How great it is to enjoy our daily sacred evening meal, how wonderful it is to cook for another public.
First rule: try to find out what kind of allergies, diets, dislikes your guests might have. Second rule: try to prepare a menu which still allows you to join the table conversation. Third rule: try to have an empty dishwasher and to have a clean kitchen after the preparations. Fourth rule: try to avoid that your guests will be served the same dishes every time they come. For this last rule I keep a little notebook (since 2003) where I write down the served menus and the respective guests for each of them. Fifth rule: although these type of dinners will involve more kcal than a normal daily meal, try not to overdo it. Sixth rule: when you have at least 8 people invited you can work with a buffet as main course-try to stick to a chosen theme- but watch out not to cook too much (e.g. if you cook 3 buffet-style main courses for 8 people, prepare each dish for 4 people max). Okay, enough theory let’s cook!
I prefer to start with small appetizers instead of a real first course. The first one tonight is a little glass with a layer of guacomole (mix a ripe avocado, a garlic clove, a spicy little pepper, some lemon juice and peper and salt), a few pieces of cherry tomato, and a top layer with some (northsea) shrimps or smoked salmon in pieces, mixed with chopped parsley or even better coriander. As second appetizer serve a little glas with cucumber cut in little cubes (put the in a colander with salt for 20 mins, rinse and dry) covered with raw salmon in little cubes and finished with a little sauce. Make the sauce by frying a finly chopped shallot, a little piece of ginger and a garlic clove in some butter. Add a pinch of saffron, 150ml of dry white wine and the zeste of 1 lime. Allow to boil until reduced to half and seave. Finish with 4 spoons of light sour creme, cool down and season with salt and pepper (and if you like it a little sweeter add some honey). For the third appetizer a little soup is always great. Serve it in a cup and keep some for an extra portion. Fry a white onion, 3 garlic cloves and a small piece of a little spicy pepper in some butter, add 2 spoons of dried thyme and a few leaves of fresh mint, 500 grams of frozen peas and let it simmer. Add ¾ -1 l of chickenbroth and let it cook. Mix the soup and season with pepper and salt. Make the soup one day in advance (time-saving and often more tasty). Heat before serving. A little drizzle of light cream can create a nice cappuccino-like effect.
The main course is a pumpkin-pasta oven dish with a green salad (of course). Start the day before. Cut a tasty pumpkin (1.5kg for 4, without seeds and skin), add 3 spoons of olive oil and 6 garlic cloves. Cover with aluminium foil and bake them in the oven at 180° until they are well cooked (can take an hour). Next day you mix the pumkin (liquid included) with a mixture of 250 grams of ricotta (I use light), 4 spoons of parmigiano, 100 ml of light creme and 2 eggs. Add freshly chopped rosemarin, pepper and salt. Take a round oven dish and oil it. Add a layer of the mixture below. Put paccheri (short tubes of pasta of 5-6 cm long; 350 grams for 4) in the mixture. Pour the rest of the mixture into the holes of the pasta tubes. Mix 125 grams of mascarpone with 4 tablespoons of white wine, pepper and salt and cover the tubes with it. Finish with grated parmigiano and/or grated mozzarella. All this can easily be done in advance. When you start with the soup put the dish in the oven at 180°, first 20 mins covered with aluminium foil, the last 10 mins without. This will be an attractive dish to serve (hopefuly it will remain as attractive on the plates;-)).
What to serve as desert after all of this? A little lemon ice cream? This is also something you can easily prepare in advance. I found a delicious ‘ gelato al limone’ in one of the books by Tessa Kiros ‘Ciao bella, the taste of Venice’. I made my lighter version. The recipe says 120 grams of sugar, but you can use 80 grams of real sugar and the equivalent of 40 grams in artificial sweetener. Add 70 ml of water and the skin of ½ lemon. Boil until you get a syrup-like solution. Remove the lemon skin and add 75 ml of lemon juice. Cool the syrup down in the fridge. Mix with 125 ml light whipped cream. I have an ice maker so I will use that one. An alternative is to repeatedly mix the mixture every hour during the freezing proces.
Reading all of the above, it may seem as if it is a lot of work for 4 people. And in fact this is true as preparing the same menu for 10 would probably not take you much longer. But believe me, you will have had the pleasure preparing this as well as the pleasure of joining your guests at the table.