This is party season – but that needn’t mean slaving until the wee hours when it’s your turn to play host. At least not when you have party-throwing tips from Ina Garten and Diane Worthington in your back pocket.
Sure, you’ve heard most of this advice before, the part about planning, preparation and not panicking. What you don’t often hear is equally important: The real trick to throwing a memorable bash lies in restraint. Don’t serve six courses at a dinner party, and there’s no need to turn your cocktail spread into a bacchanalian extravaganza.
People try to do too much, says Garten, whose new book, “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof” (Clarkson Potter, $35), hit shelves this fall. Too many hosts have visions of handcrafted canapes – millions of them – or elaborate multicourse dinner parties floating around in their heads.
But it’s better – for both the harried host and the anxious guest watching the frazzlement unfold – to make just a few really good, foolproof dishes, and to fill out the rest of the menu with interesting cheeses, clusters of grapes and fresh figs. Do as much ahead of time as possible and think about local resources: Is there a deli or artisanal food vendor who makes that dip or appetizer better than you do?
“Then fill in with what you’re comfortable making,” Garten says.
Buying hummus and tzatziki from your favorite restaurant, and decanting the dips into pretty bowls to serve alongside the crudite, will help stave off “party anxiety,” says Worthington, whose latest book is all about “Seriously Simple Parties” (Chronicle Books, $24.95).
Worthington makes mini corn-crab cakes ahead of time, grills skewered chicken to serve with a mango-curry dipping sauce, and sets out platters of fruit and interesting cheeses. Then she adds a crowd-pleaser: an interactive crostini bar whose appeal belies its simplicity.
“You make the crostini – which is toast – then put out spreads and dips in little bowls. People love it,” she says. “You can do different pestos, edamame pesto, a white bean dip, smoked salmon with creme fraiche.”
Pate and salumi are wonderful and easy, but don’t assume all your guests will dive into meat-based dishes. “There are vegetarians, pescatarians,” Garten cautions. “There’s every known variation.”
A roasted vegetable tart can be a gorgeous thing to include on a party table, and the labor involved is about the same whether you’re feeding 10 people or 50. A blue potato tart, for example, made by Michael Natkin, a vegetarian food blogger and author of “Herbivoracious” (Harvard Common Press, $24.95) – and a former Industrial Light & Magic programmer – is an absolute showstopper.
Nestled in flaky pastry, violet-tinged potato slices rest atop a garlicky chevre mixture. The tarts are made in long, free-form rectangles, then sliced into easy-to-grab pieces, and they look particularly stunning next to tarts filled with fresh ricotta and roasted golden butternut or delicata squash slices.
The latter hail from Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs’ “The Food 52 Cookbook” (William Morrow, $30, 296 pages), and they’re usually made as a galette – a rustic round tart – but country-chic turns elegant when the pastry is shaped into long rectangles and sliced to match its blue potato cousins. No forks required.
As for libations, there’s no need to go into paroxysms of panic over the bar either, Worthington says.
“I always have red and white wine, sparkling water and a party cocktail. You cut down your worry about the bar,” she says. “For the holidays, I would do a sparkling wine with peach nectar and peach liqueur, or Prosecco, St. Germain and a twist of lemon.”
The final trick in the foolproof party plan? Make lists. Lots of lists.
“I have lists organizing my lists,” Garten says, her laugh floating over the phone lines. “It’s a complicated little jigsaw puzzle to make sure the oven turns on at 5:40 and everything happens when it’s supposed to happen. If you make a schedule, then you don’t have to think about it. I find it very calming.”
And when the doorbell rings, the only thing left to do is party.
MINI CORN & CRAB CAKES WITH GRILLED TOMATO AIOLI
Yield: Serves 8-12
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 pound cooked Dungeness crabmeat, in 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons each unsalted butter and olive oil, divided
1/2 cup Grilled Tomato Aioli (see recipe)
In a large bowl, combine egg, mayonnaise, mustard and chives. Mix in crab, corn and fresh breadcrumbs. Season with salt and cayenne.
Spread out the panko. Divide crab mixture into 18 portions and shape into cakes about 2 inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick. Coat completely with panko. Transfer to a clean baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill 1 to 6 hours.
Melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the crab cakes; saute, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 1/2 minutes per side.
Top with dollops of aioli. Serve immediately.
GRILLED TOMATO AIOLI
Yield: Makes 1 cup
Note: This sauce is also great for grilled meats or as a dip.
1 medium ripe tomato, sliced 1-inch thick
4 medium garlic cloves
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt, white pepper
Pinch of cayenne, ancho or chipotle chile powder
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray; grill tomato until it has dark grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and grill another 2 minutes. Remove the skin and let cool.
In a food processor, finely mince the garlic. Add tomato and process until well blended. Add mayonnaise and process until smooth. Add basil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Use immediately or refrigerate up to 5 days.
Source: Diane Worthington, “Seriously Simple Parties,” (Chronicle Books, $24.95)
GRILLED CHICKEN SKEWERS WITH YOGURT-MANGO CURRY SAUCE
Yield: Serves 8
1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon lime juice
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, halved lengthwise
1 1/4 cups plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1 3/4 teaspoons curry powder
Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon lime juice, or to taste
1/2 cup mango chutney, mashed with a fork to break up large pieces
Red pepper flakes
Salt, pepper to taste
Note: Soak your bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes or overnight to protect them from flare-ups on the grill.
For the marinade, combine the yogurt, olive oil, lime zest and juice, red pepper flakes and black pepper in a medium, nonreactive bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
For the sauce, combine the yogurt, curry powder, lime zest, juice and chutney. Stir to combine. Season to taste with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Chill.
Thread chicken onto bamboo skewers. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high or heat a lightly oiled grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill chicken for 3 minutes per side, or until cooked through.
Serve with the curry sauce for dipping.
Source: Diane Worthington, “Seriously Simple Parties,” (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 224 pages)
Yield: Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup Marcona almonds
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, black pepper
In a food processor, mince the garlic and almonds. Add the edamame, parsley, cheese and lemon zest; pulse until coarsely blended.
With the motor running, add the olive oil a slow, steady stream, blending until emulsified but some texture remains. Season with salt and pepper. The pesto may be prepared up to 1 week ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated. Serve with crostini.
Source: Diane Worthington, “Seriously Simple Parties,” (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 224 pages)
BLUE POTATO TARTS
Basic pastry dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter, in small cubes
2 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water
6 small purple potatoes, each 3 inches long
Extra-virgin olive oil
Truffle salt or kosher salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh chevre
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon thick, aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
For pastry, combine flour, salt and butter in a food processor; pulse until it looks like coarse oatmeal with a few larger chunks of butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over flour mixture and pulse just until dough starts to come together (add more water if necessary). Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the potatoes into very thin, even slices, 1/8-inch thick or less.
In a small baking dish with a cover, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt. Add rosemary and water. Cover and bake until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove lid and let cool.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the pastry crust into two 4-by-12-inch rectangles; transfer to the baking sheet. Use your hands to form a low raised edge all the way around. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.
Whisk together the cream, chevre, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt. Brush tart crusts with olive oil, then spread the chevre mixture evenly over them. Lay potato slices over chevre in neat, overlapping rows. Brush with oil; sprinkle with salt.
Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, cool slightly, then drizzle with the balsamic and garnish with parsley. Cut each tart into 5 slices and serve immediately.
Source: Michael Natkin, “Herbivoracious” (Harvard Common Press, $24.95)
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND ROASTED GARLIC GALETTE
Yield: Serves 6-8
Note: This recipe works beautifully with delicata squash and other roasted vegetables, too.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 medium butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped, plus 10 cloves, unpeeled
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup grated fontina
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
For the pastry, put the flour, semolina and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse to form a mixture that looks like small peas. Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough just comes together. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic and chill for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut squash in half, peel and remove seeds. Cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Toss with olive oil, chopped garlic and thyme; spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add unpeeled garlic cloves; bake until squash and garlic are tender, 25-30 minutes. Let cool.
Roll out the pastry dough into a 12-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. Place on second prepared baking sheet.
Peel and mash garlic cloves; stir into the ricotta. Spread over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border.
Spread the squash over the ricotta mixture. Fold the dough edges in to encase the outer edge of squash and ricotta. Sprinkle the fontina over the center of the galette. Sprinkle the edges with Parmesan. Bake until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.
Note: For an elegant cocktail party hors d’oeuvre, form the dough into narrow rectangles, building up the edges with your hands. Spread with the ricotta mixture, top with fontina, and add the squash in neatly overlapping rows. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little Parmesan before baking.
Source: Adapted from “The Food 52 Cookbook,” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (William Morrow, $30)