It’s a gorgeous autumn day here in the Virginia countryside and we thought it would be the perfect excuse to go wine tasting and enjoy the bounty of the booming local wine industry. I needed some easy, fun, wine-friendly snacks to make a perfect picnic for our friends. You can always go the cheese and crackers route, and we did include that in our spread and it was delicious, but I wanted to have a slightly kicked-up array of small bites that would pair well with all the wines offered by the local vineyards. This was pretty easy and everyone enjoyed it; I hope you do too. Our picnic included:
- Fig & Blue Cheese Tartlets (pairs well with Cab or Port)
- Parmesan Pesto Pinwheels (pairs with Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Chianti) Manchego & Quince Paste Skewers (pairs with Rioja or Sparkling Wine)
- Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Flatbread (pairs with Chardonnay)
- Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (pairs with Sparkling or Merlot)
I know that sounds like a lot of work, but thanks to refrigerated pastry dough (like Pillsbury Crescent rolls) , pre-made pesto sauce, and pre-made pizza dough, it was a breeze! The first recipe, Fig & Blue Cheese Tartlets, came directly from the Pillsbury website; check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/3cuwwwa. I made this exactly as directed, but used Gorgonzola cheese for a milder flavor and used the Pillsbury Seamless Dough Sheet with circular cutouts.
As for the others offerings, here are the recipes. They were very easy and the only one that was time-consuming at all was the Caramelized Onion Flatbread. I like to make Caramelized Onions in big batches and thaw them when I need them. They add a wonderful sweet and savory component to so many dishes that it’s handy to have them on-hand. They’re not tough to make, but they do take about 45 minutes of stove-side patience. I didn’t have any frozen this time around so I worked on the onions in the background while I made all the other dishes, then I finished the flatbread as my last step. I didn’t include a recipe for Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries, because it is not really even a recipe. Just buy a clamshell of nice whole, juicy strawberries and some of the dark chocolate microwave fondue often sold in the produce section near the berries. Microwave the chocolate as directed and dip the strawberries in it, allowing them to cool and the chocolate to harden up on wax paper. If you skewer each strawberry first with a toothpick, right through the center of the green top, you’ll make it easier on your guests to eat this treat without getting chocolate all over their hands. Be sure to use dark chocolate for this as it will pair better with the wine and the sweetness of the berries is a really nice compliment to the bittersweet chocolate. Depending on the size of your crowd (and the size of your appetite), you might also add some Brie with Apple Slices and Water Crackers, Mixed Spiced Nuts, Shrimp Cocktail, Hummus and Pita Toasts with Vegetable Crudite, and Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon. Again, none of those really require cooking, just strategic supermarket shopping and assembly skills!
Manchego & Quince Paste Skewers
1 (10 oz.) container of Quince Paste (found in cheese shops and high-end grocers)
1 (6 oz.) wedge of Manchego Cheese
Handful of Baby arugula leaves
This is really more about assembling than cooking. It’s a snap. First, put the quince paste in the freezer while you prep the other ingredients, just because it is a bit easier to manipulate if it is very cold. Carefully cut the rind off the Manchego cheese and cut it into approximately 18 1” squares. Next, remove the quince paste from the freezer, and cut it into an equal amount of small squares. Now, skewer one arugula leave on a toothpick, add the quince paste square, and finish with the square of Manchego cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve. This classic wine bite hailing from Spain is the perfect balance of sweet and salty and a nice compliment to many off-dry, sparking and lighter red wine.
Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Flatbread
2 sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 ½ Tbsp Olive Oil, plus more for brushing the crust
1 tsp Kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 cup grated gruyere cheese
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from the stems
Pre-made pizza dough for one thin crust pizza
2 tsp cornmeal
Handful of baby arugula leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp Fresh Grated Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
First, you need to caramelize the onions; chop them into thin slices. Heat the olive oil over medium and add the onions, kosher salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Add the sugar and cook for another 15 minutes until they are a warm, tobacco-colored brown. Set aside. You may do this part ahead of time.
Preheat the oven to 400. Grate the cheese and prep the thyme leaves. Line a large baking sheet with either silicon or parchment paper and sprinkle the cornmeal on it. Roll or spread out your pizza dough and lay it on the lined pan. Brush with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper and bake for about 5 minutes. Remove the slightly baked crust from the oven and top with the gruyere cheese. Next add the onions, finishing with the thyme, sea salt and more fresh pepper. Return to the 400 degree oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and add the arugula leaves and the grated parm/romano cheese and cut into squares with a pizza cutter. This dish is good hot or warm – even at room temperature. Enjoy!
Pesto & Parmesan Pinwheels
1 pkg. Refrigerated pastry dough (such as Pillsbury Seamless Dough Sheet)
4 Tbsp prepared pesto sauce
Crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper to Taste
3 Tbsp good quality grated Parmesan Cheese
I adapted this recipe from one I found on the Pillsbury site, so I wanted to give them a shout-out for offering such a great collection of easy ideas for last minute entertaining. (http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. Remove the dough from its container and roll it out into a large rectangle. Using a pizza cutter, cut this into 4 smaller rectangles. Brush each rectangle of dough with 1 Tbsp of pesto sauce. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and then about ½ Tbsp on each rectangle of the grated cheese. Roll each rectangle up into a fairly tight log, pressing on the edge with your finger to seal. Now cut each roll into ¼ inch slices using kitchen shears or a sharp knife. Place each pinwheel on the baking sheet, spaced evenly apart. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining parmesan cheese and bake for 13 minutes or so until golden brown. Cool for 3 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I hope you indulge in all of these fun snacks and enjoy them as much as we all did!