The Dinner Party: A Simple Spring Menu

When spring greens start popping up at the market, it’s best to keep things easy

By Anna Watson Carl

Published on April 22, 2015

When it comes to dinner parties, I usually serve straightforward, seasonal dishes that I can make ahead, or at least toss together right before my guests arrive. But every once in awhile, it’s nice to have an excuse to tackle a big culinary project. Especially if I’m having friends over on a Saturday or Sunday, it can be fun to spend the weekend in the kitchen, preparing slow-cooking dishes like osso buco or cassoulet, or attempting made-from-scratch gnocchi or pie dough. Though these recipes are time-consuming, the end result is almost always worth the effort.

If I’m taking on something really complex, I have one rule for myself: the rest of the menu has to be super simple—as in, store-bought or made in 15 minutes. It keeps my stress levels down and allows the one dish I labored over for hours (or days!) to really shine.

On a recent trip to Italy, I learned to make homemade ravioli. It’s quite a process, as you have to make the dough (and chill it), make the filling (and chill it), roll the dough, make the ravioli, and finally, cook them and make the sauce. But the finished product is so incredibly delicious—and gorgeous—that I couldn’t wait to attempt it at home.

Since the ravioli take several hours to make, I kept the rest of the menu extremely simple: olives, cheese, and hearty crackers for hors d'oeuvres; a light baby arugula, radicchio, and fennel salad; and then, for the main course, a super-simple honey-Dijon roasted salmon from my cookbook. For dessert, I macerated fresh strawberries in Grand Marnier, orange juice (and zest), and some raw sugar for a quick, boozy topping for vanilla ice cream.

The Menu

The Game Plan

  1. First things first, this schedule assumes that you're hosting the party on a weekend. If you want to attempt this menu on a weeknight after work, make the ravioli the weekend before and freeze them. You can pop them directly in the boiling water from the freezer—they'll just need an extra minute or so to cook.
  2. The day before: Buy the groceries, wine, and flowers. Make the pea-ricotta filling.
  3. The morning of, set the table (I like getting that out of the way first thing, so it's done!)
  4. Three to four hours before, make the pasta dough, let it chill, and roll it out. Ideally, you'll want to use a pasta maker for this dish; I don't have one, so I rolled out the dough using a rolling pin, which works in a pinch. Make the ravioli. Place them in a single layer on a flour-dusted sheet of parchment and cover with a clean dish towel. They can sit at room temperature for several hours, as long as the room isn't too hot. Otherwise, place them in the refrigerator.
  5. Thirty minutes before, put out the cheese, crackers, and olives for pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres, plus wine and wine glasses. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  6. Once everyone has arrived, preheat the oven for the salmon. While everyone's munching on hors d'oeuvres, boil the ravioli and enlist a friend to help watch the pot so you can make the sauce. Plate your homemade ravioli as a first course (and enjoy the oohs and ahhs from your friends!). Pour the sauce over the salmon and stick it in the oven while you're eating the ravioli; take the salmon out of the oven and place on a platter, toss the salad in a large bowl and serve the main course family-style at the table; and for dessert, serve the boozy strawberries in little glasses over vanilla ice cream. Easy!

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