By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 24, 2014 | APPETIZERS


First things first, is this crostini or bruschetta? And if it’s the latter, do you say broo-sheh-ta or broo-skeh-ta?

Oh, who cares? Hush up and eat it. Why? Because it may be the single best piece of toast topped with creamy cheese and tangy, garlicky cherry tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.

For the record, I say broo-sket-eh, because that’s how my Italian friends say it, and bruschetta is traditionally toasted bread topped with tomatoes and garlic.

Crostini is small, toasted (or fried) bread — think sliced baguette — served with any variety of toppings.

I know, I know, these days bruschetta is topped with the all kinds of stuff. A certain Phoenix restaurant built their reputation on the plethora of bruschetta they serve.

I’m not here to judge what you call it or how you pronounce it. I’m here to tell you how to make this incredibly simple, lip-smacking, moan inducing, easy snack.

There is a caveat. With so few ingredients, each one is crucial to the bruschetta’s success. Let’s start with the tomatoes.


Summer cherry tomatoes are the most important component. The smaller the better for sweetness and tender skin. If possible, source them from a local farmer. You’re likely to get heirloom varieties like currant gold, red pear and candy red.

The bread is critical, too, so look for a sturdy, hearty artisan type with a dense crumb to hold up the weight of the ingredients.


I’m using a roasted garlic, whole grain bread, but I’ve also used a dense, chewy multi-grain — both from local bakers — with great success.


The remaining ingredients are sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, ricotta cheese, garlic and chives. And salt and pepper, of course. I cannot overemphasize the importance of sherry vinegar in this dish. It is the secret weapon, so use one that you like.

I use a toaster oven when I’m making a small quantity. Feel free to double this recipe, but you don’t need to double all the ingredients, just the tomatoes, garlic, bread and ricotta. You can get away with 1-1/2 times the oil, vinegar, chives, salt and pepper.


Here’s the blah blah version (the full recipe is below).

Toss the tomatoes with some oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and roast in a hot oven just until the garlic turns toasty brown and the tomatoes have burst. Save the vinegar for post-roasting.


Speaking of saving, I hope you saved that bowl you tossed the tomatoes in because you can use it again — without washing — to gently scrape the tomatoes into before the vinegar sprinkle.

Gently toss the tomatoes with the vinegar — you don’t want to obliterate the shape of the tomatoes completely.


Now slice your artisan bread (and it’s OK to use the word “artisan” here because this is the real meaning of the word — you listening Domino’s? Tostitos?)

Brush one side of the bread with extra virgin olive oil and toast either after the tomatoes have roasted (if you are using a toaster oven) or concurrently in a toaster while the tomatoes roast.

You can toast the bread and roast the tomatoes ahead of time, but don’t assemble the bruschetta until just before serving. To me, serving it a skosh warmer than room temperature is best, so I generally make this just before I plan to serve it.

I cut the toast in half, on the diagonal, just because it looks cool.


After slathering the ricotta cheese on the toasted bread, spoon on the tomatoes (there will be a cook’s extra bite or two of the tomatoes), sprinkle with chives (here is how to micro-mince chives) and add more freshly cracked black pepper if you like. Or red pepper flakes if you fancy a little chile heat.


And then share.

Or not.


5.0 from 1 reviews
Cherry Tomato Bruschetta
Talk about flavor explosion! Cherry tomatoes are one of summer’s greatest gifts and this recipe honors them appropriately. Buy the smallest ones you can find. Sherry vinegar is the secret weapon here, adding just the right amount of zing. With so few ingredients, the bread is important, too. Find an artisan loaf, the sturdier the better. I used roasted garlic bread from a local baker, but I’ve also used a dense multi-grain to great success.
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 2
  • 8 ounces baby cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (~ 2 medium cloves)
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • --------------
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • ---------------
  • 2 slices rustic bread (1/2-inch thick)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ---------------
  • ¼ cup fresh ricotta
  • ½ teaspoon minced chives
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. (I use a toaster oven for this small of a quantity).
  2. Toss the baby tomatoes in a small bowl with the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Spread mixture on a small baking sheet (save the bowl for the next step) and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, until the garlic turns light brown and the tomatoes have burst.
  4. Remove from the oven and gently slide tomatoes (and juice, garlic and oil) back into the tossing bowl.
  5. Sprinkle with the vinegar and gently toss with a spoon, trying not to obliterate the tomatoes. You want them to retain some of their original shape.
  6. While the tomatoes are roasting, brush one side of the bread slices with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
  7. When the tomatoes come out of the toaster oven, turn the setting to toast and toast the bread until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Alternatively, toast the bread in a toaster while the tomatoes are roasting in the oven.
  8. Cut the toasted bread into two pieces on the diagonal. Spread evenly with the ricotta.
  9. Place on a serving plate or platter. Spoon the tomatoes over the cheese. Sprinkle with the minced chives. Serve immediately.



By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 23, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Friends were coming for dinner. Two were steak-and-potato-loving friends, and two were vegetarians.

I wanted an appetizer that would wow the vegetarians, but not turn off the meat-eaters.

Voilá! Quinoa lettuce wraps.


I show you how to cook quinoa in this post. The rest is just some chopping, dicing and whisking.

Easy. And versatile. I’ve chosen a Mexican flavor for this rendition but it could easily speak Greek with feta, cucumbers and olives. Or Italian with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Or any number of combinations.


Once all the ingredients are chopped, toss them together with the honey lime vinaigrette and spoon them into washed butter lettuce leaf cups –then ring the chow bell.

Fresh tasting and bursting with flavor, these lettuce wraps wowed everyone — including meat-loving me.


Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

[print recipe]

Serves 6 (makes 12 wraps)

Honey Lime Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons lime juice (1 to 1-1/2 limes)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Generous pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Quinoa Lettuce Wraps:
2 small heads of butter (Boston bibb) lettuce

1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa*
1 cup peeled and small diced jicama
1/2 cup small diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup small diced red onion
1/4 cup currants (or raisins)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the vinaigrette, whisk the lime juice with all ingredients except the olive oil until smooth. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. It should be very tart with a slight sweet finish.

To make the quinoa wraps, separate the butter lettuce leaves. Save the outer large leaves and the yellowish, small inner leaves for another salad. Shoot for 12 whole leaf cups. Wash the leaves and spin or pat dry. Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

To make the filling, toss the quinoa with the next 6 ingredients (jicama through mint). Season with generous pinch of salt and pepper. Toss with 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette.

Place the lettuce cups on a platter and drizzle with a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vinaigrette. Spoon about 1/4 cup (more or less depending upon the size of the lettuce wraps) into the wrap. If there is any remaining vinaigrette, drizzle it over the quinoa wraps.

*Note: 1 cup of dry quinoa will make about 4 cups of cooked.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 14, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Sweltering summer days call for something cool and refreshing, like this chunky gazpacho.

The recipe, from my third cookbook, Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook, includes shrimp, but you can make it vegetarian by dropping the shrimp altogether. If you do forgo the shrimp, add the minced raw garlic into the tomato mixture.

You can also make this refreshing appetizer (or call it a soup if you’d like) in advance, up to 8 hours before you plan on serving it. Add a couple of crisp cervezas and chill out by the pool.

Chunky Gazpacho with Shrimp (or not)

[print recipe]

Adapted from Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound (26/30 count) fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 teaspoon minced garlic, about 1 large
1-1/2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup V-8® juice (regular or low-sodium)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Generous dash of hot sauce
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons drained capers
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (remove seeds for mild heat)
1 cup seeded, chopped red tomatoes
1 cup seeded, chopped yellow tomatoes (or yellow bell pepper)
Pinch sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1 lime, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wheels for garnish

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Stir in shrimp and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp is pink and just done, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Chill shrimp.

Stir the next 12 ingredients (tomato juice through yellow tomatoes) together. Season with pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. Add more hot sauce if you like.

Layer the following in a margarita or short cocktail glass:
1/4 cup tomato mixture
2 tablespoons avocado
2 to 3 pieces of shrimp

Repeat layers, ending with a touch of tomato mixture. Garnish with a lime wheel. The shrimp and tomato mixture can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Keep in the refrigerator. Don’t cut the avocado until ready to serve to avoid it turning brown.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | MAY 12, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Sometimes you don’t need a recipe, you need an idea.

Take this amazing tomato avocado ricotta toast for example. You don’t need a recipe, but you do need top notch ingredients.

Start with the best multi-grain bread you can buy.

Brush a slice or two with olive oil (all the better if your oil is garlic-infused*).

Toast the bread for a few minutes, just until the edge of the bread is starting to crisp, but the center is still a little soft.

Spread the barely toasted bread with a generous tablespoon (or two) of fresh ricotta — local is best and I’m blessed with Gina’s Homemade.

Top with a few thin slices of a ripe, juicy, heirloom tomato.

Lay slices of a ripe avocado on top of the tomato.

Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, like Maldon. Grind some fresh black pepper on top of that.

If you are so inclined, throw a few dashes of hot sauce on for good measure. I’m partial to Louisiana’s mild, tangy Crystal Hot Sauce in this application.

Take a bite, but first you might want to sit down. Your knees could go wobbly. It’s that good.


Epilog: I feel compelled to tell you that my friend George thinks a few crumbles of crisp, applewood smoked bacon would improve this near-perfect toast. I don’t doubt that, but I really love it just the way it is.

*This is how I infuse olive oil with garlic: Mince a medium (or large) size clove of peeled garlic. Place it in a small saucepan. Pour in 1/4 cup of good olive oil. Heat on low until warm, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour it into a small container. Cover and refrigerate. Stir before using (the garlic settles on the bottom). Use it to brush on bread before toasting, or use a teaspoon or so for sautéing. I make it about once a week, keep it in the fridge and use it all week long.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 28, 2013 | APPETIZERS

Perhaps mousse is a misnomer, but it certainly sounds sexier than trout spread.

There was a time (like now) that I didn’t really care for fish. I eat it because I know it’s good for me, but my preference is steak. Or vegetables. Or pretty much anything other than fish.


Fortunately, this delicious smoked trout mousse doesn’t make me think I’m eating fish.

It has lots of other flavors that I love: garlic, onion, lemon, dill, and smoke.


The first thing you do is simmer some aromatics (in this case I’m using black peppercorns, celery, scallions and lemon) in water. This is called a court bouillon.

While the trout gently poaches in its fragrant bath, beat cream cheese in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes. You want to loosen up the cream cheese and make it fluffy.


And then you can beat in the other aromatics you’ve been chopping while the fish poaches and the cream cheese is beating (I love multi-tasking), namely garlic, red onion, dill and chives.

And a little liquid smoke.


That’s my favorite part. I love liquid smoke but a little goes a long way, so don’t measure the teaspoon the recipe calls for over the cream cheese mixture, in case you over pour. I’ve done that and it’s not pretty. Or tasty.

After the fish poaches (it will take about 10 minutes), remove it from the court bouillon and let it cool.


After it’s cool, remove the skin and break the trout into small chunks.


Add it to the cream cheese mixture and mix on low for about a minute. You don’t want to “cream” the fish. You could just mix by hand at this point but 1 minute in the mixer isn’t going to hurt anything.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the mixture in the bowl above looks all that appetizing, but dang it, it tastes fabulous, and you will forget that you are even eating fish.

Fortunately, they make these darling crocks (I found mine at Fry’s but I’ve seen them at The Container Store, too) and a crock full of smoked trout mousse is just what you should take to your next party.

Whether you call it smoked trout mousse or smoked trout spread, this appetizer is a keeper.


Smoked Trout Mousse

[print recipe]

(adapted from my own cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook — yes, I can do that. You can adapt it, too, if you’d like.)

Makes about 4 cups, enough to fill two, 2-cup crocks*

For the court bouillon:
8 cups water
1 lemon, cut in half
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
4 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
For the mousse:
6 trout fillets (about 2 pounds)
1 pound cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped (almost minced) red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Squeeze all the juice from the lemon halves into the water and toss the spent halves in, too. Add the celery, scallions and whole black peppercorns. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to low. Add the trout fillets, skin-side up. Gently poach (the water should not be bubbling) the trout until just done, about 8 to 12 minutes depending upon the thickness of the trout. Remove fillets and let cool.

While the fish is poaching, beat the cream cheese with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat for 5 minutes. The cream cheese will be light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the fish) and beat another minute or two. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again until all the ingredients are blended evenly into the cream cheese.

When the fish is cool, remove the skin and discard. Break the flesh into chunks and add to the cream cheese mixture. Beat on low speed for just a minute or so, long enough to incorporate the fish.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. You may want to add more lemon, or salt and pepper.

Refrigerate, covered for at least 30 minutes. Keeps four to five days, if covered in the refrigerator.

Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

* If you cut the recipe in half, do not cut the court bouillon ingredients in half. You need that amount of water and aromatics whether you are poaching 3 fillets or 6.



By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 25, 2011 | APPETIZERS

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for potato skins.

This recipe is from my Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook, but I have to warn you, they’re spa potato skins — meaning they’re made with low fat cheddar cheese and low fat sour cream.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to trim a few calories here and there.

There’s also nothing wrong with replacing the low fat ingredients in this recipe with the real stuff, and topping the skins with crumbled bacon.

Either way, it’s an easy recipe that hits the spot when you’re craving potato skins.

Spa (or not) Potato Skins

Serves 4


2 baking potatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds)
1/4 cup shredded low fat (or not) cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons low fat (or not) sour cream
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (cut on the diagonal)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 slices thick bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional…or not)


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick potatoes with a fork a few times. Bake until almost done, about 40 minutes. Cool potatoes.

2. Slice potatoes lengthwise and scoop out flesh, leaving about 1/4-inch flesh on skins. Reserve potato flesh for another recipe (such as hash browns).

3. Cut each skin in half crosswise, to yield 4 pieces per potato.

4. Reheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet (or spray with nonstick spray). Place skins on baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Remove skins from oven and top each skin with 1 tablespoon of cheese. Return to oven to melt cheese, about 2 to 3 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and top each skin with 1-1/2 teaspoons sour cream and sprinkle with smoked paprika, green onions and bacon (if using) and serve immediately.


By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 06, 2010 | APPETIZERS

Paired with a glass of sparkling rosé, this elegant appetizer is one of my favorite recipes in my cookbook Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook.

Maybe because it looks like it’s a lot more trouble than it really is.

And the flavors? Wow. Smoky eggplant, creamy goat cheese, fresh herbs and sweet, tangy aged balsamic.

I prefer to salt-soak eggplant to remove its bitterness, especially ones from the grocery store. Older eggplants have larger seeds, which impart a bitter flavor.

It really is a matter of personal preference, though, so you can skip that step if you’ve got a fresh, young eggplant at your disposal.

Of course it tastes fantastic just off the grill, but to save time, you can grill the eggplant a couple hours a head of time. Just leave the grilled eggplant at room temperature until you’re ready to assemble the plates.

If you’re not plating it fresh off the grill, serve it either room temperature, or reheat in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes before slathering it with the herb goat cheese.

Depending upon the size of your eggplant, you may have more than 6 slices (what you need for this recipe).

Grill them all and you can chopped up any leftovers to use in another salad, or put them on a tomato sandwich.

Grilled Eggplant with Herb Goat Cheese & Mixed Greens

(printable recipe)

Serves 6

Marinated Eggplant
1 small (~ 1 pound) eggplant
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper

Herbed Goat Cheese
1/4 cup (2 ounces) quality goat cheese
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Mixed Greens
1-1/2 cups mixed baby greens
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar* divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the Eggplant
1. Cut both ends off eggplant and discard.  Cut remaining eggplant into 1-inch slices.  Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt and place on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Set aside for 30 minutes. Wipe off the beaded moister with paper towels, but do not rinse. Meanwhile, make the herbed goat cheese by mixing all the ingredients (goat cheese through thyme) together until smooth.  Set aside at room temperature or keep in the refrigerator if making it far in advance.

2. Mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 teaspoons of minced garlic and brush on both sides of eggplant slices.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Let marinate while grill is heating up.

3. Heat the grill to medium-high (375° to 400°F).  Grill eggplant until soft but not mushy, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Alternatively, broil for 3 to 5 minutes on each side in a preheated broiler, about 3 inches from the heat source.

Make the Mixed Greens & Assembly
1. Toss mixed greens with 2 teaspoons of aged balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

2. Place a slice of grilled eggplant in the middle of 6 salad plates. Spread a tablespoon of goat cheese mixture on top of each eggplant. (I spoon leftover cheese on the plate, using 2 espresso spoons to shape into a quenelle, a 3-sided football. Here’s a Fine Cooking video link demonstrating the technique with ice cream…after the ad, of course.)

3. Place 1/4 cup of dressed greens on top of each eggplant.  Drizzle remaining balsamic over the top and around the plates.

*If you don’t have a quality, aged balsamic, take 1 cup of whatever balsamic vinegar you do have, and reduce it in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until only 1/2 cup remains.  This will thicken and sweeten it by removing some of the water content. Cool before using.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 28, 2010 | APPETIZERS

Towers of food, if done tastefully, are still in style.

Even though this dish is stunning, the best part is the fresh taste, especially if you splurge on the crabmeat and buy only the best. OK, so it takes a little prep time, but the presentation is worth it, and you can make these up to 8 hours in advance, if you leave them in the mold. Otherwise the avocado will start to turn brown.

Blue crab is easy to find along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico near Florida, but other lump crabmeat will work in this dish, too, like Dungeness, if you happen to live on the West Coast.

Just promise me you won’t use that canned stuff on the grocery shelf near the canned tuna.  Any specialty grocery store or butcher shop will have access to top quality crab, and I’ve even discovered a quality brand of canned pasteurized crab called Phillips.  It’s sold through some of the large price warehouse clubs, like Costco.

Chilled Blue Crab Tower with Lemon Crème Fraîche

(recipe from my cookbook, Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook)

Serves 4

For the tower

1/2 pound cooked lump crabmeat
1/4 cup olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (6 ounces) yellow tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 (7-ounce) avocado, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup spicy sprouts (like radish)
4 molds*

For the garnish
4 slices sourdough bread, 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Crème Fraîche (recipe follows, make at least 1 day in advance)
Zest of another lemon (zest at the last minute)
4 mint springs

1. Mix crabmeat with olive oil, lemon zest, and chopped mint. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Season the chopped tomato with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle the chopped avocado with the lemon juice and gently toss.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Spray the molds with nonstick spray and place on the lined sheet.  Layer the ingredients in this order, packing each layer tight with the back of a spoon before adding the next:

2 tablespoons tomato
2 tablespoons crabmeat
2 tablespoons avocado
1 tablespoon sweet onion
2 tablespoons crabmeat
2 tablespoons sprouts

4. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. May be made up to 8 hours in advance.

5. Cut the sourdough slices into decorative shapes with a cookie cutter (I used a small star).  Brush cut bread with melted butter and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Toast until golden brown.  May be prepared 1 day in advance.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

6. To serve, place a crab mold in the center of a plate. Carefully remove the mold, running a thin knife blade along the inside of the mold to loosen, if necessary. Place a dollop of Lemon Crème Fraîche next to the tower, or place in a squeeze bottle and zigzag on the plate. Garnish with toasted sourdough, freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of lemon zest, and a sprig of mint.

*I used empty tomato sauce cans (8-ounce size), both ends removed, washed, and dried for this recipe.

Lemon Crème Fraîche

There’s nothing quite like a homemade crème fraîche, though you could fake it with sour cream thinned with a splash of cream. This makes more than you need for the recipe, but you’ll find other uses for it, including topping baked potatoes.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons buttermilk
3 lemons

1. Stir cream and buttermilk together in a clean bowl or sanitized jar. Cover bowl or close jar and allow mixture to sit at room temperature until thickened. This could take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, depending upon how warm you kitchen is.

2. After mixture is thickened, zest 3 lemons and finely chop the zest (save the lemons for another use).  Stir zest into crème fraîche and refrigerate, covered, until chilled.  Store covered in the refrigerator, up to 1 week.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | FEBRUARY 08, 2010 | APPETIZERS


Some friends and I recently dropped by Elizabeth’s house and as we caught up on who was doing what in the Valley, I nibbled on a bowl of nuts on the counter in her earth-friendly “green” kitchen.

As my second handful of nuts went down, I stopped talking — because something extraordinary was going on in my mouth. Flavors were swirling and I was distracted by the song and dance flitting across my tongue.

You may be wondering who Elizabeth is.

She founded The Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1989 (and sold it nine years later). I count my lucky stars to have attended the school when it was still under Elizabeth’s watchful eye, with small class sizes and dedicated chef-instructors.

Elizabeth thinks of all SCI graduates as her “kids” even though some of those “kids” weren’t technically kids when they attended her school.

“What did you put in these nuts?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re so easy it’s silly,” she said and waved me off. I begged her to share the flavors because I couldn’t stop eating them.

“Just some brown sugar, red pepper flakes, salt and whatever herbs and spices you feel like,” she said. “And an egg white. That’s it.”

Elizabeth’s herb and spice combination was coriander, fennel and fresh rosemary. I didn’t have fresh rosemary handy, so I substituted the mandarin orange dust I wrote about here.

You can use any herbs or spices you feel like, just keep the brown sugar, red pepper flakes and salt constant.


The amazing thing about these almonds is that there is no added fat. None. Zippo.

So the only fat is what’s in the nuts. One ounce of almonds contains…oh, never mind. It sounds like a really big number for two tablespoons of nuts.

Just know that it’s much, much less than the same amount of macadamia nuts and nut fats are among the healthiest fats. If you must know, go here.



An egg white whisked with the spices is all the binding these nuts need.

The almonds will be all shiny when folded into the spiced egg white.

Spread them in a single layer and roast until the egg white is dry to the touch and the almonds smell toasted.

The nuts lose their shiny coat after roasting. As tempting as the smell may be, wait until they cool to serve them — they taste much better when they have time to cool and crisp up.


Elizabeth says she always has a tin of nuts on the counter, just in case anyone happens to drop by.

Like a car full of former students.


Elizabeth’s Spice Roasted Almonds

Adapted from Elizabeth Leite

Makes 3 cups

3 cups raw almonds
1 egg white
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes*
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds (use a mortar and pestle)
2 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds (or ground)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon coarse flake sea salt (or kosher salt)

1. Heat the oven to 300° F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a lined baking sheet.

2. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven (leave oven on) and cool for 10 minutes.

3. Whisk the egg white until frothy and then whisk in the remaining ingredients (brown sugar through salt).

4. Fold in the cooled nuts and toss until evenly coated.

5. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet and return to oven for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. The nuts are done when the egg white is dry to the touch and the nuts smell toasted.

6. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*I find that 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes is just enough to give you a noticeable, throat-warming kick. Use less (or more) depending upon your personal heat preference.


By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 23, 2009 | APPETIZERS

Zuke-Bites-PortraitSomething about zucchini drives me crazy.

It has nothing to do with the fact that it seems to multiply like crazy.

Put a couple of zucchini in the crisper drawer and the next day, you’ve got twice as many as you started with. Or it seems that way.

That’s not what makes me cuckoo.

What makes me crazy is the taste. Or, more specifically, lack thereof.

The good news about zucchini is that it’s good for you — a little dietary fiber, a healthy dose of Vitamin C and minerals and it even contains Omega 3 fatty acids.

Oh, and it’s supremely low in calories and has almost no fat. Huh, I think I just figured out the taste problem.

How many recipes have you seen that claim “a good way to use up zucchini” and yet the recipe calls for only one, or a cup of grated zucchini, which might be two small ones?

I posed a challenge on twitter the other day, asking someone to come up with a recipe that serves four, but uses 20 zucchini. I got some funny responses and some really good ideas.


@ChefReinvented suggested I eat one and compost 19. She’s funny.

@flourgrrrl told me about a zucchini crumble (yes, a dessert, and she says it tastes similar to apple cobbler.)

@KAHUNA75 suggested zucchini cheesesteaks. Great idea!

@hungrygrrl pointed me to Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking, which…


made me remember that I have a recipe in my first cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook that uses lots of Italian flavors: basil, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan — and it uses 6 small zucchinis. If you’re having a big party, triple the recipe and by golly, there’s 18 zukes gone.

The recipe is zucchini rounds stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and blue cheese.

But hold on there, partner. I’m not crazy about blue cheese, either. Oh, I’ll use it once in a while, but it’s not my favorite cheese. So I changed the recipe up a bit.


The original recipe also calls for roasted red pepper which I happened to have a jar of in the fridge. Unfortunately, it also happened to be a Petri dish — growing several kinds of mold (don’t remember how long it’s been in there, but it apparently got lost behind all the jams and salsas I’ve been reviewing lately for Phoenix Magazine).


No problem. I had just picked up a pint of teensy weensy tomatoes called sweet pea currant tomatoes. They’re no bigger than my fingernail and sweet as candy. You might find them at a farmers market, but if not, just use small grape tomatoes or even cherry tomatoes.

Good friends had brought us a Petaluma cheddar-style goat cheese from Spring Hill Cheese from California (hey, better than a T-shirt) so I swapped that for the blue cheese.


Now, instead of zucchini making me crazy, I’m crazy for zucchini — if it’s holding a wallop of flavor like these little appetizer bites.

What’s your favorite way to use up summer zucchini? Leave a comment and share. I think I still have a few zucchini in the crisper drawer.

Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 8

6 small (straight) zucchini (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1/2 cup small tomatoes (grape or cherry)*
8 medium basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup grated aged goat cheese (or white cheddar)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Slice the zucchini into 3/4-inch rounds and scoop most of the pulp out with a melon baller (be careful not to go all the way through — you’re making a “bowl” for the stuffing.)

2. Squeeze the drained sun-dried tomatoes in several layers of paper towels to remove most of the oil.

3. Place the sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, cheeses and pepper flakes into a food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture is still chunky but the ingredients are mostly blended.

4. Grease (or spray with non-stick spray) a baking sheet. Place the hollowed zucchini rounds on the sheet and fill with about a teaspoon of filling, mounding it up slightly.

5. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and the zucchini is cooked al dente. Remove from the oven and transfer to a platter. Garnish with tiny basil leaves if desired.

* If you use cherry tomatoes, remove the seeds. Cut them in half, and scoop out the seeds, leaving just the shell.

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