Having the hospitality gene means you want to welcome as many people as you can to your home for fun, comfort and good food. Inviting more people to dinner than you have seats at the table can be tricky. But, keeping the menu simple, yet tasty, will accomplish everything you want to do with an informal dinner party.
- 18 people for dinner
- One dining room table with 8 chairs
- One kitchen table with 4 chairs
- Plenty of seating around the house, except none with tables
One way to do this is to have heavy hors d’ouevres and let people mill about. But, I find people can still be hungry after grazing. A casual dinner party calls for a “fork supper” — food that can be served on one plate and eaten with just a fork. That means no cutting, no salad plates, and no balancing multiple plates and utensils on laps.
Serve the food buffet style. Provide one dinner plate and one fork wrapped in a napkin. Be on the lookout for good fork supper recipes and file them away for those occasions when you want to invite more people than you have seats at the table.
Braised Pork with Three Peppers cut into bite-sized pieces seasoned with rosemary, garlic and onions is a tasty and filling fork food.
Parmesan Polenta complements the pork and the polenta soaks up the pungent sauce from the pork.
Green Bean Sauté with fresh beans cut in half are easily eaten with a fork.
Assorted homemade cookies can be arranged on trays and placed around the house with napkins so plates or dessert forks aren’t necessary.
Spirits, soft drinks, coffee
Braised Pork with Three Peppers
Brasato di Maiale ai Tre Peperoni
From The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Serves about 8 people, can easily be doubled or tripled.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 each sweet red and yellow peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into two-inch pieces
- 2 large Italian frying peppers (or more sweet red peppers), scored, seeded, and cut into two-inch pieces
- 2 to 3 large medium-hot fresh chilies, such as Hungarian wax or Cubanelle, seeded and cut into two-inch pieces (adjust the amount of hot peppers to your taste)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 3/4 to 3 pounds boned pork shoulder trimmed of fat and cut into two-inch pieces (I used pork loin)
- Leaves from 4 six-inch branches of fresh rosemary
- 1/2 medium onion
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 whole canned tomatoes, drained
Lightly film a 12-inch, nonstick skillet with olive oil. Set over medium-high heat. Add all the peppers with a little salt and pepper. Toss just to lightly sear them, about two minutes. Remove them from the pan, leaving the oil behind, and add a little more oil. Once it is hot, add the pork, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and brown well on all sides, adjusting the heat so the glaze at the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn, about 10 minutes.
While the pork browns, chop together the rosemary, onion, garlic, and anchovies into one-quarter-inch pieces. Once the pork is half-browned, add the bay leaves. After one to two minutes more, blend in the chopped mixture and finish browning the pork over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. The onion should be golden brown.
Pour in the vinegar. Simmer it down to nothing while scraping up all the glaze from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, tomatoes, and the peppers, adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles slowly, cover, and cook 50 minutes, or until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally. Taste sauce for seasoning. Serve right away with polenta. Or refrigerate it overnight and reheat to bubbling before serving.
This is from my friend Loraine who reads cookbooks like novels. This is so easy and is made in a crock pot and can be served hot right from the crock pot. Serves about 10.
- Vegetable oil spray
- 7-1/2 cups water, plus extra hot water as needed
- 1-1/2 cups polenta
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (4 oz.)
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Coat slow cooker (crock pot) with vegetable spray. Whisk water, polenta and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, all together in slow cooker. Cover and cook until polenta is tender, four to six hours on low.
Stir in Parmesan cheese and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
This dish can be held on warm setting for one to two hours before serving; loosen with additional hot water as needed before serving.
Shopping for polenta:
The ‘real deal’ is labeled as either ‘polenta’ or ‘traditional polenta’ and it is nothing more than a bag of coarse-ground cornmeal with a very even grind and no small floury bits; it is often sold in clear bags so you can inspect it. Don’t be tempted to buy coarse-ground cornmeal without the term ‘polenta’ clearly listed on the package, as it often includes a portion of fine, floury bits that will make the polenta taste gluey.
[From editors at America’s Test Kitchen. Slow Cooker Revolution. Brookline, MA: 2011.]
Read package labels carefully — no instant polenta. Bob’s Red Mill sells polenta and you can find it in some large grocery stores. It’s clearly marked ‘polenta.’
Green Beans with Lemon and Pine Nuts
My friend Melanie introduced me to this recipe from Epicurious.com. She says “it’s tasty yet light.” She also says you can substitute almonds for pine nuts as pine nuts have gotten “wickedly expensive.”
- 1-1/2 lb green beans
- 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cook beans in a 4-quart saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes, and then drain well in a colander. Transfer to a bowl and toss with nuts, parsley, zest, oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cooks’ note: Green beans can be cut six hours ahead and chilled, wrapped in dampened paper towels in a sealed plastic bag.