I had the most delicious New Year's Eve dinner party!
My friend, Sarah, and I worked together to research authentic Italian cooking and create a traditional formal Italian meal for New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve is the perfect night for a dinner party. People are just waiting around for midnight, so they might as well get a good dinner. It can work extemely well if you pair up with another friend who will host the New Year's Eve Toast Party after your dinner. I wrote up a little How To article on Throwing an Italian Dinner Party if you interested in more details.
This dinner was months of perusing cookbooks (which is actually a favorite pass time of mine). After much debate we narrowed our recipe selection to five courses. It took us three full days to do the shopping (our list was three pages long) and chop and cook everything. It's the biggest cooking challenge I have ever undertaken.
The last time I threw a dinner party it was over $300. This time I was more budget conscience and declared that I wanted to keep it under $200 total which Sarah and I would split. Our total rang in at $156.00, just $75.50 for each of us. And we had so much food left over - we even tried to keep the servings small! Mostly it was the side dishes that were over abundant. We served 14 people (including one late comer and Tom, who was sick and stayed upstairs just incase he was contagious. He wins the prize for best sportsmanship. He could have asked us to move the dinner so he could rest, but he didn't.)
Menu di la Festa di San Silvestro - New Year’s Eve Menu
Antipasto - Appetizers
Verdure Arrosto - Roasted Vegetables
Ravanelli con Sale - Radishes with Salt
Prosciutto e Melone - Thin Ham Slices and Melon*
Olive Imbottite - Stuffed Olives
Primo Piatto - First Course
Brasato di Maiale ai Tre Peperoni - Braised Pork with Three Peppers*
Lenticchie Eduardo - Lentils Eduardo
Insalata di Finocchi ed Agrumi - Blood Orange Fennel Salad
Secondo Piatto - Second Course
Caramelle di Zucca - Little Parcels of Sweet Squash with Sage Butter Sauce
Insalata di Verdure Invernali - Winter Root Salad
Italiano Pane - Italian Bread
Formaggio e Frutta - Cheese and Fruit
Gorgonzola, Fontina, Italico - Italian Cheeses
Melograno e Mele - Pomegranates and Apples
Dolce - Dessert
Panna Cotta con Ciliegie e Bacche - Pannacotta with cherries and berries
* Dish contains meat
Sarah made the comment that serving courses was a nice way to pace the food and she's right. It's much better than putting everything on the table, like we do at Thanksgiving and everyone is stuffed in under 15 minutes. This dinner was served with small portion sizes and people talked and laughed between courses. At the end we put out all the leftovers and people helped themselves. I couldn't go back for seconds, I didn't have any room left after the Panna Cotta.
The dinner took about three hours start to finish. Antipastos started at 7:00 and we opened up the kitchen for people to help themselves to leftovers at 10:00. That's about a half hour between each course.
We pulled recipes from three Italian cookbooks and the lentils recipe came from the internet.
I was impressed by how big a hit the Braised Pork dish was; when the meat was gone people slurped up the broth left in the bottom of the pot. They didn't know and we forgot to say anything; there were anchovies in the sauce!
My favorite dish of the evening was the Little Parcels of Sweet Squash with Sage Butter Sauce. It's now featured on this blog. This recipe came out of a Splendid Table cookbook and was the most time intensive dish and the one that invoked the most naughty words. I have to say this is an amazing filling that was sweet and nutty. It had a lot going on. It's a base of butternut squash and sweet potatoes with ground toasted almonds and nutmeg to flavor. Then piped into the fresh pasta dough and served in a brown butter sage sauce. Oh yeah, it was good!
The pasta dough was billed as "easy to work with", but stuck to the table and created a mess when trying to mix it up on the table. Perhaps a bowl would be better next time.
Fresh pasta is amazing. I had never made it before. It's about the same amount of work as making fresh bread. And just like bread it is way better fresh.
We also exposed our guest to a lot of new foods. We got some picky eaters to even enjoy new foods. Many had never tried lentils before. I didn't learn to love lentils until I lived in Panama, so I understand they are not the most common food and not everyone likes them. Fennel bulb was a first for many too. It has a subtle anise flavor and a nice crunch. I don't like anise, but I love fennel. Radishes were also an unexpected delight. We happened to get some pretty mild ones. They are even better fresh from the garden. Dip them in salt and they are one of my favorite appetizers.
The cheese course was sampling of three Italian cheeses:
Fontina – cow’s milk, semi soft, nutty, mildly sharp, stretchy, from Valle d'Aosta, Italy
Gorgonzola – cow's milk, soft, crumbly, pungent, basically blue cheese, from Milan, Italy
Italico - cow's milk, semi soft, stretchy, mild, from the Lombardy Region of Italy
Sarah did a little poll at the end of the cheese and fruit plates. The crowd was split between Fontina and Italico as their favorite cheese, but we had a couple people who thought the gorgonzola was hands down the best. The cheese paired really nicely with the apples. We completely forgot to serve the pomegranate. Ah well, it was the only error in our dinner and I can live with that.
The dessert was the one dish I was unsure about: Panna Cotta. I've hated flan and other custardy desserts in the past, but Sarah insisted it would be delicious. I enjoyed this soft set cream and sour cream dessert enough to lick the bowl clean. We topped it with a sauce made from raspberries from Jeff's Grandma's garden.
Now the question is what country should we try next year?