Quick & Easy Gluten-Free Appetizers

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Welcome your guests with a little warm nosh.

The holiday season is typically filled with friends and family. When get-togethers at my house don’t call for a sit-down meal, I offer festive cocktails and a choice of cheery, warm hors d’oeuvres that I make ahead and pop in the oven right before the party.

These delicious appetizers require very little preparation, come together in minutes and can be heated (or reheated) as guests arrive. Having the ingredients on hand is most of the work. Before the holiday season, I pick up rolls of pre-cooked polenta to make Polenta Crostini, a good-quality pesto for Chicken Pesto Meatballs, and a supply of dried figs for Bacon-Wrapped Figs.

If your company is staying for dinner, each of these appetizers makes an impressive first course to your holiday meal. They’re also perfect to take to a party at someone else’s home.

Photography by Oksana Charla

Bacon-Wrapped Figs

MAKES 24

A mouthful of flavors awaits when you serve these appetizers. They can be assembled and refrigerated up to 24 hours before broiling. If you prefer, use hickory-smoked bacon in place of the turkey bacon.

12 fresh or dried large figs, halved, or 24 dates
24 small wedges of Brie or dairy-free alternative, optional
12 slices of turkey bacon, cut in half

1. Heat oven to broil. Lightly spray a broiler pan with oil.

2. Place a fig and wedge of cheese, if using, next to each other. Wrap bacon around them snugly and secure the bundle with a small skewer or toothpick. Place on prepared pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

3. Place in oven and broil 3 minutes. Turn and broil an additional 1½ minutes or until bacon is crisp and cooked through.

4. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly and serve.

Each appetizer contains 28 calories, 1g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 6mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 3g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 2g sugars, 1g protein, 1 Est GL.

TIP If your figs are small, use a whole fig for each appetizer.


Photography by Oksana Charla

Gluten Free Polenta Crostini

MAKES 14

For holiday parties, polenta is a flavorful and novel alternative to crackers or gluten-free French bread. With a readymade polenta roll (available at your grocery store), you can make these in a snap. In place of tomato bruschetta, try fig or onion jam.

1 (18-ounce) pre-cooked polenta roll, plain or flavored with red pepper and garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese or dairy-free alternative
1 (6-ounce) container tomato bruschetta
-Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

1. Heat oven to broil. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

2. Cut polenta roll into 14 equal slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on prepared pan and brush with olive oil.

3. Place under broiler and broil 5 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

4. Remove from oven. Top each slice with an equal amount of grated cheese, about 2 heaping teaspoons.

5. Return to oven and broil just until cheese begins to melt.

6. Transfer crostini to a serving platter. Top each with a dollop of bruschetta and fresh basil. Serve warm.

Each serving contains 82 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 199mg sodium, 6g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g sugars, 2g protein, 3 Est GL.

Photography by Oksana Charla

Chicken Pesto Meatballs

MAKES 28 TO 30

This appetizer can be made ahead and reheated just before serving. Shape the meatballs and refrigerate; bring them to room temperature before putting them in the oven. Alternatively, refrigerate baked meatballs; reheat in a 350°F oven just before serving.

1 pound ground chicken, preferably dark meat
1 large egg
½ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or dairy-free alternative
½-1 teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
-Pinch of crushed red pepper
⅓ cup basil or tomato-basil pesto or nut-free pesto, more for dipping (see Shopping List, at right)
-Cherry tomatoes, for garnish
-Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch baking pan with foil. Spray with oil.

2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Using a 1½-inch scoop or well-oiled hands, form mixture into small meatballs.

3. Set meatballs close together on prepared pan. (This helps them keep their shape. Don’t worry if you don’t fill the pan.)

4. Place meatballs in preheated oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes until they’re firm and register 165°F when tested with a meat thermometer. Drain grease from pan.

5. Using a paring knife, gently separate meatballs if they stick together. Serve warm on bamboo skewers, garnished with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. Have additional pesto available for dipping.

Each meatball contains 28 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 20mg cholesterol, 61mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugars, 3g protein, 0 Est GL.

For Egg-Free Chicken Pesto Meatballs, omit the egg. Combine 1 tablespoon flax meal with 3 tablespoons hot water. Let sit to thicken and cool. Use this mixture to replace the egg in step 2.

Food editor Beth Hillson (bhillson@GlutenFreeAndMore.com) is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and author of Gluten-Free Makeovers and The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free (Da Capo Lifelong Books).