in good company

perfecting the “done before they arrive” dinner party- a work in progress

Categories: Meat, Grains and Pasta, Desserts, Dinner Party, Posted on October 14, 2011 by Sandy Bergsten

Tonight I am having some new friends who are on the fast track to becoming dear ones. Thought it only appropriate to pull a treasured cookbook off the shelf. Opening one of Marcella Hazan’s invaluable references is like having an Italian great-aunt guiding you in the kitchen. For the American home cook she is the Italian equivalent to Julia Child and Simone Beck. 

For a party it can be fun to follow a culinary thread. Tonight’s entire menu is from The Classic Italian Cookbook- the Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating. Marcella makes it as easy as primi, secondi, dolci.

The Classic Italian Cookbook

What’s more comforting on fall evening than a homemade stew. Here is my adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s spezzatino di vitello coi piselli. The best part of this rich veal stew with fresh peas is that it is better if made a day or two before. Another advantage is that thawed frozen baby peas added at the last minute make it seem like you’ve shelled and stirred for days.

veal stew meat

The key to making stew is to first brown the meat. Marcella clearly spells out the entire process. The meat must be dry. The butter hot. And nothing can be crowded. Multiple browning batches make all the difference.

veal stew

A slow subtle simmer with diced San Mazano tomatoes and their juices. When fork tender. Cool and refrigerate for a day or two. It seriously improves with time.

frozen peas

Right before serving, reheat. Add the thawed frozen baby peas, heat until warmed through.

grated truffle

On a recent trip to Cleveland I ventured to Gallucci’s on Euclid Avenue. It is a treasure trove of Italian finery. There I picked up a couple jars of black truffles. A few shaves will be the perfect topper to risotto alla parmigiana. While risotto can be daunting to prepare for a crowd with it’s mandatory last minute marathon stirring, Marcella offers an unorthodox method that makes this primi not only plausible but possible.


This dish is simply a series of steps. First sauté the finely chopped onion in butter. Second stir in the rice until well coated. Third add white wine and stir until it evaporates. This next part is a bit like a skipping record- add simmering broth by the ½ cupful, stirring frequently until absorbed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat… When just al dente (the risotto should have a creamy exterior and a slightly firm interior) check for seasoning, stir in the finely grated parmesan cheese, lightly fold in the shaved truffles, serve and drizzle with white truffle oil.


Ok, ok but where is the easy make ahead unorthodox part? Here it is- half way through the skipping record of stirring in ½ cupfuls of simmering broth (when the exterior of the grains of rice are slightly tender but the interior still firm) spoon the risotto onto a cool heavy rimmed baking sheet. Let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (This can be done hours ahead of time). Right before serving melt a tablespoon of butter in the now clean pot, add the risotto, stir to coat and continue with the ½ cupfuls of steaming broth until al dente.

Parmesan cheese

When done add the parm and truffles. Serve and drizzle with white truffle oil.

melted chocolate

What more fitting finale for a bill of fare where comfort food has dominated than chocolate pudding. This spuma di cioccolata is light as a dream. Melted semisweet chocolate is folded into airy light egg yolks, espresso and rum.

egg yolks

Then folded into whipped cream. Then folded into beaten egg whites.

chocolate foam

The result is a chocolate conclusion that will carry your dinner companions off to the sweetest of reveries.

chocolate foam

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