A Cheesy Appetizer Formula That Liberates Your Pantry

Sweet or savory, there’s a “formula” to great, delicious appetizers — and the ingredients are probably already in your fridge and freezer.

Recipes are great, but they can be a bit condescending  — they send you to the store to find an “exact list” of ingredients when you already have perfectly good ingredients that could be used instead. And you can even make your own “crackers” for dipping out of any leftover cheese.

Formulas, on the other hand, are flexible enough to give you the ingredients you already have, while ensuring that the flavor satisfies.

This appetizer formula is based loosely on a Bon Appetit appetizer, which is the-best-I-have-ever-tasted Marinated Goat Cheese recipe, which I turned into a Herbed Tomato Tart, which is actually a meal in itself.

Scaling it down from the tart, I wanted to make the original appetizer from Bon Appetit but wanted to add a little more — tomatoes. Actually, now in hindsight, I think those exact spices would have paired nicely with “green tomatoes” — but I didn’t have those, and I was afraid that the cherry tomatoes I did have would be a little too acidic for these savory spices.

I debated about whether to go “sweet” and add berries, rather than cherry tomatoes — but in the end, stuck with the cherry tomatoes.

And that’s when it hit me, that I have been making this appetizer over and over again, just by switching out the ingredients. It’s a formula:

  • Cheese as your base — goat, soft mozzarella, feta — whatever you already have
  • Fruit — berries (fresh, frozen or dried) — and this does include tomatoes because, with those seeds, they are a fruit too!
  • Salt — just enough to bring out the flavors
  • Spices — savory or sweet
  1. So here’s how it looks in a roasted tomato goat cheese version:
    Place cherry tomatoes in a baking dish with olive oil and salt. Roast cherry tomatoes in a 350-degree oven with salt and olive oil until the skins blister and the water starts to dry up. (Slicing the tomatoes helps to speed this process along.) After about 20-30 minutes, turn the oven off, and let the tomatoes sit in the oven, checking every ten minutes or so.
  2. When the cherry tomatoes are more dry than wet, add cold cheese and “spices” to the baking dish.
  3. Return the baking dish to the oven, for just a few minutes, so that the cheese melts a little and oozes over the spices.
  4. Think about your spices: They must match the fruit. I happened to have some basil stored up in the freezer from summer’s harvest, which I added. What do you have in your fridge that you could add? In your pantry? In your freezer? Pesto, chutney, salsa?  Dried basil? Cilantro? How about the savory spices from the Marinated Goat Cheese recipe?

If I was using blueberries, for example, I could use savory spices — or added cinnamon and a bit of brown sugar.

The point is, even when you’re entertaining, you don’t have to be a slave to your recipe. By following this simple formula. You can create a stunning appetizer that will be gone in minutes, and have everyone asking for your “recipe.”

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