Built-In BLTs, Quick Caprese

Built-In BLTs, Quick Caprese

Hank Phillippi Ryan:
Charlotte McNally’s “On-a-Deadline” Appetizers –
Built-In BLTs, Quick Caprese &
Quicktime Taste of Tuscany


With a full time job just as an investigative reporter, and another full time job as a mystery author, and another full time job as a happy wife, you can imagine there’s a lot of juggling going on.

How do you manage it? That’s what readers always want to know. Barely, I reply! But happily.

I will confess, cooking was one of the first things I had to cut back. Used to be? I’d come home from working at Boston’s NBC affiliate, and unless there had been big breaking news or an especially tough story, cooking dinner was one of the few things that would really relax me. It’s fun, it’s rewarding – but you do have to concentrate, and the craziness of a day in disguise or going undercover with a hidden camera or scouring through court records would fade away as I calculated what to make for dinner.  I came up with some fantastic sauces, great toppings for grilled fish, and exotic new pasta combinations.

Now, let’s just say it’s lucky that my dear husband is patient. There’s a lot of pizza. And carry-out grilled salmon.

And dinner parties? Back in the day I used to go all out. Elaborate, experimental, no holds barred. Soufflés, beef Wellington, pommes Anna, poached fresh pears with wine and cinnamon. No recipe was too complicated, no prep too difficult. I loved it.

Today? Forget about it. Now, like my main character (and alter ego?) reporter Charlotte McNally, I’m figuring out ways to make food tasty and beautiful – but also, well, fast. And when friends stop by for drinks and chat – we sit out by the pool and watch the summer sunset and, as we say, “soak up the niceness.” And for that, you need appetizers. Here are three that are elegant, delicious, and of course, fast.

Built-in BLTs

16 cherry tomatoes  (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard), halved
1-2 leaves romaine lettuce, torn into small pieces
2-3 slices bacon, crisply cooked and cut into small pieces
Fresh parsley or basil

Scoop out most of the inside of each tomato half.  Place a dollop of mayonnaise in each half.  Stick a torn piece of lettuce into each. Pop in a piece of bacon.  (These will look beautiful.)  Arrange on a serving tray and garnish with sprigs of fresh parsley or basil. Done!

Yield:  6-8 servings

Quick Caprese

Note:  This is easy finger food, but if you want to provide little forks, it’s delicious for guests to dip each tomato into a pool of extra high quality balsamic vinegar. Splurge on the vinegar!

Fresh mozzarella cheese, in cherry tomato-size balls  (ciliegine)
Fresh basil pesto (may be store-bought)
16 cherry tomatoes  (sniff in the store to make sure they smell like tomato, not cardboard), halved
Fresh parsley or tarragon
Fresh basil, finely chopped

Slice each mozzarella ball into three pieces.  Put a dollop of pesto on each tomato.  Top with a slice of mozzarella.  Arrange on tray with parsley sprigs, or stalks of tarragon and tomato halves for garnish.  Sprinkle basil on top of the cheese.  Done!

Yield:  6-8 servings

Quicktime Taste of Tuscany

Note:  Consumer reporter alert – be sure to wash the outsides of the melons before you cut them to prevent salmonella!

1 cup bite-size chunks of fresh cantaloupe
1 cup bite-size chunks of fresh honeydew melon
30 strips prosciutto
Fresh herbs
Fresh basil, finely chopped

Wrap each melon chunk with prosciutto, and secure with toothpick.  Arrange on tray with herbs from your garden (or the grocery).  Sprinkle basil across the top to garnish.

Yield:  6-8 servings