Recipes at Sound Food

Holiday Appetizers from the Garden

Spiced Nuts
Every year, as the temperature outside starts to drop, my mind turns to the appetizer recipe that is perhaps the most reliable in my repertoire for any fall or winter social occasion: roasted, spiced nuts.

I can’t take any credit for the recipe, which I discovered years ago in the Union Square Café Cookbook. Billed modestly as "Bar Nuts," these nuts won The New York Press award for "best bar nuts in New York" awhile back.  

You might think that mixed nuts on their own make pretty great appetizers. But these nuts clearly have some kind of special umami--it might be the insanely addictive and perfectly balanced combination of kosher salt, cayenne, dark brown sugar, and rosemary distributed over the warm nuts with a bit of melted butter. Whatever it is, I dare you to stop eating them.

(They also are completely yummy reheated--if not as crunchy--for several days afterwards.)

For those of us with bountiful supplies of rosemary in our gardens, this recipe includes a local ingredient--not the easiest thing to manage at this time of year. If you’re without a ready source of rosemary in your garden, don’t be afraid to do a little neighborly pruning as you take your evening constitutional. Most of us with herb gardens wouldn’t miss a few sprigs here and there. And if you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice rosemary growing prolifically in some public parks and parking meridians.

I usually buy the "deluxe" mixed nuts at my local grocery store in bulk. If you buy yours salted, then don’t add any salt to the spice mix. I also sometimes add nuts like macadamia  nuts to make my nuts even more luxe.

Union Square Café Bar Nuts

1/4 pound each peeled cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, and whole unpeeled almonds, or 1 ½ lbs deluxe assorted nuts, preferably unsalted.

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon butter, melted


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and spread them out on a rimmed cookie sheet. Toast in the oven until they become light golden brown, about 10 minutes.

3. In the large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter.

4. Thoroughly toss the warm toasted nuts with the spiced butter and serve warm.

Three Crostini Options

I like to make crostini toasts for holiday appetizers because it’s such perfect finger food. If you have winter arugula or onions or garlic that you’ve harvested from your garden, it’s quite easy to prepare savory crostini ahead of your guests’ arrival, the better to enjoy their company.

Arugula Crostini

1 baguette

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

Arugula (2-3 cups, washed, dried, and stemmed)

Pine nuts

Lemon, halved

1 round good quality goat cheese

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add just enough olive oil to film the surface of a 10-12" nonstick fry pan. Warm over low heat. Add arugula to olive oil until wilted. Greens should look shiny, but should not be swimming in oil. Remove pan from heat. Squirt ½ lemon over greens, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the baguette into ¼" thick rounds and spread them on a cookie pan.

Toast rounds in preheated oven until lightly golden, then, using kitchen tongs, turn baguette slices and return them to the oven until their second sides are also golden. Remove from oven.

While the toasts are still warm, using the cut side of the garlic, brush the cloves gently against the top side of the toasts to impart additional flavor. Drizzle with olive oil.

Remove arugula from pan and chop if individual leaves are too large to fit on toasts. Distribute arugula on top of toasts.

Slice goat cheese into slivers and dab on top of arugula. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Taste. If the crostini seem to need more flavor, add salt and pepper, olive oil, and more lemon juice, in moderation.

Carmelized Onion Crostini



Extra virgin olive oil

1-2 largish onions, peeled and sliced thinly

2 Garlic cloves, peeled and halved

¼ C Italian Parsley, washed and stemmed

Salt and pepper to taste

The same method for making crostini can be used to excellent effect with onions, if they are carmelized (softened and browned, and cooked to elicit their incredible sweetness) over low heat in ½ cup olive oil for 30-45 minutes. Prepare baguette as in the previous recipe, adding onions to the toasts. Add Italian flat leaf parsley as a garnish on the toasts. Salt and pepper to taste. (These are much better warm than at room temperature.)

Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Crostini



2-3 heads of garlic

Extra virgin olive oil

1 round of good quality goat cheese

This recipe is fun and very informal (though a little messy) and can involve guests of all ages, if you choose.

Take 2-3 entire heads of garlic, drizzle each with olive oil, and salt and pepper, and wrap each head individually in aluminum foil.

Roast wrapped garlic heads in a 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes to an hour on a cookie pan. Garlic heads should give to the touch when they are done. Allow to cool slightly before unwrapping.

Prepare toasts as in earlier recipes, minus the garlic rub.

Drizzle toasts with olive oil. Spread goat cheese thinly on toasts.
With a serrated knife, cut off the top of each garlic head, so that the individual garlic cloves are exposed and accessible. Guests can pick out cloves of garlic and squirt them out of their skins directly onto their crostini. The garlic should emerge, warm, silken, and deliciously glazed by its long time roasting in the oven. Guests will need napkins, as the garlic is a bit sticky, but tasty.


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