These days though, time limitations have forced me into chilling out just that little bit more and dinner dates at home have become about catching up with friends and family - as they should be. I still love to cook for people but the food has also simplified and if I’m honest, my guests seem to like it just as much.
Here are my fail-safe tips that I have picked up for stress-free hosting.
Check your guest’s requirements
I’ve only ever had one occasion when someone turned up with a “dietary-requirement” guest. They were promptly served a raw carrot on a plate (that’s me for you), but find out in advance if you need to cater specifically. I prefer serving and eating the same thing as the rest of the table so if I have my vegan friends over, then we all eat vegan food. Far easier and actually your other guests (or you) may discover a new dish or two.
Preparation, preparation, preparation.
I like to cook slow roast meats like flavour-packed porchetta, big one-pot dishes of Sicilian chicken stew or meals you can prepare well in advance like a baked pasta dish. Freshly baked bread or focaccia is a must on our table and again, something that can be done the previous day. Plan your menu and have a maximum of one course you need to actively cook or prepare on the night. There are plenty of desserts like tiramisu, warm-cakes and charcuterie-based starters that need no last-minute preparation. The only thing I like to do is to serve and enjoy.
Family-style serving should not be sniffed at. It’s a communal and convivial way to eat. Food in general seems more accessible and more relaxed than ever, so big serving plates that people can help themselves to eases the pressure to dish up and also makes guests feel more comfortable.
Dress the table
You’re bound to forget knives or water glasses at the last minute so set the table well in advance to avoid faffing with tips to the kitchen on the night. A well-dressed table will make the night feel more of an occasion anyway. You don’t need fancy plates but nice napkins, perfectly arranged cutlery and proper glasses always help. Places like Tiger sell really cheap napkins and colourful accessories.
Have a little time before sitting at the table for a catch up. I like to serve a cocktail or at the very least some prosecco and nibbles. I usually have an Italian focused meal planned (typical Italian me!) so some nibbles that suit like these Crosta & Mollica Tarrallini are ideal (The packaging design makes me so happy too). Snacks like taralli are typically served with drinks in Italy and feel a touch more special than a bag of crisps! My favourite are the classic fennel seed ones and with a few roast pistachios and some marinated olives, will make the aperativo the event it should be.
Same at the other end! We’ve had many dinner party end into the small hours of the morning with our drinks cupboard for company. We like grappa or some of the regional herbal liquers like Genziano that aid digestion. Apparently.
My ideal menu would be something like the below, most of these recipes on my blog have made it to a dinner party night and gone down really well.