In case you haven't heard the news, I'm repeating it here. Undomesticated Me is going to have a weekly column on Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn, a must-read Brooklyn blog created by Louise Crawford. Look for my Undomesticated Brooklyn column on Louise's site on Tuesdays.
This week I'm going to make it easy for you lazy readers by duplicating the column here (but don't let this become a habit):
I haven’t yet set a date for my first-ever dinner party, but I’ve already enlisted a distinguished list of guinea pigs to get me ready for the big event. My new game plan is to invite one guest over for dinner each week to help me hone my skills. I’ve also begun soliciting advice from Brooklyn-based culinary mavens. First up is Giulia Melucci, author of the fabulous foodie memoir, “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.”
After reading her book, which chronicles her romantic and culinary adventures, I felt as if I already knew Giulia. So I did what any reasonable person would do. I stalked her on Facebook. Giulia was nice enough to reply to my message and to accept my dinner invitation. We had a wonderful meal at Fonda, the upscale Mexican place on 7th Avenue (between 14th and 15th).
Since our first date was a success (the delicious margaritas didn’t hurt), I was so bold as to suggest a 2nd rendezvous. Last Thursday night, we had dinner at Provini, the newish Northern Italian Trattoria on 13th Street and 8th Avenue.
It felt a bit like a private party since I knew almost everyone in the cozy restaurant. In addition to the fellow P.S. 107 parents who congregated by the bar after the PTA meeting, one of my neighbors was celebrating her 40th birthday with a group of friends in the corner booth.
I introduced Giulia to everyone as “my new author friend who I met on Facebook.” As I gushed about her terrific book, Giulia kindly offered to go to her car and get some copies. The birthday girl was thrilled when Giulia returned and signed a copy of the book for her. Giulia and I enjoyed our prosecco and drooled over a selection of appetizers, including grilled calamari and Malfatti. A perfect Brooklyn evening.
As someone who has thrown countless dinner parties, Giulia is just the person to give me advice. So I grilled her with questions:
Undomesticated Brooklyn: What makes a dinner party?
Giulia Melucci: Good and abundant food, of course. But what’s most important is appreciative guests who are open to talking to everyone and keeping up a lively spirit.
UB: Describe the best dinner party you ever hosted.
GM: I had a lot of great ones when I was testing recipes for “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.” In fact, I had a dinner party every night with just about every friend I ever had.
I remember enjoying the September “seder” I made for a bunch of my old Harper’s Magazine colleagues. I paired brisket and matzoh ball soup with teriyaki pork roast and Bok Choy. A strange Asiatic-Semitic amalgam, but all of it was delicious and the table was alive with office gossip and political discussion that I could drop in and out of while I ran from table to kitchen.
As hostess, you can pick up the vibe, but you’re only feeding it, not creating it. I like that.
UB: What is the most important piece of advice to keep in mind when prepping for a dinner party?
GM: If you show generosity in what you serve, you’ve done all you need to do. The food need not be perfect, but it should show a spirit of giving that will set the tone for your guests. You can’t make people have a good time—that they have to do on their own, you’ll be busy—but you can facilitate good feelings by offering the abundance of your own heart in the food and drink you put out.
UB: Any warnings I should heed?
GM: Try not to do anything that will take extensive work in the kitchen while the guests are there. No risottos, etc. I like roast meats and vegetables that you can just chuck in the oven, then you’ll have a few minutes to visit with your guests. Or stews that cook in a pot for hours and are ready to go whenever you feel like ringing the dinner bell. There is no peril inherent in entertaining, so I will give no warnings.
Julia Child said “make no apologies,” if you think something isn’t quite right, no need to talk about it, your guests will probably not notice. That’s probably good advice, but I don’t heed it.
UB: Any recommendations about what I should serve?
GM: I believe in making it easy on yourself and keeping it simple. I love roast pork, or roast fish, with sautéed vegetables or roasted vegetables. The dinner party menus in my book are great, easy, and ready to go. Nigella Lawson’s cod wrapped in prosciutto can be prepped earlier in the day and popped into the oven twenty minutes before you want to serve it. That on a bed of lentils with some chopped parsley adorning it looks so professional and is so tasty. Follow that with a salad and bread (Have lots of bread so people can stuff themselves if you somehow didn’t make enough, which would never happen, of course) a lovely dessert (bought from a bakery is perfectly acceptable) and you have all the elements of a great meal.
UB: Will you come to my dinner party?
GM: I never thought you’d ask!