I am notorious for inviting people over to dinner and not being ready on time. I cook for a living, yet, it seems that when I’m cooking for leisure, I lose track of time. It’s not uncommon for guests to receive apologetic (and admittedly, frantic and misspelled) texts requesting they show up a little bit later. Even after this purchase of a few extra minutes, this hostess is usually sweating and running between kitchen and bathroom with dish rags, tongs, and hairdryer in hand when the doorbell announces the first arrival.
After discussing these issues with Tara we decided that what every hostess who wants to be the one with the mostes’ are easy recipes that can be prepared with little effort yet look and taste amazing. Important tip: seems like a no-brainer, but do try to shop and prep the day before your party; you will ooze calm-and-collectedness rather than perspiration.
Recipe one is for briny olives wrapped in a feta and Mediterranean-spiced crust. The dough comes together quickly and by hand in a single bowl (which minimizes clean-up) and is easy to handle. The olives can be prepared a day in advance and stored in the fridge. When ready to serve, pop in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes, and, voilà, all done.
Pesto is always a crowd-pleaser, but we don’t like to settle for the usual basil variety. Watercress is a perfect substitute, peppery and bold. Creamy, salty feta and pistachios add a curious twist to the old standard. Served with warm naan and crudités (we like to cheat and buy tiny carrots and cucumbers to minimize prep time), this will surely become one of your go-to appetizers.
The grilled squid salad is simple and impressive. The squid tubes are scored in a cross-hatch pattern (don’t worry about making incisions that are too deep as the squid is very resilient) that makes them curl up into gorgeous little tubes when cooked. Squid cooks very quickly so you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in a flash (do this prior to getting dressed, though, to avoid smelling like a poissonière!). If making in advance, chill and let rest at room temperature about 10 minutes before serving.
SPICED CHEESE-CRUSTED OLIVES
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoon za’atar spice
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
24 to 30 small pitted olives, such as Manzanillas
Beverage pairing suggestion: chilled Lillet
– Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
– In large bowl, stir together cheese, butter, lemon zest, and za’atar until thoroughly combined. Add flour and incorporate with hands until a dough is formed. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
– Scoop out 1-teaspoon portions of dough and, using palms, roll into balls. With fingertips, flatten out into 1 ½-inch circles. Place 1 olive on each disc, wrap around olive, and, once again roll between palms. Transfer to baking sheet and, once circles are finished, refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
– Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with green olives and peppadew peppers.
WATERCRESS PISTACHIO PESTO
1 garlic clove
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup shelled roasted pistachios
4 cups watercress
2 teaspoons finely grated zest plus 1 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
– In food processor, pulse garlic, feta, and pistachios until they form a paste. Add watercress, lemon zest, and lemon juice and pulse once again until a paste is formed. With mixer running, slowly pour in olive oil and process until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crudités and warm naan.
GRILLED SQUID SALAD
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 pound cleaned squid
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
½ pound small heirloom tomatoes, quartered
– Combine olive oil, lemon zest, orange zest, garlic, coriander, cumin, and Aleppo pepper in small bowl and microwave 45 seconds. Set aside.
– Cut squid tubes open to make flat pieces and, holding knife almost parallel to work surface (at a 30-degree angle), score inner side of flattened squid in a crosshatch pattern (do not cut all the way through). Pat squid bodies and tentacles dry and season with salt and pepper. Toss with vegetable oil.
– Heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill squid just until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Cut squid tubes into 1-inch lengths (you can use kitchen shears for this).
– Season tomatoes with salt and pepper.
– Whisk lemon juice into olive oil mixture and drizzle over squid. Garnish with fennel, oregano, and tomatoes. Serve warm or chilled.