Hi, kids. It’s been a really rough week for me. I’ve had to deal with a broken sink, bad news from various friends and, worst of all, a malicious virus on my computer. It’s the Malware Defense, and if any of you have had to deal with it, you know how heinous it is. My entire week was taken up with combating this vicious thing and in the end, I had to wipe out my computer and reload my OS. It’s going to take me days to reload all my programs. A couple of programs I lost altogether because I no longer have the installation disks. <huge sigh> The people who created this obviously have knowledge and skill—why can’t they use their powers for good? I hope the proper karma is in store for the people who sit around and come up with this stuff. People like that are a waste of humanity.
Anyway, on with the show.
This week, I want to talk about appetizers. It’s a pretty broad subject, I know, but they’ve been a part of my daily existence for the past year. Allow me to explain.
My next cookbook is going to focus on appetizers, so almost every day I have been testing at least one appetizer. The thing is, when you’re testing a recipe, you have to test it exactly as it’s going to appear in the final recipe, including ingredients and quantities. In other words, if you’re developing a recipe for turkey chili with red beans and zucchini (yeah, zucchini. so?), you can’t substitute pork and chick peas in the testing and then use cauliflower because they were out of zucchini at the market. Everything cooks up differently, at different times, with different results. You won’t know what your end product will be and that could cause dissatisfaction in your readers. Your recipes must work as written. Where quantities are concerned, again, you need to use the same quantities as stated in the ingredients list of the recipe, otherwise, you may end up with a different yield. So, your readers might be expecting 4 servings and end up with only 3, or 10. And not all recipes are amenable to being doubled or halved.
Why is this a problem for me? Because if I’m developing a recipe for appetizers, it’s going to be for at least 6 people. Appetizers can be fun and delicious, but I must say, one can only eat so many appetizers. It’s gotten so that I’m sick of my own food. I give away a lot of food. A lot. The other night, I asked a friend if he’d like to go get Chinese food. I couldn’t stand the thought of eating my own food again. I was already cooking a couple of things that night, mind you, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat them. I finished cooking, packed it all up, and went out.
Don’t get me wrong. My food isn’t bad. In fact, if my family and friends are to be believed (not to mention my personal chef clients), I’m pretty good at this cooking thing. But sometimes I just need someone else’s food.
Anyway, back to appetizers. Appetizers have existed since ancient times. Here’s what I wrote about appetizers—or antipasti in Italian—in my cookbook, What, No Meat?:
One of the trademarks of an Italian meal is the antipasto (appetizers or hors d’oeuvres). Contrary to popular belief, antipasto does not mean “before the pasta.” It means “before the meal.” Pasto (meal) comes from the Latin word pastus, meaning “food.” The ancient Athenians actually invented the concept of appetizers; unfortunately for their guests, it was the only course they would serve. Other Greeks felt that this was a sign of cheapness because, as Lynceus put it, “such a layout as that may seem to offer variety, but is nothing at all to satisfy the belly.”
The ancient Romans began having true antipasto in the 3rd century B.C. and continued having this premeal course through the 4th century A.D. It included items that are still considered appetizers today, such as olives and a primitive pizza (think of the focaccia on the table at your favorite Italian restaurant).
During the Dark Ages, meals were more for sustenance than enjoyment, so antipasto had no place in it. During the Plague of the 14th century, one was lucky to get a meal at all, let alone appetizers. With the onset of the Renaissance, admiration for beauty and art was reborn and appreciation of food for its own sake reemerged. Appetizers came back in style and have remained with us to this day.
After I finish all this testing, I’m going on a diet. Maybe even a fast. Parties are fun, but parties every day become a bore (how does Paris Hilton do it, poor thing?). But I don’t want anyone to lose interest in the subject. Appetizers are creative little dishes that guests remember the next day and for days to come.
As Saki (writer H.H. Munro) wrote in “Reginald at the Carlton”:
Hors d’oeuvres…remind me of one’s childhood that one goes through considering what the next course is going to be like—and during the rest of the menu one wishes one had eaten more of the hors d’oeuvres.
Have a great week, everyone! And stay away from those viruses.