We allllll love a dinner party, right? Breakfast, brunch, lunch dessert party? Sure. There’s something very special about dining in — no time limits, always BYO, walk-ins, always. As long as there’s gas in the SodaStream, I can’t see there being any downsides. There are a few things I’d recommend doing pre-party to ensure things are a little less chaotic once the friends arrive. So save your sweat for House of Sculpt and meltdowns for a slept-through-6am alarm and feast upon this breezy guide on how to dinner party with ease.
CHOOSE A THEME
First things first: you’ve got to have a theme. It can be as simple as Sicilian or as cryptic as Beach Sand Schnitzel. A theme will help make all decisions much easier. From drinks, to table settings, to the menu itself, just match everything with your chosen theme so everything works together, it flows. You don’t have to announce your theme to your guests (but you can if you wish). It’s an inward-facing mechanism to have in mind while getting things together. It’s also handy when someone asks “What drinks should I bring?” and you can confidently answer Tuscan red or Campari sodas plz without a frazzled thought.
MAKE A MENU (and make it good)
Let's not over-complicate the matter at hand. Put simply, there are five elements every menu needs:
- Something for crunch
- Carbs. Always.
- Zing! (chilli-zing or acidic-zing)
- Something saucy or dip-worthy
Making sure each menu item has a couple of these traits and that the menu as whole ticks alllll the boxes is a simple way to get ~balance~ across the table. Noticed salt is missing? That's because everything needs salt or a salty device like anchovies, white soy, fish sauce etc. it's the foundation of all, not an optional extra.
PREP YOURSELF (before you wreck yourself)
Blasting around your kitchen in chaos is not cool, not fun for you, or your now-awkward-and-uncomfortable friends. Let’s not to mention the dangers of trying to prepare dinner when you’re six wines deep and it’s 10:30pm 🤪 To avoid such mess a few pre-prep steps will help you to actually enjoy yourself. Below is a simple menu, achievable for mid-week DPs, and how you can break up the prep.
A MENU TO TRY
The start: Anchovy toasts. Olives. Amaro soda.
The middle: Pork and fennel ragu. Green salad.
The end: Granita with whatever fruit is going.
Prep 1: The day before
Do your shopping. Get allll your ingredients. We do not have time for last-minute runs to the supermarket (although the wizardry of MilkRun will come in handy for this, just in case).
Make the granita. It’s simple — get 100g of sugar and 100ml of water and simmer in a pot till the sugar is dissolved. Blend around 500g of fruit (nectarines are good now) and strain. Add the fruit (and herbs?!) to the sugar syrup and cook for five-ish mins. Let it cool a touch then pop it in a container and freeze. See? Simple. When you’re ready to serve, take it to the table, grate it with a fork and scoop it straight into your guest's mouths (or bowls).
Fill your ice trays. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING is more upsetting than a warm cocktail that’s supposed to be cold. This is THE moment where not prepping yourself could wreck yourself.
Prep 2: The day of
If your day of is the weekend then no sweat — you’ve got all the time you need. If it falls on a weekday, especially an in-office weekday then some items might need to be shuffled to the day before (noted below). If you’re playing with a WFH weekday then we’re a little more flexible — you’ve got your lunch break to wrangle and can work alongside a bubbling pot.
Make the ragu. If you’re in the office today do it the night before, otherwise, whip it up in your lunch break at home — it takes about 10 mins to throw together. It’s verrryyy simple, very yum and the recipe is below. It also benefits from a little sit-time, so making ahead is actually preferred (flavour-wise). It’s also fine to leave on the stove for a couple of hours in the afternoon, just reheat before your guests arrive.
Make the salad dressing. This also loves a bit of sit-time. A simple recipe is one part olive oil, one part white wine vinegar. Then embellish with fun things like crushed garlic, diced shallot, citrus, anchovy, honey, seeded mustard and herbs. Choose your own adventure here, just shake and taste as you go. Bottle it up and pop it in the fridge and pull it out before they arrive so it comes to room temp.
Prep 3: Before your friends arrive
Prep your starters. For those unfamiliar, anchovy toast is a little piece of toast, a hefty slather of butter and an anchovy on top. Use good anchovies for this — Ortiz will do the job. Put your olives in a bowl. Done.
Set the table. Tablecloth on, glasses out, plates out, knives, forks etc. It’s also handy to pick your serving plates now too, so everything is ready to roll.
Get your pasta water ready. Fill the pot with water and pop some salt in. Pop it on the stove and put on low-ish.
Make yourself a cocktail. You deserve this, all the hard work is done. Amaro soda is the flavour of the month here. You’ll need a glass with ice, pour in 50ml of amaro, top with soda and garnish with orange. Slightly bitter, refreshing, yum.
All there is to do is make your friends a cocktail, toss your salad and cook your pasta. EASYYYYY.
A SAUSAGE RAGU THAT IS TOO SIMPLE
- 6 pork and fennel sausages
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tin of Mutti Polpa (or other chopped tomatoes)
- 2 tins worth of water (maybe more?!)
- 1 small tin of tomato paste (Mutti also if possible)
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- ½ tin of anchovies (about 6)
- A splash (2tbsp-ish) of red wine vinegar — this depends on the tomatoes
- Parmesan rind
Add a drizzle of oil to a large saucepan. Squeeze the sausage mince from their skins into the pan and cook for a little while breaking up with a spatula — about 5 min.
Add the garlic, tomatoes, paste, water, parmesan rind, anchovies and chilli. Bring up to a simmer and leave the lid half on.
Cook for an hour, check if you need to add any extra water (you’ll be adding pasta water later so on the dryer side is good). Taste and add the vinegar if you need it. Also add salt, pepper and more chilli if you want.
If there’s too much sauce for the amount of pasta you’re cooking, take some out now (it freezes very well). You can always add it back in later if you need.
Cook the pasta and toss it back through the sauce with some pasta water (a cup or so).
Serve with basil and grated parm.
Done, finished, that’s it.
I hope you’re feeling enlightened, hungry and less overwhelmed. You can catch more ramblings, dinner party tips, recipes and unsolicited advice by joining my newsletter here.