(BPT) - Summer may be winding down, but there are still plenty of entertaining occasions like end of summer barbecues to plan for. Instead of focusing on several sides to accompany your barbecue favorites, consider offering your guests an array of seasonal appetizers to complement your main course.
Celebrity chef and Food Network star, Alex Guarnaschelli offers three make-ahead, delicious appetizers that will help make entertaining a breeze. By pairing seasonal produce and herbs with nuts like walnuts and pecans for rich flavor, these appetizers will be the highlight of your meal. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli prefers to use Fisher nuts, as it is the only national brand of recipe nuts entirely without preservatives.
Walnut stuffed cherry tomato halves
'Who doesn't love a stuffed cherry tomato?' Guarnaschelli says. 'A mixture of cheese, peppery arugula and juicy tomatoes brings out the great richness of the nuts. Stuffed cherry tomatoes are satisfying without being filling, and make a great alternative to bread-based starters. You can assemble these appetizers ahead of time and refrigerate them until you're ready to serve.'
Yield: 12 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
3/4 cup fresh arugula leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped Fisher Walnut Halves and Pieces, toasted
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
36 cherry tomatoes
Toast the walnuts by placing them in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Stir frequently until the walnuts turn golden - about three to five minutes.
Combine the arugula with the walnuts, cheese, olive oil, vinegar and lemon zest; set aside.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes. Use a small spoon (such as an espresso spoon), the handle of a teaspoon or a melon baller to gently remove the majority of the seeds and pulp, taking care not to pierce the skin. Season the insides lightly with salt. Fill the tomatoes with the walnut and arugula mixture. Serve at room temperature.
'For a more Italian experience, use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in this recipe,' Guarnaschelli suggests. 'It's more expensive than domestic Parmesan, but it has a wonderfully rich and nutty flavor.'
Quickie goat cheese and pecan bites
Another great make-ahead appetizer, these bites are filled with flavor and deliver the perfect combination of crunch and taste. 'The freshness of the parsley and lemon zest is the perfect bridge between the goat cheese and pecans,' says Guarnaschelli.
Yield: Makes 24 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 pound soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1/2 cup toasted Fisher Pecan Halves, chopped
Zest from two lemons
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Break up and mix the goat cheese with the black pepper in a medium bowl. Divide into 24 pieces of about 2 teaspoons each and roll into balls.
Combine the pecans, lemon zest and parsley in a medium bowl until well blended. Roll the goat cheese balls in the pecan mixture. Arrange on a serving platter. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Take them out 15 minutes before serving so they soften a little and drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired.
Spicy walnut and chickpea hummus
Chipotle brings smoky heat to this appetizer. While hummus is traditionally made with tahini (sesame) paste, this version uses sesame seeds and walnuts to add richness to the mixture and texture when sprinkled on top. Serve this hummus as an individual hors d'oeuvres or as a tasty dip with pita wedges.
Yield: 24 2-tablespoon servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 cup chopped Fisher Walnuts, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder or ground red pepper
1 medium red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, coarsely chopped, about 3/4 cup
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Combine 1/2 cup walnuts and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop the walnuts. Add the chickpeas, lemon juice, sesame seeds, garlic, paprika, chipotle powder and salt, and process until smooth.
Transfer the spread from the food processor into a medium mixing bowl and stir in bell pepper, parsley and remaining 1/2 cup walnuts. Serve with toasted pita triangles, if desired.
For more recipe inspiration and tips from Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, check out www.FisherNuts.com.