Get the potluck started with these appetizers

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nothing gets a party started like a variety of tasty small plates that can be passed among guests during cocktail hour to whet the appetite. The perfect mix includes something savory for the omnivores, as well as meat-free bites for the vegetarians.

The best potluck appetizers are easy to transport and don’t require much assembly once you arrive — you want them to arrive just as beautiful, and delicious, as when they left your kitchen.

You can’t go wrong with a savory, spreadable chorizo pate — it’s simple to prepare, extremely mobile and pairs well with crackers or crostini. A light and flaky tart made with cheese and summer vegetables is another sure winner as it can easily be cut into squares that can be served warm or at room temperature.

And if you’re also feeding kids? Who doesn’t love a fritter, especially when made with fresh corn and served with a dip, in this case guacamole? It’s familiar, but at the same time, fun.

Chorizo Pate

If you refrigerate this peppery country-style pate beforehand, be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving. I substituted merlot for the port wine, and it was delicious.

From “Lisbon: Recipes from the Heart of Portugal” by Rebecca Seal.

7 ounces dried Spanish chorizo sausage, hot or mild

2 teaspoons red pepper paste or 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon soft butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon port wine

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve

Sliced bread, toasted, to serve

Split sausage casings and remove the meat, discarding the casings. Chop the meat into small pieces — your food processor will be happier the smaller you go.

Place sausage pieces in a food processor with pepper paste or paprika, butter, wine and lemon juice. Blitz to a rough paste. Taste — it will probably contain enough salt already, but you can add more if necessary. Blitz again until mixture is a finely textured puree. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and smeared on warm, crisp toast.

Serves 6.

Mexican Corn Fritters with Guacamole

These easy fritters celebrate the vegetable in kernel form. Spoonfuls of a cornmeal-based batter seasoned with chili and Mexican spices are fried to a crisp in hot oil, and then served with chunky guacamole. From “Harvest: 180 Recipes Through the Seasons” by Emilie Guelpa.

For the fritters

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons chopped chipotle in adobo sauce

1/2 cup self-raising flour

1 cup polenta/cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 ears corn

1 to 2 tablespoons oil

Arugula, to serve

For the guacamole

1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons copped cilantro

Dash Tabasco sauce

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Prepare fritters: In large bowl, combine all ingredients except corn, oil and arugula. Mix until smooth. Allow to stand for 10 minutes; if necessary, add more liquid.

Meanwhile, make guacamole. Combine avocado flesh, lime juice, cilantro, Tabasco, tomato, garlic, cumin and scallions in bowl. Mix to combine, making it as chunky or smooth as you like.

Remove kernels from corn cobs and add to batter.

Heat oil in heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Drop spoonfuls of batter into pan and cook on one side until golden brown with bubbles forming on top. Turn fritters over and cook the other side until golden brown. Repeat until mixture is used up, adding more oil as needed and keeping cooked fritters warm in the oven.

To serve, top fritters with arugula and guac and serve while still warm.

Serves 4 to 6.

Torta Salata (Savory Tart)

My neighbor Josephine’s grandniece, Arianna, who’s from Milan, brought this lovely-sounding savory tart to a summer garden party, and to say it was a hit is an understatement. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and is easily modified to make use of whatever meat, cheese or vegetable you have on hand — I added a handful of sliced cherry tomato for a pop of color and additional taste of summer sunshine.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 zucchini, sliced very thin

1 onion

Salt and pepper to taste, divided

1 cup ricotta or cream cheese

1/2 to 1 cup diced ham

1/2 to 1 cup diced provolone cheese (or another cheese similar in consistency)

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 roll puff pastry

Preheat a pan with 2 tablespoon of olive oil. Finely chop an onion, add it to the pan and stir until golden.

Cut zucchini into thin slices and add it to the onion in the pan. Stir for a couple of minutes with the onions at medium heat. Then add a finger of water, some salt and pepper and let it cook for 10 minutes over low heat.

Once the zucchini are soft, take them out of the pan. Put them in a bowl and wait for a couple of minutes to let them cool down a little. Add ricotta, diced ham, cheese and some salt and pepper (you can add any kitchen spice you like). Beat eggs with a fork and add them in the bowl.

Preheat oven at 425 degrees.

Unroll the puff pastry on a baking tray, gently tap the bottom of the pastry with the end of the fork (to make little holes). After pouring the zucchini filling on top of puff pastry, gently bend a bit of pastry from the side of the tray over the top. Coat edges of the pastry with a beaten egg yolk.

Place in the middle tray of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Serves 8.