The porch remains one of the great institutions of Washington. As a place to relax and watch the world go by, preferably while gossiping with friends, it is unrivaled. The fact that our particular porch (a balcony) is minuscule does not deter us from entertaining outside.
Some form of sustenance besides a cooling drink is clearly indicated, and I've gradually built up a repertoire that stretches from home-roasted nuts to these easy hors d'oeuvres.
Onion tart is sold by the local charcutier in my former neighborhood in France. Some days he adds olives, anchovy or spicy sausage. I like it best plain so as to appreciate the full sweetness of the onions, adding just a touch of Parmesan cheese and cream to keep the topping moist during baking.
The Blue Cheese-Walnut Tortilla is a Spanish-style omelet cooked over the lowest possible fire so the eggs set without being dry. All manner of flavorings are possible, and I'm particularly fond of the trio of blue cheese, walnuts and parsley, a combination from the Roquefort country of southwest France.
Last comes a very American idea, with new potatoes acting as a base for sour cream and a variety of toppings from bacon to caviar, chutney and peanuts. The sour cream is mixed with cream cheese so it does not run, and guests are left to create their own combinations.
Each of these hors d'oeuvres can stand alone, and together they add up to a simple meal if served with a green salad.
HORS D'OEUVRES ON PORCH FOR 8
Onion Pastry With Tomato
Blue Cheese-Walnut Tortilla
New Potatoes With Sour Cream
Suggested drink: Spritzer made of German or domestic Riesling white wine mixed directly in glass with equal quantity of chilled club soda.
For the cook with a busy schedule, the pastry can be baked ahead, leaving simple preparations before guests arrive.
Up to two days ahead, bake onion pastry, then refrigerate. Chill wine and club soda.
Up to two hours before serving, cook tortilla. Keep at room temperature. Boil potatoes. Prepare sour cream and flavorings. Keep at room temperature.
About 20 minutes before serving, heat the oven and warm the onion pastry.
Just before serving, cut the tortilla and onion pastry into squares. ONION PASTRY WITH TOMATO
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled and sliced
Sift flour and salt into bowl. Add butter and shortening. Rub in fat with fingertips until mixture resembles crumbs. Mix in water, adding enough so dough forms soft, but not sticky ball. Press together lightly. Chill 15 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in saucepan. Add onions and salt and pepper to taste. Press piece of foil on top, cover with lid and cook very gently, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove cover and foil. Cook until all moisture is evaporated and onions are lightly caramelized. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Cool.
Grease baking sheet. Roll out pastry dough to 14-inch square. Place on baking sheet. Roll shallow border around edges of pastry. Whisk egg with cream until mixed. Stir in cheese and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture evenly over pastry. Spread cooled onions on top. (If onions are warm, they will melt dough.) Top with tomato slices. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bake pastry at 400 degrees until crisp and brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Onion pastry is best eaten day of baking, but it can be kept up to two days in refrigerator. Reheat in low oven 10 to 15 minutes.) Cut in squares for serving. Makes 8 servings.
Note: 1/2 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes can be added to cream mixture instead of cheese, if desired. BLUE CHEESE-WALNUT TORTILLA
10 large eggs
1 cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 ounces walnuts, coarsely chopped
5 ounces blue cheese, finely crumbled
Whisk eggs in bowl until frothy and completely mixed. Stir in parsley and pepper to taste. Stir in salt to taste, if needed. (Cheese may provide enough salt.)
Heat butter in skillet until foaming, but not browned. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over bottom. Pour in egg mixture. Top with cheese. Reduce heat. Cook as slowly as possible until center of tortilla is almost set, 15 to 20 minutes. Finish cooking under broiler, about 30 seconds. Let cool to tepid, then turn out onto platter, browned side up.
Tortilla can be cooked up to 2 hours ahead. Cut in squares. Serve with wood picks or forks. Makes 8 hors d'oeuvres servings. NEW POTATOES WITH SOUR CREAM
2 pounds new potatoes, unpeeled
1/2 pound bacon
3/4 cup roasted peanuts
3/4 cup mango chutney
1 bunch chives, coarsely chopped
4 ounces red or black caviar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cream cheese
Place potatoes in pan of cold, salted water and cover. Heat to simmering and simmer just until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and cool. Halve lengthwise. Place in 1 or 2 bowls and cover.
Dice bacon. Fry until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crush peanuts with rolling pin. Work chutney through coarse sieve or chop it on board until pureed. Place bacon, peanuts, chutney, chives, caviar and coconut in separate small bowls. Cover each.
Beat sour cream and cream cheese until smooth. Season to taste with pepper. Place in 1 or 2 bowls and cover. Potatoes, flavorings and sour cream can be prepared 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Uncover just before serving. Serve potatoes with choice of toppings. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Select smallest possible baby potatoes for topping with sour cream and variety of flavorings. Pumpernickel bread is quick alternative to potatoes.