In a previous post I talked about how a cocktail prolonge' is my new favorite way to entertain. The more I invite friends over to graze on a table full of finger food, and then serve them an entree type dish about an hour and a half or two hours into the party - the more convinced I am that the cocktail prolonge' is the only way to entertain. I'm pleased to see how people mix with each other - more than they would at, say, a sit-down dinner (they still get a chance to sit down - just on a more comfortable chair!) - as they go back and forth to the table try another sample of the selection. So, when a friend, from Paris, came to visit, (he hadn't been in the City for 4 or 5 or 6 years - he claimed he couldn't remember) I collected a group of his old friends and invited them to come over to my place for a cocktail prolonge'.
Another one of the secrets to the success of the this style of entertaining - is to make everything ahead of time (at the most you'll just need to heat the entree) - and not to feel the least bit guilty if you buy a few things - and then customize them to make them your own. Check the menu to see what I mean.
Here's what I served:
. Fat, Sesame Seed Grissini Wrapped with Thinly Sliced Sorpressata, Black Olives
. Port Wine "Poached Figs with Goat's Milk Cheese and Chopped, Salted Pistachios
Remember those figs from the Easy, Rosy Last Minute Cocktail Party post? Well, two months later I had some leftover figs that had progressed from semi-dry to rather dry. They were added to a saucepan and covered with half Port wine and half water and simmered until they were extremely soft. I removed them from the pan then reduced the remaining liquid to a syrup. I cut the cooled figs in half, put a rounded teaspoon of soft, plain goat's milk cheese on the cut-side, drizzled a bit of the Port syrup over the top and then sprinkled chopped salted pistachios over each piece.
. Sweet and Salty Almonds
See last Cocktail Prolonge' for recipe.
. Kunik with Roasted Pears
Again, see last post for the description.
. Garlicky Baked Artichoke Hearts
I buy the artichokes from a little Italian food shop in my neighborhood. However, if you don't have a Russo's nearby - you can easily make them. Use canned or frozen artichoke hearts (not in oil). Pack them into a baking dish, stem-side down. Mix fresh garlic smashed through a press and lots of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley with a generous amount of olive oil. Pour the mixture over the top of the artichokes making sure it sinks down in between the leaves. Cover with unseasoned breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 degrees F. until the top is golden and the sides of the dish are bubbly, 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool serve.
. Smoked Salmon Focaccia
For years, this has been one of my catering signature dishes. It's pizza dough (I'll give you my recipe in a future post) stretched into logs, then covered with thinly sliced red onions and baked at 500 degrees F. until golden, about 10 - 12 minutes. The cooled focaccia is covered with ersatz mascarpone which I make by blending equal amounts of unsalted butter and cream cheese. I add freshly ground black pepper and lemon zest to the mixture which is then generously spread on the focaccia. The cream cheese mixture is topped with a layer of smoked salmon. The logs are then cut into 1/2 to 3/4- inch pieces. I like to serve them, stacked, log cabin-style on a platter.
(Pre) Set a Sideboard or Top of a Chest of Drawers with a pile of napkins, forks and a stack of plates for serving the entree'.
. BUTTERNUT SQUASH LASAGNE
This fool-proof recipe - from my book "The Nantucket Holiday Table" (Chronicle Books, 2000) - always satisfies. In the book, it's called Pumpkin Lasagne - however, pumpkin season is a relatively short one - butternut squash is available throughout the winter. The lasagne can be put together in the morning then cooked just before serving. This recipe serves 8 - I made 2 for my party of 8. I put the 2nd one in the oven when the 1st one was halfway through cooking.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
1 onion coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white vermouth
3 cups 2-inch cubed pumpkin, steamed until soft
2 rounded tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 rounded teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 pound good quality precooked lasagne noodles such as Barilla, DeCecco or Dalverde (I used fresh noodles)
1/4 cup gated Parmesan cheese
10 -12 fresh sage leaves
1. In a large, heavy-bottom skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Saute' the onion until transparent. Reduce heat and add the vermouth and squash. Smash the squash with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine with the other ingredients. Keep at a low simmer.
2. Meanwhile, make a white sauce: In a medium nonreacitve saucepan over medium heat, melt 2
tablespoons of the butter. Add the flour and cook for 3 minutes stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Add the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir continuously until the mixture is slightly thicker than buttermilk. Add to the squash mixture. Stir to thoroughly combine.
3. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease an 11-by 7 1/2-by 2-inch baking dish, then cover the bottom with sheets of precooked noodles. Spread about 1/2-inch of squash mixture over the noodles and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmesan cheese over it. Repeat layering until all the squash mixture is used, ending with a layer of noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Scatter the sage leaves over the top. Dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, or until bubbly at the sides and golden on top. Serve immediately.
. Sliced Blood, and CaraCara Oranges
I love the way oranges finish off a meal. I remember when I was in Italy for the first time being pleasantly surprised when people would order a spremuta d'arancia - orange juice - for dessert. I like to "dress" the oranges, Moroccan-Style with a splash of orange blossom water, a shower of powdered cinnamon and some shaved coconut. Make the plate of oranges a few hours ahead of time so that all the flavors have a chance to seep into each other.
I put this platter out with a bowl of Medjool dates - and some cookies and chocolates brought to the party by some of the guests.