What's the best part of serving a dinner party for a group of people who bought it at an auction? They are there for the food! When I was asked last year to donate a dinner for our local high school's fundraiser, I didn't have to think about it long before I said yes. As part of the package, the Varsity Lacrosse coach was going to be my waiter for the evening. Cook a dinner for a group of people who are actually going to be paying attention to the food? Yes! Cook a dinner where I can just stay in the kitchen and plate things and send them out? Yes! That was my idea of a good time.
The menu was six courses and highlighted Italian food. I made all the bread that day, fresh, including the baguette for the crostini. I used the ever reliable Artisan Bread recipe and it saved me a trip to the bakery. I used my regular recipe, though, for the Focaccia, which takes 3 risings to make. I made my little Parmesan Crisps that we love so much for the first little appetizer and sent those out with glasses of Prosecco and some very good salami. The perfect way, in our opinion, to begin an evening. We made up our favorite little crostini of fig jam, goat cheese and prosciutto and then everyone sat down to dinner.
parmigiano reggiano crisps, salami
crostini with goat cheese, fig jam, prosciutto
fennel and onion bisque, pernod
homemade artisan rolls
handmade spinach linguini, toasted pine nuts, grana padano
arugula, homemade crouton, pecorino, quail egg
grilled steak with balsamic vinegar, salsa verde
zucchini pappardelle, garlic, red hot chili pepper
hazelnut semifreddo with caramel sauce
The pasta course was handmade spinach linguini that I dressed with toasted pine nuts, good olive oil, a little sea salt and a good amount of Grana Padano cheese. One of my absolute favorite dishes. I always serve it with a big Chardonnay and it's delicious and rich.
I love these little quail eggs. I hard boiled them and put them on an arugula salad with some toasted hazelnuts. I made my homemade Thomas Keller croutons and served those with the salad and dressed it all with an anchovy, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette that I whipped up in my mortar and pestle. My God, that dressing is good. I could lick the bowl when I make it (I didn't.)
Coach Grady was our super waiter for the evening. After he gingerly served a full tray of glasses of Prosecco, he could handle anything the rest of the evening
I gave out a couple of goodies at the end of the evening - my ever popular homemade vanilla extract and little bags of the hazelnut brittle. I made the stickers for the vanilla extract bottles on my computer, using Epson Self-Adhesive Sheets and Pages on my Mac. I love Pages - you can be so creative. I've totally ditched my MS Word. Goodbye!
If you like the little glassine favor bags I used for the brittle, you can buy them from Nashville Wraps, one of my favorite shopping sites for goodies like these. I just punched two holes in the bag and tied it with some rustic twine. The 4 ounce Boston bottles for the extract you can buy from Specialty Bottle.
I had to pick out a soup that was not too heavy because I wanted the meal to progress in a certain way. I chose this fennel and onion soup, which is delicate and flavorful and then I used a David Tanis recipe for the fennel puree swirl on top. Did I tell you I got to meet David Tanis? Just checking. This soup recipe is what I'm going to share with you.
Onion and Fennel Bisque with Pernod and Fennel Puree
adapted from The Blue Heron Inn
for a printable recipe, click here
- 2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), washed, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 medium red onions, chopped (3.5 cups)
- 1/2 lb. fennel bulb, fronds reserved (for puree), chopped (1.25 cups)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth
- 1.25 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons Pernod
Cook onions, leeks, fennel and garlic in butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add wine and boil, uncovered, until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add stock, water, salt, pepper and nutmeg and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and simmer, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened and liquid is reduced to about 6 cups, about 15 minutes.
Puree soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth, then transfer to a soup tureen and stir in Pernod. Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with fennel puree.
from David Tanis
- 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup basil leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until you have a smooth green puree.