It was my turn to host our bi-monthly bookclub meeting tonight. The bookclub, which was formed nearly five years ago, when my friend Cathy and I decided to "break away" from another club (where we got fed up with certain members texting each other across the sitting room and no one spending much time talking about books), comprises 11 enthusiastic readers, who are also keen foodies. The combination of books, conversation, wine and food seems just about perfect, and each meeting is an opportunity for the host to provide interesting canapes and nibbles to accompany the book talk. It got a bit out of hand for a while, when the food verged on the competitive and we started having a proper sit-down supper, which tended to preclude serious conversation about what we had read, so, as bossy Chairwoman, I suggested we revert to the canapes, and start a little earlier in the evening to give us plenty of discussion time.
I'm not terribly good at canapes: what I mean is that I don't like fiddling about with small morsels when I could be making a big slow-cooked something-or-other. However, I now have a few standbys which I wheel out on a regular basis and which seem to go down well. I tend to supplement my own creations with bits and pieces from M&S, which can always be relied upon for good falafels, olives, stuffed vine leaves and interesting dips. The following are what I served to the bookclub ladies - and the parma ham wrapped mango was so popular, I will definitely make it again. Oh, and by the way, the books discussed were An Education by Lynn Barber, The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday, and The Believers by Zoe Heller, an interesting and varied trio of books which provoked lots of lively exchanges. Afterwards, when the canapes and book-talk was exhausted, I produced a plate of Forgotten Cookies (see earlier post) which were greeted by lots of oohs and aahs of delight, and then gave an impromptu recital on the piano.
Manchego and Membrillo
A classic Spanish tapa, and one I always select when I'm in Spain, where plates of crumbly shards of sharply-flavoured cheese are often accompanied by pink tongues of sweet Serrano ham and rustic bread. Manchego comes in young, aged, and very aged varieties - the more aged, the sharper the flavour. It's a matter of taste, but I prefer a sharper flavour. Membrillo is a quince paste and is wonderful with cheese. Slice the cheese thinly (remove rind if preferred) and then top off with a sliver of membrillo.
Mango wrapped in Parma Ham
This is adapted from something I ate a while back at a summer drinks party - melon wrapped in Parma ham. I had to make it with mango because I couldn't get a ripe melon. Slip in a fresh basil or rocket leaf before wrapping a small slice of mango (or melon) in Parma or Serrano ham. Grind over some fresh black pepper, if liked. I have to say this was a real success, so delicious that I ate about five pieces while I was making it!
So easy you wonder why you didn't make them sooner! Heat oven to about 180C. Evenly spread a non-stick baking sheet or Bake-O-Glide with 200g of grated cheese such as Gruyere, Parmesan, Cheddar or similar and cook for about 10-15 mins until the cheese is bubbling and just beginning to crisp up around the edges. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then break into bite-size pieces. A brilliant accompaniment to Champagne.
Mozzarella with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Another winner, for its sheer simplicity and tastiness. Slice a ball of Mozzarella into rounds and top off each slice with a sun-dried tomato. Use buffalo Mozzarella for a more luxurious flavour.
Easy-peasy: choose Chorizo, good salami (Milano or French saucisson), Parma or Serrano ham and arrange nicely on a pretty plate.