The Omicron variant may have torpedoed any hopes of a back-to-normal welcome to 2022, but it is still possible to host a memorable party, albeit one that’s a little more intimate.
If there’s anything the last two years have taught us, it’s that food is a salve. Whether it’s a comfort cook of fun finger foods, an elaborate spread, or some classic canapés – changing social circumstances needn’t take fun off the menu. And neither does the need for minimal fuss.
As Felicity Cloake says, “just about anything is better wrapped in pastry”. Her little pinwheels are a party classic, and a snack to prepare in all senses if you use store-bought puff pastry. When making from scratch, they can be prepped in advance, customised for crowd-size, and left frozen until needed. Once baked, serve warm.
Glazed chicken wings
A sticky marinade thickly coating warm, roasted chicken wings goes a long way. Angela Hartnett’s recipe requires 30 minutes of marinading and 30 minutes of baking, but the prep time is virtually nothing. Perhaps offer hand sanitiser on a table nearby, as fingers will be licked.
These are little discs of dough, cooked until golden and topped with anything from peppers and pesto to pork. Provided you have a stand mixer and half an hour to let the dough rise, preparing the base for Nigel Slater’s mini pizzas is easy. Switching up his topping combinations is even easier – with a cooking time of under 10 minutes, you can even have your guests do it themselves once the dough is ready.
Rice paper rolls
This fresh, zingy option is great for a lunchtime spread, especially if one or more of your guests can’t have gluten. In Yotam Ottolenghi’s version, the protein filling – whether it be tofu, chicken, beef or prawn – can be prepared a day in advance. So when party day arrives, all you have to do is fill, roll and serve. And if you do it all at once, it’ll still take less than an hour.
Vegetarian sausage rolls
The usual meat base can be easily swapped for any of Felicity Cloake’s umami-first alternatives and still be ready in just over an hour. The recipe is made even easier if you opt to pick up pastry pre-made from the store.
Healthy, addictive, and quick to bake, Thomasina Miers’ spiced nuts are the perfect companion to serve with drinks as the afternoon slips into evening, or just before the fireworks start.
Figs with bacon and chilli
Piling bacon, red pepper and syrup atop a caramelised fig base pulls sticky, sweet and salty into one bite. This canapé recipe from Bon Appetite’s Alex Lau is surprisingly unfussy given how pretty the finished product is, and is an ideal addition to a brunch or afternoon spread.
Charred corn and bean tostadas with jalapeño aïoli
Rich bean salad atop a crispy tortilla base balances fresh and tangy flavours with a satisfying crunch. All the ingredients in Thomasina Miers’ recipe can be prepped in advance, in under an hour. Then assembly is easy.
If a reduced guest list is not going to get in the way of a black tie dress code, then you may as well throw in martinis and blinis. The base of this classic canapé can be prepared in advance, for an easy assembly of toppings – from the classic sour cream and salmon, to beetroot puree – once party-goers arrive. Catering for fewer people means you can spend a bit more on fancier fish roe, anyway.
Fried garlic and sweet-pepper sauce
Getting your garlic undressed may be a fiddly (and fragrant) process, but Yotam Ottolenghi suggests that preparing the cloves in advance will make frying them fast once guests arrive. With a sweet and peppery sauce to accompany that can be kept in the fridge, this is a showy snack to pre-prepare recipe.
Thai fish cakes
Red-curry flavoured fish cakes, paired with a sweet homemade dipping sauce, serves beautifully on a warmer night outdoors with a side of fresh cucumber, or can at least conjure a summertime feeling if the weather doesn’t allow. Though it can be a little fiddly, with the right fish, chef Pailin Chongchitnant of Hot Thai Kitchen says preparation isn’t too hard.
Georgina al Bayeh shares her father’s falafel recipe, which is high labour when done from scratch, but also high reward. Made with dried chickpeas, it requires soaking, draining and refrigeration, but the final product is a colourful celebration of traditional spices, in a bite-size. Pair with tahini, pickled vegetables, and a flatbread of your choice.
It takes a couple of hours to create the light pastry and hot, Hindu-style spiced potato and pea goodness in Aktar Islam’s recipe, but the end result is a joy to pass around the room.
Homemade party pies
If tiny meat pies – a classic Australian party staple – were simple to make from scratch, they probably wouldn’t dominate so much space in the freezer aisle. This recipe from Nagi Maehashi of Recipe Tin Eats, will take time and patience, but once you bite into the flake of homemade pastry, and see the spill of warm, tender beef and gravy inside, the pre-made version may be forever spoiled.
This classic canapé is making a comeback, and understandably so. What is there not to love about a light, flakey, golden case of pastry filled with savoury goodness? Though the pastry-making process is painstaking, you can save yourself the hassle and pick up a pre-made cases from the store, then it’s just a matter of picking which of the 17 filling options listed above to put in them.
Deep-fried snapper with a green mango salad
Chef and farmer Palisa Anderson says there is “no better party dish” than her deep fried snapper, paired with a zesty green mango salad. Slightly tart, slightly sweet, and tossed with creamy mango, it’s made for smallish gathering that share big feelings.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s hasselback fondant potatoes are certainly crowd-pleasing, even if it’s a crowd of one. The frying process will require time and attention, the chef warns. But once cooked, the thinly sliced tops will fan out beautifully.
Egg, shrimp and caper buns
This fancy sandwich replaces sliced bread with soft, homemade buns, then adds shrimp and capers to the egg-and-mayo mix. Add this levelled-up egg salad sandwich to provide a big sense of occasion to a small back-yard lunch.
Alex Jackson’s party pancakes are filled, folded and baked. Though the total cooking time is just under two hours, very little of that requires active preparation.
Pavlovas are a traditional way to see the year out in Australia, finished with everything from fresh fruit to store-bought lollies. For a smaller gathering, you can just shrink the dish down. Maggie Beer’s crisp, light merengue is made from scratch and topped with thickened cream. For a low-effort version, taking a cookie-cutter to a store-bought, full-sized pavlova base and topping it with the best fresh fruit you can find will still give a pretty satisfying result.
If you’re after an impress-the-guests dessert, you can’t beat a choux pastry and piped cream sandwich. Benjamina Ebuehi’s version swaps traditional praline-flavour for vanilla and orange liquor cream, then adds a stealth layer of hazelnut ganache.
This is the celebratory dessert enjoyed across the Middle East. Thin sheets of pastry layered with cheese – traditionally nabulsi, but replaced with mozarella and ricotta in this recipe from Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, are drenched in butter, nuts and cinnamon. A final drizzle of sugar syrup, and this dish will be a sweet, satisfying end to your new year night of feasting.