A couple of weeks ago my husband & I went to an event that had the best appetizers! They were generously passed with little signs on the trays as to what they were. Not only were they delicious, but many of them were very unique & really playful. I fell in love with the “Grape Pop”: essentially a grape encased in a shell of goat cheese & then rolled in chopped pistachio nuts. What’s not to love? This little explosion of a sweet, juicy grape, mingled with the tangy goat cheese & just enough crunch from the pistachios – this was one perfect bite!
And make no mistake: these are definitely “one-bite” appetizers! I tried biting into it while it was still on the stick, but that just wasn’t going to happen as the juice started flowing as soon as the grape “popped”! I do like one-bite apps, though. I feel like they give me a chance to stop talking for a minute & listen to what others are saying – that is, if I can get the, “OMG, these are the best things ever!” out of my head long enough to pay attention!
So I thought how hard can these be? As I suspected, they weren’t difficult at all, and you’ll only need a few ingredients. As I played around with making these, I also thought it would be kind of fun to have not only a sweet pop with that juicy grape inside, but maybe also a savory pop. Of course, a small cherry tomato seemed perfect - and it was! So here we go with a couple of tips & tricks to get these done in no time for yourselves or for guests.
First, your ingredients:
For the Grape Pops, you’ll need seedless grapes. I fell for these seedless black grapes at the market – they were just a little bit sweeter than the red variety. I decided that it would be nice to vary the outside just a bit, so in addition to the chopped pistachios, I also toasted up a handful of pine nuts (they’re not chopped in the photo, but I did chop them before using them later). Of course, there’s the goat cheese, which you’ll want to soften – 30 minutes or so at room temperature should do it.
For the Tomato Pops, I knew I wanted round tomatoes as opposed to the more oval grape tomatoes, so I looked for the smallest cherry tomatoes I could find. I also decided to soften up a bit of Gorgonzola cheese to blend together with the goat cheese – definitely NOT a mistake! Finally, the outside of these will be rolled in a bit of chopped basil & the timing was perfect, since our balcony is overflowing with it at the moment! Lastly, you will need skewers. I like using 8-inch skewers, but you could certainly go longer or shorter, depending on how you want to serve the pops.
While the pine nuts needed a little bit of toasting to bring out their amazing flavor (either in the oven or on the stovetop, wherever you are least likely to forget about them!), the pistachios do not. I also wanted the pistachios to be as vibrant a green as possible, and sometimes toasting them dulls that color a little. However, after shelling the pistachios (I happened to have them in the shell in my pantry, so that’s what I went with), they have all those little papery skins on them that just would not look so great on the outside of the pop. To get rid of those skins, I put the shelled pistachios in a jar, screwed the cap on & shook the heck out of them for a good 30 seconds. When I emptied the jar, it was easy to separate out the nuts, set them aside & chop them.
If you’re going to be serving the Grape Pops & Tomato Pops together, you’ll want them to be reasonably uniform in size.
I found that if both the grapes and the tomatoes are approximately ¾-inch in diameter, it will create a pop that is just a bit larger than 1 inch in diameter. Now, of course, the grapes & tomatoes are going to differ a little from one to the next. However, it gives you a guideline to shoot for. And they really do look so pretty when they are all about the same size!
Finally, I realized that it’s really, REALLY important for the grapes & tomatoes to be as dry as the desert on their surfaces, otherwise the cheese slides around & has a difficult time sticking to them. So, once you’ve washed them, here’s my little way of getting them dry enough to use:
Nothing fancy, but it works. And, of course, you would use the same process for drying the tomatoes.
So now you’re ready to go! Let’s start with the Grape Pops:
As you can see, I prefer to use a portion scoop to give me about 1 tablespoon of the softened goat cheese. Again, I’m looking for as much uniformity as possible, at least with regard to size, and this helps me tremendously. You could also use a plain old 1-tablespoon measuring spoon if you don’t have a scoop. You just want something that will help you use the same amount of cheese for each pop. And, by the way, if you find that 1 tablespoon gives you either too much or too little cheese for your taste, then by all means, adjust the quantity you use to make it how you will enjoy the pops the most!
Finally, here is my assembly of the Tomato Pops:
I love the combination of goat cheese & Gorgonzola! However, as I mention in the video, if you don’t like blue cheese, this will definitely not appeal to you, and you may just as easily use the goat cheese plain. There are no rules, these are your app pops! I can already hear the question of how much Gorgonzola did I use with how much goat cheese? I simply can’t tell you! It’s not a big secret, it’s just that it will depend on the strength of the cheese and perhaps most importantly, it will depend on your own taste – how strong do you want it? Try smearing some on one of those tomatoes to see how they will taste together. When you like it, you’ve hit the right ratio!
By the way, it wasn’t until after I took the pictures that I realized these needed just a little bit of “oomph”. So, I sprinkled on a tiny bit of pink sea salt (pink, only because it’s a pretty contrast against the white cheese & green basil) and that did the trick.
All that said, as with any recipe, make these your own. Think of all the different “toppings” you can use instead of (or in combination with) the nuts & basil. You can vary the herbs, maybe using fresh oregano, thyme, or tarragon. You can use crushed black pepper or Aleppo pepper. And what about crumbled bacon? (Okay, so I may have to try that one.)
All that's left is to refrigerate these for at least 30 minutes so they firm up a bit. As I was finishing these, I placed them on a lined (Silpat/parchment/waxed paper) sheet pan - & then I just popped the whole thing in the fridge.
So here’s what my little app pops looked like when all was said & done:
My husband loved them, our doorman thought they were awesome, and I think you will too! With very little effort, you’ll have some very fun and festive appetizers for your next round of guests. Just don’t forget to warn everyone to eat them in one bite.
At The Chopping Block we have several classes that will allow you to expand your appetizer and small plates repertoire. For the rest of this month and through August, check out our calendar for Street Food, Tapas on the Grill (on our fabulous outdoor grilling patio at Lincoln Square), and Spanish Tapas.