Greetings dear readers and friends. I hope winter is treating you right and it hasn’t been too cold in your neck of the woods. On our end, the south of France has been a series of highs and lows… unseasonably warm weather from the middle of January right through to the start of March, and now we’re in the middle of some serious, chilly wind. About 7 days in…
If you’ve ever visited Provence, you might have had the (mis)fortune to “meet-up” with the Mistral wind – a force to be reckoned with that knocks over everything from signposts to potted plants and literally blew the glasses off my face while I was leaving work on Monday (yikes!).
Needless to say, I’m thrilled that spring is just around the corner.
And with spring comes dinner parties, bbq’s, and the best French invention ever (in my honest opinion, IMHO, right?)… the French apéro. Once afraid of French cooking, in all its forms, I’ve come quite full-circle and gotten a wee bit obsessed with throwing the perfect apéro party. I brought mini-muffin pans back from the States (thank you Micheals’ coupons), have amassed an arsenal of serving platters that I keep tucked away in our garage, and have about 30-40 tiny glasses (“verrines”) just waiting to be stuffed with the likes of guacamole & Cajun shrimp, etc.
Why all of this stockpiling-craziness you might wonder? It’s simple, an apéro party, or “apéro dinatoire” as it’s known in French, is all about variety. We’ve gone way beyond simple chips and dips, and we’re into mini-masterpieces… think smaller versions of all of your favorite French foods (except the Cajun shrimp, that was indeed an American import 🙂 ). For a successful apéro, you’ll of course need some wine and/or cocktails, and about 30-40 tiny-versions of a few of the following:
How to Make the Perfect French Apéro—————————
Quiche Lorraine, crab, goat cheese, leek quiche… you name, they will love it. Here’s an easy quich Lorraine recipe to adapt from the NY Times.
Mini-savory madeleines or muffins:
Try cheddar & bacon (my favorite), chorizo & bell pepper, blue cheese & walnut, parmesan cheese & rosemary, goat cheese & sun-dried tomatoes, etc etc… Find a few savory muffin recipes here.
Mini goat-cheese “pizzas”:
Take some puff pasty dough, make small circles with a cookie cutter, top with a slice of goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with walnuts, or black olives, or thyme, or diced ham. Cook at 325 F for 12 minutes or until the cheese melts and the edges are crispy.
Described as light and fluffy “cheese buns” in English (lol), this are quite truly cheesy pockets of heaven made with Gruyère, Comté, & Emmenthal cheese – or you can experiment with other combos. My mother-in-law just happens to be a certified Gougères expert… she makes them days ahead, pops them in the freezer, than heats them up right before the guests arrive. Here’s a gougères recipe from Dorie Greenspan.
Spreadable “dips” like green or black olive tapenade, anchoïde, caviar d’aubergines (eggplant spread), or rillettes de thon (tuna spread) or rillettes de saumon (saumon spread), etc… or you can buy baguettes, thrown on a little olive oil and top with your favorite combo: parma ham, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and the likes…
Literally means little “boats” in French –an easy favorite of mine (which I learned from my mother-in-law) is to take an endive leaf, spread on a bit of cream cheese, top with smoked salmon & dill, and serve with a tiny lemon wedge.
There is a long list of possible savory verrines you can make. Basically, you’re composing little salads or small entrées in a glass. I stick to easy ones, like the caprese salad below or my avocado / Cajun shrimp combo but there are so many variations, it’ll make your head spin… and your mouth water. You can check out a few tasty verrine recipes here.
Finally, add on some olives, salami, parma ham, pretzels, and potato chips… everyone loves chips, even the French 🙂 And of course wine and / or cocktails!
And don’t forget about dessert. Any apéro dinatoire worth its salt has a dessert component, a “mini” one of course.
Take any cake, tart, or “classic” dessert and scale it down to its tiny equivalent. The easiest one to do is a tiramisu. Instead of layering your tiramisu in a pan, you take a small glass and layer all your ingredients there: lady-finger bottom soaked in espresso, next add mascarpone cream layer, lady fingers again, and lastly, mascarpone-layer topped with chocolate shavings. Ok, it’s a bit of work if you have 30 or so to do, but people love it and it’s very easy to put together. Here’s a recipe for a strawberry tiramisu that I tend to make every spring / summer.
Other desserts? Take a tarte au citron or a black forest cake and do the same. I wish I was this creative, but these are all ideas from my (many) apéro books.
Our you can buy some madelines or mini-pastries: Go easy on yourself and pick up some treats from your local bakery. All of the savory stuff is enough work, let the French do what they do best: decadent desserts!
Those are only a few (ok, quite a few) French aperitif ideas, please feel free to share some of you cooking tips / suggestions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
Ps. I found a French apéro book in English, Aperitif: Recipes for Simple Pleasures in the French style – looks quite nice!
Bonne journée et bon apéro!