ¾-inch thick slices, brush with the oil and sprinkle with fleur de sel to taste. Toast the bread or grill it. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the caramelized onions on each slice. Top each piece of bread with 2-3 slices of fresh fig and 2 slices of prosciutto. Garnish with the arugula, more oil and fleur de sel.

Not only do you not need a fork for these peppers filled with prosciutto and provolone, you barely need a plate! Cichettis are the perfect one-bite appetizers for holiday entertaining.


Courtesy of Doug Psaltis, chef/partner, RPM Italian, Chicago, Illinois

  • 10 pieces spicy cherry peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • ¼ extra sharp provolone cheese
  • 5 thin slices of prosciutto
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cut provolone cheese into small cubes. Wrap cheese with ham and stuff inside peppers. Marinate and refrigerate peppers in olive oil overnight. Serve at room temperature.

In his cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some, Oxford, Mississippi chef John Currence features Maryland-style crab cakes that fly off the table at any party. He serves them with an apple-celery salad that "brings an earthy sweetness that punches up the flavors in the cakes without compromising them," he says. "The celery leaves add a lightly floral quality that you don't get with the stalks alone."

Maryland-Style Crab Cakes with Green Apple-Celery Salad

Serves 6

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Creole mustard (or grainy French)
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 3 tablespoons very small-dice red bell peppers
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
  • 1 pound lump blue crabmeat
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup toasted breadcrumbs, plus more to coat crab cakes
  • 3 cups seasoned flour
  • 3 cups egg wash
  • ¼ cup clarified unsalted butter

Seasoned Flour

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1-½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

Toss the flour, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic and onion powders and cayenne in a stainless steel bowl and combine well. Store in an airtight container until needed.

Egg Wash

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 dashes Tabasco hot sauce

Whisk all ingredients together well. This keeps 3 days when refrigerated in a sealed container.

Green Apple–Celery Salad

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup whole celery leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 cup peeled and julienned green apples

Clarified Butter

  • 4 sticks butter

Place the butter in a medium saucepan. Place the pan on the stove over low heat. Melt the butter and let simmer very slowly until you see the milky solids separate and drop to the bottom of the pan. This will take 20 to 30 minutes, if done properly. Ladle the butterfat off the stop and store chilled until needed. Discard the solids.

Mix together the oil, mustard, vinegar, celery leaves, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seeds in a medium stainless-steel bowl. Add the apples and toss together well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, mustard, shallots, red bell peppers, and Sriracha. In a separate bowl, season the crabmeat with the salt and pepper and blend to combine well. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and breadcrumbs, cover, and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes. This will give the mixture the chance to tighten up and it will be much easier to handle.

When removed from the refrigerator, the crab mixture should be moist but not runny. If more breadcrumbs are needed, add them, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the crab cake mix just holds together.

Scoop the mixture by the 1/4 cup into the seasoned flour (you want 12 crab cakes). Form crudely into small hockey pucks. Knock off excess flour and dip in the egg wash. Turn the cakes in the breadcrumbs until fully coated. At this point, the cakes can be cooked immediately, or returned to the refrigerator, covered, to cool again, or they can be frozen.

Heat the clarified butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until the butter begins to shimmer. Carefully place the crab cakes in the pan, decrease the heat to medium-low, and allow the cakes to brown on the bottom side, about 3 minutes. Move them slightly from time to time with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Once browned, carefully flip them over to brown on the second side, for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Place some apple-celery salad in the center of each plate and top with 2 cakes per serving.

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