Our Thanksgiving day meal has remained largely unchanged over the years. Whether in Northern California or New Jersey, the progression of courses and recipes have more or less remained constant. There is a pattern, an order to how we do things from reviewing last year’s meal for some minor tweaking to orchestrating the presentation of the feast. After several weeks of ruminating over the details, preparing the to-do lists, marketing, starting the actual cooking – understandably a well needed moment to collect oneself before the big event is in order. Beginning our celebration in the living room in front of a toasty fire, with glass of Prosecco and un bocconcino or nibble, coaxes our guests to relax while offering a peek of the delights to follow. Most civilized, wouldn’t you agree?
We have been drinking Prosecco since the early 90’s, having introduced it to countless family members, cooking students, and friends during that time. It’s popularity has risen sharply since the late 1990’s and now can be purchased just about everywhere, including… yes Costco (I am certainly not above buying a case there, especially during holiday season). Prosecco, a sparkling wine from the Veneto region of Italy is produced using the charmat process of tank fermentation. The preferred geographic zones for growing the Prosecco or Giera grape are the the villages between the towns of Valdobbiandene and Conegliano.
Whenever I need to broaden my knowledge of wine, Italian wine in particular, my go to source is Mike Guerra of Enoteca La Storia in Los Gatos. In chatting with Mike when this post was in the planning stage, he introduced me to a Prosecco from the Cartizze hillside which evidently produces the highest quality Prosecco or Giera grapes, resulting in a particularly exceptional Prosecco. It is more costly than most brands you will find, so let your budget be your guide and enjoy a glass or two of whatever Prosecco you purchase.
Our little spuntino or snack, is comprised of a few tasty morsels which require little preparation and are based on a selection of Italian cheeses, nuts, dried fruit and some finnochio or fennel. Bite sized crostini with either homemade or store bought fig preserves and a creamy Gorgonzola Dolce is always a crowd pleaser. Plump sweet dates stuffed with lightly toasted walnut halves compliment most Italian cheese varieties. A flavorful harder sheep or goat cheese, such as Caccio di Bosco with Truffles, served with a rich Italian chestnut honey and dense crusty bread… well does anything else need to be said. The recipe card is really just a list of ingredients and simple tips as to how to pull this together, use the photos and your imagination as your guide and you will be off to an amazing start.
Remember Prosecco, that delightful bubbly from the Veneto region, should always be consumed young and chilled.
- 1 jar of fig preserves or confit
- 1 artisan baked loaf of bread of your choice, I prefer whole grain or sour dough
- Piece of Gorgonzola Dolce
- Fresh thyme for garnish
- 20 plump whole dates
- 20 lightly toasted walnut halves
- Piece of hard Italian sheep or goat cheese
- Chestnut honey
- Loaf of a dark country bread
- 2 bulbs of fresh fennel
- Red grapes, dried apricots, toasted hazelnuts as you prefer
- Chilled Prosecco
- Preheat the oven to broil with the rack set at the ⅓ point, cut the artisan bread into ½ inch slices, place on a baking sheet and toast the slices watching carefully to avoid burring. Once one side is toasted, turn and toast the other side. Remove from oven and place the toasted bread slices on a wire rack to cool.
- About 30 minutes before serving, spread about 1 tablespoon of the Dolce Gorgonzola onto each slice. Follow with spooning about ½ teaspoon of the fig preserves in the center of the Gorgonzola, garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.
- Slice the top of the dates lengthwise, remove the pit, insert a walnut half in the center and gently close, allowing the top of the walnut to be seen.
- Display the goat or sheep milk cheese along side a ramiken or the jar of chestnut honey with a spoon and the country bread partially sliced.
- Wash the fennel, cutting of the fronds to be used for garnish for your appetizer board. Remove the outer portion of the fennel bulb and slice the bulb into wedges. Place in a small bowl over ice.
- Select a large board or other serving items to artfully arrange your selections, using the fennel fronds as a decorative garnish. Have the chilled Prosecco and glasses at hand.