if dinner parties make you want to shriek or the idea of having people over for an after-work supper makes you want to pull your hair out, relax, take a breath and remember that, in all likelihood, you will not blow up the kitchen. until this year i used to treat intimate gatherings like formal state dinners – i shopped two weeks in advance and fretted over the place settings – bamboo runner or floral cloth?! oh the lamentations! will i be judged if i don’t have a salad fork? will they forgive me if the hummus is store-bought? is it okay, really, if i don’t cultivate the damn yeast for the bread, myself.
believe me when i say that i’ve made homemade bread.
i am a believer in the stress-free supper. i’ve found it’s all about casual food and the simplest meals are typically the best ones. use fresh ingredients, simple flavorings and always, always, a divine dessert. because a guest will always remember the dessert.
this weekend i had a friend over and i made a homemade lemon/roasted garlic pesto with a salad, hummus and read for a starter and a chocolate cloud cake for dessert.
3-4 fat garlic cloves in their skins: roast garlic in skins for 15-20min. remove garlic or you could simply chuck the roasting idea and remove the skins and process
1/2 cup of olive oil (invest in a good olive oil) – not extra virgin, ordinary.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (purchased from your local farmer’s market) – note: you can also use mint, which is so delicious and is such an underutilized herb!
1/3 cup of almonds with the skins removed (or pine nuts/walnuts if you’re old school)
lemon (teaspoon) to prevent the pesto from turning brown (oxidizing)
salt/pepper to season
1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano (i don’t like parmesan and feel that romano has a sharper taste)
pulse the nuts first in a food processor then add the rest of the dry ingredients and slowly add the olive oil through the processing tube. after the pesto is all mixed, set aside. cook rigatoni (or any ridged pasta) 1 minute shy of the package so as it’s perfectly al dente. save some of the pasta water as this will make the pasta adhere more to the sauce and will make the sauce (the starch in the salted water) creamy.
add the pesto to the bottom of the serving bowl and toss in the pasta, 1/2 ladle of pasta water and serve with fresh basil as garnish. you can also chop up some cherry tomatoes to toss in and serve with a final sprinkling of cheese.
that was the star attraction. with the pasta pesto, i served two loaves of french bread with Suvir Saran’s homemade hummus (for me, hummus works well with a pesto dish) and olive oil and a baby arugula salad with a honey vinaigrette, and the finishing touch was Nigella’s Cloud cake.
I bought all the ingredients a day before the dinner. Made the cloud cake the evening prior and fixed the rest of the dinner an hour before showtime. sparkling water with limes and a bowl of fresh fruit as the table setting, made for a divine feast. Essentially the dinner is pasta, bread, salad, hummus and cake. How could you go wrong? Forget the insanity of a roast or a decadent starter! Simple is better and my guest was stuffed, happy and stoned, that poor girl, stumbling out the door.