The Main Event – A Springtime Dinner Party in Three Courses

Man, I’m a little tired.  But it’s a good kind of tired.  Three courses, ten people, and everything turned out alright.  I have to apologize for not having more pictures – I was too busy running around the kitchen and forgot to grab the camera until, as you can see, the aftermath.

I spent part of Thursday and all day Friday putting together as many things as I could ahead of time.  On Thursday, I made the duck ragu and a batch of chicken stock.  On Friday morning, I made a chocolate pot de creme, stuck that in the refrigerator, and spent some time chopping the asparagus and mushrooms for the soup.

That being said, we were still a little late getting dinner rolling, but that turned out fine because we had the most compatible group of guests that I think we’ve ever had for a party.  The very best parties are the ones where you can disappear from the conversation into the kitchen and the guests carry on for themselves.

The culprit in my tardiness turned out to be the pasta.  I had forgotten that, despite the fact that the dough is really easy to put together, the rolling and cutting of the pasta sheets by hand takes a bit of time.  I had gotten through three-quarters of the mound of dough when I realized that I only had a half hour before go time – so we decided not to roll and cut the last bit of dough.  I took a few minutes to get some cheese out, prepared the one “made” appetizer – goat cheese marinated in olive oil, lemon zest, black pepper, parsley, and chive – and cut the last sheet of pasta into ribbons before running upstairs into the shower.

Guests started arriving at around 7:15, and between the beer, wine, the conversation and the appetizers, we all found a sweet spot where time just slowed down.  I had the asparagus soup ready by around 8pm, and we ushered everyone into the dining room, which my wife had bedecked with a lovely centerpiece of candles and glasses.  I ran out of soup and tried to extend it with some stock – so, for a fact, I know that three of us had overly thin asparagus soup.  I motored through my bowl and headed back into the kitchen for the pasta course.

Having set a pot of water to boil well beforehand, the pasta course was the easiest of the three to prepare.  The duck ragu, having been made earlier, needed only to be heated, and the ribbons of pasta had had a good long time to dry a bit in a colander, which contributed considerably to their texture in the final dish.  One minute and thirty seconds after entering the kitchen, the second course was ready to send out.

This is the point in the evening where I was entering unknown territory.  The one dish that I had not had time to do a dry run for – grilled shrimp over risotto – was going to take a bit more time to prepare.  I had peeled the shrimp when guests first started arriving, and thrown them into a ziploc bag with some white wine, garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil.  As I started the risotto, we drafted one of our guests to skewer the shrimp for us, which was a real timesaver.  I started a chimney of charcoal on the grill and came back to the risotto.

Here’s the thing about risotto – it takes 18 minutes.  No more, and no less.  But it also requires constant attention, stirring and adding stock constantly for nearly all of those 18 minutes.  The great thing is, hearing the conversation carry itself in the next room, I was actually quite fine with standing at the stove.

The risotto deserves its own entry, but I’ll summarize here now:

Roasted Tomato Risotto

6 C chicken stock, simmering
1.5 C arborio rice
1/2 onion, chopped

A few roasted tomatoes (I need to tell you about these later, too)
Shallot, chopped
White wine
Saffron, pinch
1/4 C light cream

In one saucepan, combine chopped roasted tomatoes, the shallot, about 1/2 C white wine, and the saffron and bring to a hard simmer.  When that’s reduced by about half, stir in the light cream, bring back to a simmer for about five minutes, and turn off the heat.  You’re done with that for now and can back-burner it.

Take a pot with high sides and melt some butter in it.  When it’s good and hot, toss in your chopped onion and saute that for a couple of minutes, then add your rice, stirring that up to coat all of the grains with butter.  Add 1/2 C of white wine and stir it in, letting the grains of rice absorb it, and then start adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each 1/2 cup before adding more.  At around 15 minutes, bite into a grain to check for doneness.  It should be ready at 18 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir the tomato cream mixture into it, and add salt to taste.

Grilling the shrimp took no time at all.  I dumped the coals into my grill, set the skewers of shrimp on, and grilled them for about five or six minutes per side.  There was enough risotto to grant everyone a fairly large serving, with four shrimp each.

I’ll talk about dessert in the next episode.  Everyone had a wonderful time, and that’s not even mentioning the beer-fueled Rock Band extravaganza that lasted until 2:45am, which certainly had a lot to do with it.