By Dennis Linden
The French began using the word canapés to describe a favorite finger food in the late 18th century. Originally, canapés were thin slices of toasted or fried bread covered with various savory toppings. Canapé, the French term for a “sofa”, was adopted for this appetizer because the toppings “sit” on top of the bread like people sit on sofas. Sounds like the first munchie invented specifically for couch potatoes! Anyway, over time the word has evolved into a much broader term for any small, finger food appetizer, aka “platter food” to professional caters.
Interestingly, during Prohibition the art of finger foods was taken to new culinary heights as the category enjoyed newfound popularity for a few very practical reasons. One way of ensuring that patrons at speakeasies didn’t leave inebriated, thus drawing unwanted attention to these secret business establishments, was to serve small amounts of food to patrons throughout the evening. During that same era many skirted the law by hosting private alcohol-centric gatherings in their homes. With the birth of these cocktail parties also came inventive canapes like stuffed mushrooms and a plethora of cracker spreads. Also, and in the spirit of the circumstances, these small bites could be carried and enjoyed out of one hand with always being able to hold a drink in the other!
While the reader will have to supply the accompanying libation of choice, our own Raquel Perez has come up with a tasty and very healthy canapé from her cutting board in Melissa’s test kitchen. Raquel’s guilt-free party food comes just in time to munch through January’s month-long viewing of the NFL Football playoff games, as well as next month’s Super Bowl, without gaining a pound. Raquel builds a great two-bite appetizer starting with a hollowed out “mini-boat” of zucchini to deliver her veggie-shrimp filling that is laced with an Asian-inspired accent of flavors. Her recipe evolved, she says, much like her daily process of testing the uses and culinary potential of possible new items for the company’s fresh and made-from-fresh product lines in Melissa’s state-of-the-art kitchen.
“It took three trial preparations of this recipe before I was satisfied with the flavors,” explained Raquel. “My first attempt was with Napa cabbage and mayonnaise but the taste and texture was not to my liking. I then tried a Napa cabbage and pixie tangerine combination, but again I was not quite satisfied. The third attempt was the charm, so to speak, when I swapped out the Napa for Baby Bok Choy and the rest of the ingredients just sort of followed naturally from there. It’s what cooking is all about for me! The two-bite portion is by design as I think a finger food should have a little substance to it. Besides, a little bigger canapé saves having to go back to the appetizer platter too often! ”
Eye-appeal contributes to the success of any dish, but especially one that is replicated many times over and arranged on a platter with the sole purpose of enticing, tempting and/or tantalizing its target audience into trying one (or two). By using Melissa’s multi-colored Veggie Sweet Peppers in combination with the vibrant green ribbons of baby bok choy, Rachel’s canapé topping conveys a festive, let-the-party-begin mood by just looking at it! Plus, Raquel elevates the usual cold shrimp platter dish to an art with her deceivingly simple recipe. Just of few colorful and tasty veggies from Melissa’s fresh line of specialty produce items, tossed with small shrimp and then seasoned with a dash of fresh ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce – simple, easy to construct and visually impressive. Note that the measures in Raquel’s recipe are based on dividing and filling one medium large zucchini split into 6 individual canapés; to fill a whole party platter simply increase the number of squash and filling measures proportionally.
Raquel Perez has been a member of the Melissa’s family for nineteen years. Working in the company’s 1900 square-foot test kitchen / video recording studio, Raquel’s day is a busy one.
“My daily role at Melissa's is very hectic but satisfying. I get to experiment with the company’s entire product line as ingredients to create dishes to be photographed for each month’s edition of the company’s web site, for instance, or for other marketing projects. Plus there are always new fresh items that need testing for their potential as a new addition the brand. Sometimes the results are very tasty, while other combinations are less successful. Though it all sounds like fun, there is a lot of tedium to maintaining a spotless kitchen before, during and after a cooking session and we do multiple projects each day. If there is a slow day in the kitchen, I like to work on our packing line to help get the product out. I know this sounds like the right thing to say, but we really are all a part of a team here, each just doing what we can to help each other and the company.”
Outside of the office, and probably because her workday is so active, Raquel says she likes to slow things down with quiet pastimes like enjoying a good movie or an evening dining out. Although she admits to suffering from an occupational consequence of her job, which is a compulsion to critique every dish she orders off a menu and probably spending more time thinking how it could be improved than enjoying what it is! With close relatives in the nearby border town of Mexicali, she also enjoys the occasional road trip south to visit family. Raquel has two sons, ages 22 and 25; her oldest is in the Army and currently stationed in the Midwest. She shares a home in Los Angeles with her other son.
1 large Zucchini
1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onions, sliced thin
4 cloves Melissa’s Peeled Garlic, minced
4 ea. Melissa’s Veggie Sweet Peppers, sliced thin
1 Melissa’s Baby Bok Choy, trimmed, sliced thin
1 TBS Melissa’s fresh ginger, peeled, finely grated
2 TBS Soy Sauce
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1 pinch Sea Salt
½ cup of raw Bay Shrimp
2 oz. Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
Trim the ends of the zucchini, cut into thirds, cut each piece in half lengthwise and scoop out about half of the zucchini -- enough to form a cavity. Next, blanch the six halves in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes; then immediately remove and place them in ice water. Fine dice the scooped-out zucchini and set aside.
In a sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onions and sauté for one minute. Add the garlic, the next 6 ingredients and the zucchini flesh and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes longer or until the shrimp turns pink and is completely cooked.
Let the zucchini halves dry, then add equal amounts of the shrimp filling into each half and top with the cheese. Place the stuffed zucchini onto a baking sheet and put it into the broiler just to melt the cheese. Remove from the oven and serve.