Famous appetizers tend to be classic dishes that have stood the test of time. Some have gone out of style, so you rarely see them on restaurant menus. Others lost their national appeal but still appear as regional favorites. Cooks who make these appetizers from scratch can control how much fat or sodium they contain without veering too far from the original recipe.
Rumaki is a German-Russian appetizer made with chicken livers and bacon that was a favorite with cocktail party hostesses in the 1960s and 1970s. This easy appetizer consists of a sliver of water chestnut sandwiched between two halves of a chicken liver that have marinated in ginger and soy. The liver is wrapped in bacon and broiled or seared until the bacon cooks through. A popular variation is Angels on Horseback, which includes oysters or shrimp wrapped in bacon and broiled.
Clams casino is a classic appetizer invented by Julius Keller, maitre d' at a Narragansett, Rhode Island, casino. For the basic preparation, a clam, still in half its shell, is topped with a combination of cooked onion, bell pepper, garlic and scallions mixed with lemon juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco. A slice of bacon goes on top of the vegetable mixture and the whole thing cooks under the broiler until the bacon crisps.
Oysters Rockefeller, invented at Antoine's restaurant in New Orleans' French Quarter at the end of the 19th century, was named for John D. Rockefeller because the sauce was so rich. The original recipe remains a secret, but chefs have created close approximations. The preparation is similar to Clams Casino, but spinach, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese replace the bacon. The original recipe may have contained watercress instead of spinach. Traditionally, Oysters Rockefeller bake on top of a bed of salt so the filling doesn't spill.
The original chicken wing snack, created in Buffalo, New York, in the mid-1960s, evolved into a national appetizer with endless variations in the 1980s. Wings are one famous appetizer that the home cook can adjust for families with special dietary needs. Traditionally deep-fried or breaded and baked, then smothered with hot sauce, wings tend to be high in fat and sodium. Control this by dusting the wings with pepper and garlic powder and then baking them until they're cooked through. While the wings bake, make your own hot sauce with tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, garlic cloves and onion. Blend it until it's smooth and pour it over the wings. If your kids aren't fans of spicy foods, it's easy to make a cooler version of the wings. Season them with a dry ranch-flavored mix and provide a creamy dressing for dipping.
Antipasto is simply a platter of cold, cured meats, cheeses and olives with olive oil drizzled over it. There are no hard and fast rules for what you put on the platter, so this is a chance to completely tailor an appetizer to your family's likes while keeping it healthy. Use lean deli meats, sliced tomatoes and low-fat cheeses. Olives are traditional, and adding a few won't hurt. Top the antipasto with fresh basil leaves for color. Olive oil has a high concentration of antioxidants and unsaturated fat, so don't be afraid to drizzle some over the platter.