Here it finally is - a write up, complete with links, photos, and recipes from the dinner party, nearly two weeks ago. I’m hoping this will mark the beginning of a marvelously dedicated regime of regular posts!
It occurred to me, after I began shopping for the menu, that the dishes I’d selected for our recent dinner party might have some metaphoric resonance. Here I was, about to celebrate my 30th birthday, and somehow I found myself running around town at the end of November looking for tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, grapes. Attempting, it seemed, to hold on to the last of summer’s bounty.
I was lucky to find almost everything I needed down at the Ferry Building. The tomatoes weren’t the best of the season, but they were firm and fragrant, as was the rest of the produce. Will went down again when he got into town and grabbed me a lovely Himalayan truffle, which we shaved over the risotto.
Part of the reason for the Mediterranean focus was because I wanted to make the meal almost completely vegetarian. It’s the way we mostly eat at home, and rather than worrying about various dietary restrictions, I decided to keep things simple, plant based, and as local as possible. I dare say, the meat eating folks didn’t miss a thing.
Autumn Menu for 15
- White gazpacho soup shots garnished with tomatillo and smoked paprika
- Baked stuffed tomatos with goat cheese fondue and breadcrumbs
- Lemon risotto with grilled prawns and shaved truffle
- Citrus salad with pomegranate, shaved fennel bulb, and frisee
- Eggplant torte with cannelloni beans, ratatouille, and Romesco sauce from the Millennium Cookbook
- Michele’s Famous Chocolate Cheesecake with candied orange peel
This is obviously an ambitions menu, but much of it can be made ahead. Disorganized as I am, I ended up preparing almost everything the day of, but I had plenty of help in the kitchen - don’t try such a feat alone! A few items, namely the gazpacho and the cheesecake, actually benefit from a little extra time in the fridge.
Lemon Risotto with Prawns
Lemon risotto is simple and classic. I borrowed the idea of garnishing it with prawns from Alfred Portale’s Twelve Seasons Cookbook (now out of print, I think). Truffles, though not strictly necessary, contrast nicely with the creamy tang of the rice.
- 2 quarts vegetable stock (chicken is also fine)
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 lb arborio rice
- 3 tsp minced lemon zest
- 3 tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or rosemary (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh herbs (chives and/or parsley)
- 15 large prawns or jumbo shrimp, in the shell
- Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- One fresh truffle (we used the less expensive, Himilayan truffle)
For the risotto: Heat broth in a large saucepan and put aside, keeping warm over low heat. In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir 5-10 minutes with a wooden spoon until it begins to look milky white and opaque. Add the white wine, lemon zest, and thyme or rosemary if using and stir until the wine is nearly absorbed. Add about 1 cup of the warm stock and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add stock a cup at a time, making sure broth is nearly absorbed before adding more. Continue this process, stirring frequently, until rices is creamy and tender, but still firm, about 20-30 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with two prawn halves and a sprinkling of fresh truffle.
For the prawns: Preheat the broiler. With a sharp chef’s knife, slice the prawns lengthwise through the shell and clean. Arrange them, cut side up, on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned.
Citrus Salad with Pomegranate, Shaved Fennel Bulb, and Frisee
- 3-4 lbs seedless clementine or manderine oranges
- 1 ruby grapfruit
- 1 pomegranate, skin and white parts removed
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2 heads frisee
- Olive oil
- Seasoned rice vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Orange juice
- Salt and pepper
Combine ingredients in a large bowl and dress with 2 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar and 1 part orange juice. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of soy sauce.