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Need appetizer for Italian dinner I am making - but no cheese, bread, etc.

I'm making a seafood pasta and garlic bread and salad for a dinner I'm having, and need an appetizer. But, I've got a friend coming who doesn't eat cheese or beef or chicken, plus half the group dislikes olives.

I don't want to serve anything that requires bread, since we're doing a carb heavy dinner.

I've thought of marinated sardines but that might be too much for some of the pickier eaters.

Any ideas?


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  1. Can you find fresh gnocchi at a local Italian deli? Gnocchi is delicious when it's cooked and then browned in butter with some herbs. They might not have thought about eating it that way, and it's delish. Maybe with a non-cheese pesto sauce. Just a few gnocchi go a long way.

    You could also try to find bouquerones, but like you said, some folks eschew anchovies and sardines.

    1. Something "en brodo" (in broth) would be nice. Go to foodnetwork.com and type en brodo in their recipe search engine. You'll get (mostly) Mario Batalli versions. Generally, depending on what's IN the brodo, it's a fairly light but very satisfying dish that makes a great appetizer.

      1. Grilled Figs on Rosemary Skewers comes to mind for some reason...


        1. Does it have to be Italian? What about baba ganoush or houmous with crudite? I suppose that's too pre-dinner...
          Crab cakes with mango salsa?
          Some eggplant caponata thing?

          1. How about a simple platter of prosciutto and a few different salumi? You said no cheese, beef or chicken but not pork.

            I love MuppetGrrl's gnocchi idea, but technically that would make two pasta courses (gnocchi counts as a pasta in the Italian progression) and it may be too much starch for your group as well. I'd also avoid any seafood appetizer since you are having a seafood pasta.

            Another idea would be some kind of soup, either hot or cold depending on the weather and what you will be making it with. Cold gazpacho or a cucumber yogurt soup are more summery, or you could do a warm butternut squash/sage soup on a cooler evening.

            1 Reply
            1. re: farmersdaughter

              An antipasti platter lets people choose what they want. Fill it with roasted vegetables, various salumi, some cheese (there must be some people who like it), artichoke hearts etc. You can buy everything ready to eat at any good Italian deli.

            2. Melon & proscutto would be nice, or how about a fennel dish, or maybe tomatoes & basil w/evoo on toothpicks, or caramelized onion-pine nut tartlets, or something with roasted peppers. Have fun & good luck!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Main Line Tracey

                Along these same lines, you could do asparagus spears wrapped with proscuitto -- serve some of the asparagus spears plain if there are those who don't like meat.

              2. Cantaloupe or Honeydew melon with prosciutto would be nice especially since it requires no cooking, and the melons are in season.

                Image: http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/img/p...

                Image 2: http://www.danielefoods.com/images/pr...

                1. Roasted Peppers (marinated in olive oil, garlic and a splash of balsamic vinegar), sliced beefsteak tomatoes and anchovies;
                  Grilled marinated eggplant and/or zucchini

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Marge

                    I recently served roasted zucchini marinated in olive oil, vinegar, anchovy, and garlic, and it was a huge hit. Great because you're supposed to make it ahead and let it sit overnight. This is the recipe I used. You can marinate roasted eggplant, too:
                    The anchovy gets all mushed up and adds flavor without being off-putting to picky eaters, though I may not be the best person to judge since I love anchovies.

                    1. re: Marge

                      My recipe for this is to throw some red (or yellow or orange) bells on a hot grill, turning them until they blister black all around. Usually takes about 15 min or so. In the winter I use the gas stovetop putting the peppers right on the flame.
                      I then put them into a paper bag which I roll up tight to steam. When cool, I peel the blackened skins off by hand and slice into strips. Then I marinate in very good EVOO with a cleaned salt-packed anchovy pounded in a mortar with garlic and kosher salt before serving. Will last in the frig for at least a few days too.

                    2. I'm making the last caprese of the season tomorrow night with a fresh ceamy oozy burrata, riper than ripe tomatoes from the farmers' market, and my own extra pungent (late in the season) basil. Drizzled with a little good olive oil and sprinkled with maldon sea salt, it's a nice way to say goodbye to the summer. sob.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: yumyum

                        Ooooops. You said no cheese.

                        Well, I'm still making it! Sorry.

                      2. Walnuts in Parmesan Butter
                        Fried Chickpeas
                        Marinated Mushrooms
                        White Bean Dip or Aioli with Crudites
                        Pickled eggplant or zucchini
                        Corn Fritters
                        Deviled Eggs with anchovies and capers
                        Heirloom Tomatoes with basil and olive oil

                        -What salad are you serving?

                        1. Steamed baby asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. Drizzle a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                            Yum, this a great suggestion for pasta dish!

                          2. What about roasted garlic- maybe some roasted peppers too? And some white bean dip. you could serve with pita crisps which are light.

                            1. Bagna Cauda? (means "hot bath")

                              It's like a fondue, except instead of cheese, there's a little pot of warm dip made from garlic, butter, olive oil and anchovies.

                              Your guests then spear little bits of raw vegetables and then dip them in the strong, warm sauce. It's all pureed so people won't even know they're eating anchovies...

                              Recipe link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: frenetica

                                I was just going to suggest that! Before I went veg, this was my treat meal...

                              2. bagna cauda is wonderful

                                as is FRYING!
                                A quick dip in flour/cornstarch mixture seasoned with s + p, followed by a dip in eggs beaten with a little milk or water
                                cauliflower, sage leaves, lemon peel, zucchini and sweet potato chips
                                And of course a few onions

                                I only do this stuff when eating with a group . . . totally addictive.
                                Use a nice deep pot to fry in to avoid spatter.
                                Salt immediately out of the fryer, and serve/eat right away.

                                If you want a different carb - and something you can make ahead of time - the farinata in Bittman's book is great -- it was discussed quite a bit on this board. It's an easy bready thing made of chick pea flour.

                                1. This Italian spread has been a huge hit & I always serve it before pasta meals:
                                  cook some shallots and a diced zucchini or 2 in butter and olive oil with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. When the zucchini's pretty soft, add a can of drained canelli beans and a little water. Cook all until the zucchini is very soft, then mash the mixture with a potato masher (add water or olive oil or a little lemon juice for taste/texture and some finely chopped parsely). Serve cold or room temp with salami, crackers, crutites, etc.

                                  I also second the idea of a fennel salad, sliced thin, mixed with watercress and/or parsely and/or walnuts, dressed with olive oil & lemon and some ribbons of parmesean cheese.

                                  In boca a lupo!

                                  1. Roasted pickled peppers?
                                    (whiich I LOVE!)
                                    Broil red & green sweet bell peps and place in paper bag. Remove all the char you can, but not under water - that makes it easier but washes out the taste. Then place in vinagrette refrigerated overnight.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: niki rothman

                                      Thanks for all your suggestions. I ended up doing a cheese plate for everyone else (since only one guest has the dietary restrictions), and sliced avocado for her. Plus had cornichons, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. I served Penne a la Vodka and garlic bread and tricolored salad for the dinner. Yes, the penne had a splash of cream, but the one girl didn't notice (she's not allergic, just picky!). Made a white peach tart for dessert :)