When it comes to the biggest, most hyped meal of the year, ease your way into the overindulgence with pre-dinner nibbles that will ignite palates without ruining appetites. Serve one or two of these stylish, seasonal hors d'oeuvres, and you can skip a first course, impress your guests, and keep your wits in the kitchen. Each recipe below serves 6 to 8 guests, unless otherwise indicated.
1. Parmesan Frico
Transform a single ingredient into a crispy, salty cracker in 10 minutes or less: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, then cover it with thin layers of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano in small circles spaced about 4 inches apart. If you wish, add a nutty crunch to each bite by sprinkling the cheese with chopped pistachios or walnuts before baking. Bake at 375°F for about 10 minutes, or until golden, then remove the frico with a spatula. Serve in a glass dish to best display the enticing hue and lacy look of these crispy wafers.
2. Roasted Butternut Squash Bruschetta
The season's standout squash plus tangy feta make the ultimate topping for garlic-rubbed toasts. Toss 1/4-inch peeled cubes of butternut squash with a few teaspoons olive oil, place in a baking dish, and roast at 450°F for 15 to 20 minutes. While the squash is roasting, slice a baguette into 1/2-inch rounds. Lightly toast the rounds on a baking sheet underneath the squash until golden, about 5 minutes, then immediately rub them with a clove of garlic cut in half lengthwise. Portion the roasted squash atop the toasts and sprinkle with feta crumbles. Make-ahead hint: The squash can be roasted and the bread toasted one day in advance and stored in separate airtight containers. Simply rewarm the squash in the microwave or oven and assemble the bruschetta when ready to serve.
3. Crustless Mini-Quiches
Crustless mini-quiches are an easy crowd-pleaser, especially for carb-conscious guests. While a mini-muffin pan is needed to make single bite-size quiches, a regular muffin pan works well, too, since you can quarter the larger quiches into smaller servings. For 36 to 48 mini-quiches, whisk together 6 large eggs, 6 large egg yolks, 2/3 cup milk, 2/3 cup heavy cream, and your choice of fillings (peppers, onions, cheese, fresh herbs, and any other leftover odds and ends). Grease the pan with cooking spray, portion the egg mixture into the cups, and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes, or until puffed and cooked throughout.
4. Savory Tapenade Palmiers
Whip up a simple, savory bite using store-bought puff pastry. Roll the pastry into a 10-inch square on a lightly floured surface, then brush it with a thin layer of pesto (store-bought or homemade) or tapenade, and top it with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Roll the pastry inward from both ends (like a scroll) so that the sides meet in the center. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (you'll have about 20 palmiers). Bake them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet at 400°F for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout.
5. Asian Glazed Shrimp Skewers
Fresh shrimp take on big flavor with the addition of a sweet and tangy glaze. Using 2 pounds of shrimp, skewer 3 medium shelled and deveined shrimp on each skewer (if using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 20 minutes first). Whisk together 1/2 cup hoisin sauce with 1/2 cup orange marmalade and set aside. Place the skewers on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for 2 minutes on each side. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and brush both sides of the shrimp generously with the glaze. Return the shrimp to the oven and broil for 2 more minutes. Serve warm on skewers or tucked inside lettuce cups.