The toast of the town Entertaining: Salmon and fennel create a delightful appetizer.

October 11, 1998|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

When I learned that friends who live in Paris would be bringing their son back to college in our town, I invited all three for dinner. Although I envisioned a small, casual meal, my husband insisted that we ask other guests because our pals are so interesting and such good mixers.

I called two couples, and both were delighted to be included. The day of the party, more out-of-town friends, who were bringing their daughter to an area college, telephoned to ask us to join them for supper that night.

Knowing I had made more food than necessary and certain I could find extra place mats to match the ones already on the table, I suggested they come to our house instead. The parents both accepted, so my original, intimate supper for five was now a sit-down dinner for 11! The evening was one of the best I can remember, with lively conversation, plenty of food and a good supply of wine.

What pleased me most about the menu was how easily I was able to adapt it to a larger crowd. Melon wedges flavored with mint and Pernod, and a chicken-liver pate with figs were my original appetizer choices. I also turned leftover salmon and fennel into smoked salmon toasts with fennel-scented cream for an extra starter. I had carrot soup with lime and cumin as a first course, and vegetable couscous with lamb chops as the entree. A quick trip to the market to buy more chops expanded the main course. Two peach-and-blueberry cakes to be served with ice cream were already baked for dessert.

The smoked salmon and fennel toasts took little time to assemble and were a lovely combination of colors, tastes and textures. Early in the day, I cut slices from a baguette, brushed them with olive oil and quickly toasted them. I also whisked crushed fennel seeds, fresh chopped tarragon and Dijon mustard into some sour cream. At serving time, the toasts were spread with the aromatic cream, then topped with chopped fennel and smoked salmon. These delicious nibbles were so popular that there were none left at the end of the cocktail hour. They are an ideal appetizer, but they would also be a fine addition to serve at an open house or reception.

Smoked Salmon and Fennel Toasts

Makes 20 toasts

20 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread, preferably cut from a loaf 2 1/2 inches in diameter

about 4 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed well (see note)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus tarragon sprigs for garnish

1 small fennel bulb

5 to 6 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon

Arrange oven rack at center position.

Brush bread slices on both sides lightly with olive oil and arrange on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until light golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, turning once. Remove and cool. Toasts can be prepared 3 hours ahead; keep loosely covered with aluminum foil at room temperature.

Whisk together sour cream, mustard, crushed fennel seeds and chopped tarragon. Cream can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.

When ready to assemble toasts, trim fennel bulb of lacy stalks and discard stalks. Halve bulb lengthwise, remove and discard tough cores, then chop fennel bulb finely. Spread each toast generously with about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of cream mixture, top with about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fennel, then with salmon slices cut to fit toasts. (You will probably have some chopped fennel left over.)

Place small dollop of cream in center of each toast and garnish with small tarragon sprig. Arrange on serving platter.

(Note: To crush fennel seeds, use a mortar and pestle, or place in small, sealing, plastic bag, and use meat pounder or rolling pin to crush seeds to coarse powder.)

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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