For about fifteen years we’ve been meeting for dinner with a group of friends to share great wines and even better food. Originally there were six of us and after a short time, a fourth couple came on board. When you are the host, you are responsible for the entire dinner with a bottle of wine to complement your meal. Your guests only have to bring wine and need not worry about preparing any food. One of the best things about our dinner parties is that there are no rules, no themes. When it’s your turn, you are free to make whatever you want, from something simple and homey- maybe around the barbeque-to a very elegant multi-course meal. It’s one of the things I like best about our group. Each couple has its own style of cooking an entertaining and we anxiously await each dinner.
A few years back we lost one couple to divorce and now we’re back to the original six friends. Recently one member of the group announced that he wanted to stop doing the dinners-too much work, too much pressure-but we wouldn’t let him out! We have too much fun together and yes, we can go to a restaurant now and then, but I will not give up my time in the kitchen creating food for people I really care about.
As our turn approached, I decided to plan a menu that would would be not only seasonal, but would also be one that did not require a lot of work. I never like to serve dishes that require me to spend a lot of time in the kitchen at the last moment, but this time I decided I would not spend the whole day cooking. I toyed with various ideas before settling on my menu. It worked out exactly as I hoped and by 1 in the afternoon, I was done in the kitchen and had the rest of the day to myself. The work I had to do to finish off the meal was minimal and I was able to sit and laugh with our guests!
Blue Cheese Crackers (inspired by Palma)
Rosemary Spiced Walnuts
Butternut Squash Soup with Parmigiano and Sage
Stewed Spareribs with Tomatoes
Roasted Vegetables (Cauliflower, Carrots and Brussel Sprouts)
Apple Crumb Tart with Whipped Cream
Dough for crackers made 2 days before, frozen, then thawed and baked day of
Walnuts tossed with herbs and toasted night before
Soup made in the morning, reheated just before serving
Ribs in tomato sauce done an hour before guests walked in
Polenta couldn’t be easier-I do it in the oven 50 minutes before serving
Vegetables prepped in the morning and tossed with oil and into oven with polenta
Apple tart-crust made earlier in week and frozen, topping made the night before and refrigerated, filling prepared and tart assembled and baked in the morning, reheated before serving, cream whipped at last minute!
No, that is not our dining room, but the scene of one of my favorite evenings in Italy at Le Occare, an incredible agriturismo located in the countryside outside of Ferrara. Do yourself a favor and seek out this special spot.