How to Feed Unexpected Guests


It's happened to all of us—someone shows up at your door just around dinner. It's not a national emergency, but it can be stressful. Not to worry. If you have the right stuff on hand, it's easy to throw together these quickie and delish treats from top foodie and New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, author of Food Matters.

Zesty olives
Marinate a variety of drained olives in olive oil seasoned with lemon zest, thyme, rosemary, and basil. Or spice up green olives with cumin and orange peel. These keep in the fridge for weeks, so you can always have a ready-to-serve treat.

Spicy nuts
Toss whatever nuts you have together with a little olive oil and your favorite spices; toast in a 450° oven for 10 minutes or until browned. Or, saute almonds in a pan with olive oil, chili powder, and salt for 10 minutes.

Tasty tuna
Mix a can of good Italian tuna with anchovies, garlic, onion, capers, and olive oil; stuff the mixture into piquillo peppers, or spread it on some bread. No cooking required—serve this dish at room temperature.

Next Page: More Quick Recipes With Nuts [ pagebreak ]

These are a revelation, so far from canned mixed nuts that you may have trouble believing it; and they're almost no work at all. I suggest relying heavily on pecans or walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews, with a sprinkling of anything else you can lay your hands on, from hazelnuts (filberts) to sunflower seeds.

Roasted Nuts with Oil or Butter
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Time: 15 minutes

2 cups (about 1 pound) unsalted mixed shelled nuts
2 tablespoons peanut oil or melted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 450°.

2. Toss the nuts in a bowl with the oil or butter, salt, and pepper. Put on a baking sheet and roast, shaking occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool before serving; they will crisp as they cool.


Sauteed Buttered Nuts. Even better-tasting. Put 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or peanut oil in a large skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. When the butter melts or the oil is hot, add the nuts and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Be patient; high heat will burn the nuts. As they cook, season with salt and pepper. Cool before serving.

Spiced Buttered Nuts. Real bar food: Add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of any spice mixture, like chili or curry powder, to the mix. When roasting, toss the spice with the nuts at the beginning. When sauteing, add it to the butter or oil as it heats.

Roasted Nuts with No Added Fat. Not exactly a compromise, because these are still infinitely better than nuts from a jar or can. Heat the oven to 350°. Run cold water over the nuts and put them, without drying, in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt and put in the oven. Bake, without stirring, until they are light brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve, or hold at room temperature for up to a few hours.

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