Mastering the art of grazing: Three simple recipes to help build your own grazing table

Suzanne Lenzer's sardine bruschetta with fennel and preserved lemons.
Suzanne Lenzer's sardine bruschetta with fennel and preserved lemons. Photo: Nicole Lenzer

Suzanne Lenzer's simple snacks are a great addition to your next abundant party platter.

Sardine bruschetta with fennel and preserved lemons

When I use tinned sardines, which is admittedly a lot, I keep it simple. They're so vibrant on their own that you don't really want to do anything that will compete with their tender, briny meatiness. Fennel and lemon are two flavours that, while potent in their own right, do work really well with sardines, not by overpowering them but by gently softening out their bolder edges. The sweet licorice of the fennel mellows the fish, and the salty-sweet preserved lemons brighten the buttery flavour. Of course, you can take the easy approach and add some fresh lemon zest and juice into the mix if you don't have preserved lemons around.

INGREDIENTS

Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer.
Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer. Photo: Nicole Lenzer

1 bulb fennel, halved and cored (fronds reserved)

1 cup preserved lemons, with some of the juices

2 cans (106g each) oil-packed sardines

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 slices rustic bread, toasted

METHOD

1. Use a mandoline to cut the fennel halves into paper-thin slices and then transfer to a medium bowl.

Advertisement

2. Roughly chop the preserved lemons until they resemble a relish and add them to the fennel along with any juices – the idea is to let the liquid from the lemons dress the raw fennel and then allow it all to macerate. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

3. While the fennel and lemons sit, drain the sardines of their oil and place them in a small bowl. Use a fork to mash the sardines into a rough paste. If the mixture seems a bit dry, add a teaspoon or so of the oil from the can. You want the paste to be spreadable, but you don't want it to lose all texture.

4. To serve, spread about a teaspoon of the sardine paste on each slice of toast and add a tangle of the fennel-lemon mixture. Top each toast with a pinch of fresh fennel fronds.

Makes 12

Rosemary and white bean smear tartlettes.

Anything goes: When it comes to making tartlettes use the crust as a blank canvas for what you have on hand. Photo: Nicole Lenzer

A trio of tartlettes: smoked salmon and asparagus; prosciutto with tomato and basil; and crab with tarragon

The variations I have here are some of my favourites, but you can use almost anything you like or have left over in the fridge – instead of buying smoked salmon or crab, feel free to use up those extra sauteed mushrooms, a handful of baby spinach or bit of roast chicken. Think of this crust-and-custard combination as a blank canvas for what you have on hand that sounds good to you.

INGREDIENTS

For the pastry

125g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm pieces

1¼ cups plain flour

¼ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste

¼ to ½ cup ice water, more or less as needed

For the custard

2 large eggs

⅓ cup whole milk

⅓ cup cream

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Smoked salmon and asparagus filling

1 slice smoked salmon, torn into small pieces

3 to 4 asparagus spears, trimmed and shaved into ribbons with a peeler

goat's cheese, for topping

Prosciutto, tomato and basil filling

1 to 2 slices prosciutto, torn into small pieces

2 slices roma tomato

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

4 or so fresh basil leaves, for topping

Crab and tarragon filling

½ cup crab meat, picked over for shells

¼ cup grated gruyere cheese

3 to 4 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves picked

METHOD

1. To make the pastry: In a food processor, combine the butter, flour, and salt and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Slowly add 1⁄4 cup of the ice water through the feed tube and pulse until the mixture begins to come together, forming a dough. If you need to, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse again. Stop the machine and dump the mixture onto a clean work surface.

2. Bring the dough together with your hands and knead once or twice until it forms a ball—don't worry if it's not totally uniform; you should see patches of butter in places for a flaky crust. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Remove the dough from the fridge. Dust a clean work surface with flour, unwrap the disk, and use a rolling pin to roll it into a 38cm × 25cm rectangle. Cut the dough into six 13cm squares. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of six 10cm tart pans.

4. Trim the edges and prick the bottom of the crusts lightly with a fork. Freeze or chill the tarts for at least 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 190C.

6. Meanwhile, make the custard: In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Once the crusts are very cold, gently place a piece of foil inside each tart shell, making sure it's snug against the edges, then weigh the foil down with pie weights or beans. (The weights will keep the bottoms from puffing up and the edges from sliding down.)

8. Put the tart pans on a baking tray and bake until just beginning to colour on the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully grasp the edges of the foil, and lift the weights and linings from the pans. Return the tart shells to the oven until the bottom crusts look dry, another 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tart shells from the oven and reduce the temperature to 180C.

9. Divide the custard mixture among the tart shells, filling them no more than two-thirds of the way full. Top two of the tarts with the smoked salmon, asparagus ribbons and a crumble of goat's cheese. Top another two with the prosciutto, a slice of tomato, the parmesan and a bit of basil. Top the final two with the crab, gruyere and tarragon leaves.

10. Bake until the custard is set, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 6

Rosemary and white bean smear.

Classic and sublimely sophisticated: Rosemary and white bean smear. Photo: Nicole Lenzer

Rosemary and white bean smear

There are two specific "dips" I remember my mum serving for guests when I was a kid.

The first was a pink caviar cream cheese that she'd buy at the farmers' market. It was the Katharine Hepburn of appetisers: classic and sublimely sophisticated, the patrician of pre-dinner spreads.

The other dip she served was a white bean puree she'd make herself. A rustic blend of cannellini beans, rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil, this dip was less fancy and more earthy, less glamorous and more quirky.

INGREDIENTS

1 can (440g) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 garlic clove, peeled

3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus more as needed

¼ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

grated zest of 1 lemon

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

In a food processor, combine the beans, garlic, and rosemary and puree until the mixture is coarsely chopped. With the machine running, begin to add the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream, starting with ¼ cup. Continue to process until the mixture begins to look smooth, adding more oil until you have a creamy puree.

Add the lemon zest and juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pulse again. Taste the puree and add more rosemary, lemon juice, or salt and pepper as needed.

This is an edited extract from Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer, published by Rodale Books, RRP $US27.50 ($35).