Entertaining should be easy. Particularly when the sun is out, we all have better things to do than fuss about over individual portions and small plates.
Enter; the grazing platter. These bring people together. It can be as simple as buying some of the best product of the season, arrange it nicely and letting friends and family fend for themselves.
There are a few key tricks to making the best ones. For one, keep things covered and at the correct temperature until just before serving. For two, keep track of any major allergies or intolerances in your guest list and keep those elements separate. And lastly; let your senses be the guide.
Here are our principles to the best grazing platters. You want to include something soft, something crunchy, things that are finger-sized and things that are fresh.Here we’ve put those ideas into practice, with four grazing platters that will serve you for any time of the day. Scale these up and down depending on how many people you’ve got coming. Dig in!
This is a staple starter for any occasion. You will want at least one dip to serve as a hero on your platter (more depending on the size of your crowd). A bowl of hummus topped with toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil is a great place to start. If you want more, be guided by the colours of the season. Go green by whizzing up 1 cup of frozen peas with 1/3 cup feta marinated in olive oil, the zest and juice of half a lime, 1 large handful of mint leaves, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt until smooth and you’ve got a reliable crowd pleaser. Next to that add a pot of red capsicum pesto. Make sure you’ve then got a variety of crudités; baby carrots, wedges of fennel, sticks of celery, capsicum and cucumber all offer the necessary crunch. Then add a bowl of marinated olives (as well as a few empty bowls for pits), some dolmades and some mixed roasted nuts. All you then need is some grissini and it’s good to go!
Now is the time to push the boat out when it comes to a seafood spread. You could keep it completely classic with oysters, served chilled on rock salt, with wedges of lemon and black pepper, plus some buttered fingers of sourdough bread on the side. But it’s worth expanding the offering. Try adding some smoked salmon and smoked trout on squares of rye bread with cream cheese and some dill or fennel fronds. Make a pot of smoked trout rillettes by mashing a boned fillet of smoked trout through half a cup of crème fraiche with a little horseradish cream and serve that next to some wedges of fennel or rustic crackers. You can easily pull off a twist on prawn cocktail by shelling cooked prawns, keeping their tails for easy grabbing and letting people swipe them through a mayonnaise spiked with a little wasabi, or wrap in small baby gem lettuce leaves. Make things a bit more interesting with a bowl of poke, made by combining well chilled cubes of sashimi salmon with slivers of spring onion, nori paper segments, macadamia nuts, pickled ginger, diced avocado and a dressing of light soy sauce and ponzu can be scooped up on prawn crackers or corn chips. Lastly, a good preserved option is to make a twist on classic tuna salad, by muddling together good quality tuna in oil, drained with mayonnaise, some finely diced fennel, apple and fennel tops and serve it with segments of witlof.
The key to a glorious cheese platter is to be strategic. Choose one great cheese, like a wheel of brie, go big and add a variety of accompaniments like crunchy segments of apple and pear (slice them just before serving to keep them fresh), grissini, quince paste, some halved apricots and a handful of walnuts and almonds. Or you can multiply the fun. Cheese plates work best when they are served in prime numbers – it’s more pleasing to the eye. Upsize from one to three or five cheeses. Choose a variety of textures and milks; one soft goat’s cheese, one hard cheddar or parmesan, one wash rind, one blue and one semi hard sheep cheese make for a great combination. Make sure there is a separate knife for each cheese and some thin slices of baguette. Then add a selection of things that can easily be plucked up off the platter. Sticks of celery spread with a soft blue cheese like Saint Agur, some cocktail sticks layered with bocconcini balls, basil leaves and cherry tomatoes, or cubes of feta, watermelon and mint are all popular. All you need then is a good variety of crackers and grissini and a scattering of nuts and dried fruit like dried figs, dates and apricots to make it truly festive.
This is a platter that holds its own at any time of the day. Put it out for an easy option for breakfast, or make two and pull out another for dessert. The rules of soft, crunchy, finger sized and fresh couldn’t be more relevant here. When it comes to soft, now is the time for berries. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries all have their place. Pair them with segments of perfectly ripe stone fruit, like peaches, nectarines and plums. When it comes to something crunchy you can’t go past segments of watermelon. Add triangular segments of red melon with green rind to popsicle sticks for some Christmas tree fun, or use a cookie cutter to cut stars out of the flesh and assemble on sticks for something fun for kids of all ages to grab. You can also put your melon baller to use and make rockmelon and honeydew balls to layer on bamboo skewers or toothpicks for something quick to grab. To fill out the platter you can add little pots of vanilla coconut yoghurt for dipping or little pots of chocolate mousse, or for breakfast, try making a big batch of mango bircher muesli to portion out into small cups. This can all be made easily the night before and kept covered in the fridge, leaving you with plenty of time this holiday season for the really important stuff; relaxing with family and friends.