Vegetable platters, or crudités platters for you super-chic foodies, have gotten a bum gestalt with the advent of premade platters at the grocery. NOT that there is anything wrong with those. They are perfect to take to your children's school instead of a bag of cookies, to your church, and to keep at home for healthy snacking. But if you are entertaining or taking a platter to an event with close friends, why not up the awesome quotient and assemble your own? (If you use the veggies from the premade platter, who is to know?) People are eating healthier, particularly at the beginning of the new year, and crudités, once thought as boring, is now a very active spot at the hors d'oeuvre table!
First, determine the number of the guests coming to the event and the amount of appetizers being served. If this is the only one, plan to make a big platter. If there will be many appetizers, you can scale back—but don't get skimpy. Whatever you put on your platter should be put out in quantity. Just do not have as big of a selection of vegetables.
Then decide in what you will put your dips. Instead of reaching for a few bowls, up the ahhhhh factor and hollow out gorgeous, colorful vegetables. If it is a small platter, fresh bell peppers are perfect. Cut the bottoms so it will be stable. Then cut off the top and clean it out. Your dips will fit perfectly in them and look so fresh. I also like to cut them sideways and fill them. Use a different color for every dip, or keep them all the same if that looks best with the vegetables you have chosen.
If you are making a large platter, top off, core and clean out as may red or purple cabbages as you might need to use as your vessels. This is so beautiful. Be sure to stabilize the bottoms so they do not roll around. I also usually nestle my cabbages in a few of their leaves, as if they have flowered open to reveal the delicious hummus or dips I have prepared.
These dips will comprise the center of your platter; everything else will be built around them.
Each season has its star vegetables, so remember to incorporate those! Cut each type of vegetable into the same size — all carrots should be the same height, celery cut the same thickness and height, etc. Remember the size of people's mouths! Also, I like to vary the cuts. If I am doing sticks of some vegetables, I do coins of another, such as zucchini and squash. While I love to include cauliflower, another great dip holder, I eschew broccoli in platters. Why? I know people worry about those little buds getting into their teeth, so I just leave it out. (Here is a cute story my mom told me that I think absolutely tainted me against broccoli for festive events. She was on a date when she was in college and was dancing all night. She smiled and looked into her date's eyes, thinking that she was glowing and beautiful. Later she went to the powder room and smiled in the mirror to see how fabulous she had looked. Right there, to her horror, stuck between her front teeth was a piece of broccoli!!! How long had it been there? All night? That story just haunts me ...)
Symmetry, shape, and color are your allies. Put the vegetables you have cut into sticks on either side of the platter. If you have a platter with sides, lean the sticks against them so they stand up. Place the carrots and celery on opposite sides. If you cut your peppers into sticks, group them by color. For coins, laying them in lines looks nice. For items such as snap peas, I gently drop them into cabbage leaves to hold them as a group. Radishes are so beautiful. I like to leave a bit of the stem on for color. If you have enough room, you could level the tops off and line them up like little soldiers. Or if you have a platter with a big lip, place the radishes right on the lip and circle the platter. (After you have set it on the table, of course!)
After you have assembled your platter, you will see that you have little naked holes. Fill those with kale or some of the red cabbage leaves if that works. You want a look of abundance, and every space should be filled. The final piece de resistance is to peel, slice then cut jicama into adorable shapes. This can be done with cookie cutters. Shapes such as stars, moons, and flowers look wonderful scattered about your platter.
Lastly, I usually add a fruit such a large bunch of red grapes or a cache of pomegranate seeds to give a burst of lusciousness, sweet, and higher water content.
Now your crudités platter will be the highlight of the appetizer table. Think color, shape, symmetry, and abundance when choosing your vegetables and assembling them. Send some pictures to me to show me your creations!
Q. How do I store vegetables in the refrigerator for the longest life?
A. For the longest life, leave the skins on everything and place into plastic bags in the vegetable compartment of your fridge. However, many of us like to clean and cut our veggies so they will be ready for quick use. Doing this ensures that we will incorporate more vegetables into our diet. I think some of the reason snacking has gotten so out of control is because it is so much easier to open a bag of chips than to clean a vegetable every time you want one. So keep a nice stash of your favorites ready to be made into a salad, soup, or for dipping.
For the harder vegetables such as carrots and celery, cut them into the shape you like and place into good quality plastic bags or plastic containers. (There is a special place in heaven for the inventor of Tupperware, don't you think?) Air, water, and temperature are the enemies. I know you will say, “but in the grocery you can buy carrots and celery precut and nested in water!” They are expecting you to buy it and consume it right away; you should not leave it all soaking in water. Vegetables are very porous and they will absorb the water, leading to rotting and sogginess.
For higher water-content vegetables such as lettuce, clean it, dry it, and put into a plastic bag lined with a paper towel. Lettuce will rot very fast if it is too wet. You need that paper towel! Do not crush it, but let it be loose in the bag. Remember, a week is about all you can get out of cut up vegetables, so cut only what you think you will use in this time frame.
Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She answers questions in The News-Sentinel every other Tuesday. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.