Not long ago I wrote about retro cocktail parties and shared some recipes for a few classic cocktails. Several readers asked, with all due sincerity: What type of appetizers does one serve when hosting an old school cocktail party?
For those of you who are young and perhaps didn’t come of age watching parents host cocktail parties (I didn’t) – or come of age reading old cookbooks (I did) - there are myriad options. Classics include Angels on Horseback (made with scallops rather than oysters wrapped in bacon), Swedish Meatballs, Angelic Stuffed Eggs, or these classic Spinach Parmesan Crostini.
I believe that having a few classic appetizer recipes on hand is just as important as knowing what goes into crafting traditional cocktails. While some of what I wrote about cocktail parties was tongue-in-cheek, I actually do, on occasion, enjoy a fancy drink served in a martini glass in lieu of a glass of lovely wine. I also confess that I enjoy playing dress-up at times. It’s fun to ditch the denim and classic rock, dig out my little black dress, put on a pearl necklace, and swoon to old Sinatra tunes. Ahhh, Old Blue Eyes … he was always my mother’s favorite. But I digress.
Back in the 1960s the word “crostini” was unfamiliar to most of Middle America. The term is still not known to everyone, but back during the early Viet Nam era this appetizer likely would have been referred to simply as Spinach Dip on Toast. I think the name “Spinach Parmesan Crostini” sounds a bit more elegant and, in my opinion, elegance and glam are part of the very foundation of a retro-style cocktail party. Oui?
You can, of course, serve these crostini with wine or beer while wearing denim and flannel — but I think they taste best while wearing pearls.
Spinach Parmesan Crostini
This is the made-from-scratch version of my recipe. For those who get a bit faint of heart when reading multiple steps, I’ve included several short-cuts in a section below that will allow you to make a “semi-home made” version of this recipe. By doing so, please do not in any way confuse me with the rather ditzy blond woman from the Food Network who throws dishes together using only short-cuts and then has the audacity to call it “cooking.”
1 1/2 lbs fresh spinach
1/4 cup water
1 egg yolk
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 French baguette
Olive oil for brushing
1 cup sour cream
1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme (may substitute 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Paprika (for garnish, if desired)
Preheat oven to 375.
1. Cook the spinach: Carefully wash the spinach, taking care to get all of the grit out of the leaves. Remove and discard any woody stems or yellowed leaves. Place the cleaned spinach in a large pot with 1/4 cup water and over high heat bring to a boil. Reduce heat and steam for approximately 3 minutes until the spinach wilts but still retains its bright green color. Set aside to cool.
2. Make the toasts: Using a serrated bread knife, slice the baguette on the diagonal into 3/8 inch ovals. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for a total of 6 to 8 minutes, turning the slices over once halfway through the baking time. The toasts should be firm but not browned. Leave on the baking sheet and set aside to cool.
3. Make the aioli: Combine the egg yolk, minced garlic, and pinch of salt in the small bowl blender attachment. Blend together on medium, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil the mixture thickens.
4. Make the creamy spinach spread: Squeeze the water out of the steamed spinach and place the leaves in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and the aioli. Combine thoroughly, then add salt to taste.
5. Assemble the crostini: Spread a teaspoon of the creamy spinach mixture on each baguette slice. Sprinkle each with shredded Parmesan cheese (and a touch of paprika for color, if desired). Bake at 375 for 7 to 8 minutes until the spinach topping is hot and the cheese begins to melt. Serve warm.
The creamy spinach also serves as a terrific dip for crudités or sturdy tortilla chips.
Your Cheatin’ Heart Short-Cut Version:
1. Instead of using fresh spinach, substitute 1 package (10 ounces) of chopped frozen spinach, completely thawed and well drained.
2. Instead of making aioli, substitute 2/3 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced.
3. Instead of baking baguette slices, substitute packaged bagel crisps or sturdy crackers.