A few weekends ago, we had our friends E and Jessica over for dinner. They had never met before, which is always a little risky, I think. What if your guests have completely incompatible views on gun control, or favorite U2 albums, or whether season two of The Wire is better than season four? No one wants to break up a fistfight in their own apartment, especially before dessert is served.
Luckily they got along just fine. Whew.
In general, all of our friends get along (enough to survive a meal together, at least) but I'm always a little nervous about bringing those different worlds together. There's my work friends, and Dan's work friends, friends from back home and other random places, Dan's grad school friends, and of course, friends of friends. This is why I don't have Facebook. For the most part, I like my friends the way I like my peas and carrots—separate.
But bringing people together is kind of the point of throwing dinner parties. It's a no-brainer to have your usual group of friends over, but sometimes you need to be brave and inject some excitement into things with new blood. Stir the pot, as they say.
Speaking of stirring pots...wow, risotto is not dinner party fare! What was I thinking? It's a perfectly lovely dish to eat in a restaurant, or make by yourself at home, but it is not conducive to entertaining. And not because it's complicated to make—because it requires you to be in the kitchen. (Duh.) While everyone was sitting in the living room, enjoying their drinks, I was standing over the stove, stirring, stirring, stirring. At first I was able to dash in and out of the kitchen between stirs and keep up with the conversation, but eventually I gave up because I didn't want to burn everyone's dinner. Not ideal.
I can see risotto being great dinner party fare if you have a big kitchen where people can congregate and help stir. Or at least a kitchen that looks into the area where everyone is hanging out. But our tiny galley kitchen isn't really designed for socalizing, much less two people in there at the same time.
Oh well. Live and learn, I guess. One consolation: the risotto was very, very good.
Saturday night winter supper
Winter caprese salad
Red wine risotto with bacon and radicchio
Hot chocolate and ambrosia macaroons
Red wine risotto with bacon and radicchio
If you like risotto, I'd recommend making this now, before the weather warms up. Unlike white wine-based risottos, which I find very delicate, this red wine version is hearty winter fare. The smokiness of the bacon melds well with the red wine, and the bitterness of the radicchio cuts the richness of the dish and brightens it up a bit.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
About 5 cups stock (chicken, vegetable, or fish)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 shallots (or 2 medium onions), finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
14 oz. Arborio rice
3 glasses of your favorite full-bodied red wine (I used a bargain bin cabernet)
6 strips bacon, sliced
1 medium-sized head of radicchio
1 handful fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
5 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. parmesan cheese, grated
Heat the stock in a medium-sized pot. In another pan, fry the bacon in a little olive oil until slightly golden. Add the radicchio and rosemary to the pan with the butter and cook gently with the lid on until wilted.
In a separate pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots or onions, garlic, and celery, and cook slowly, about 4 minutes. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.
Stir the rice. The rice will fry and turn translucent after about a minute, keep stirring. Add the wine and keep stirring. (Pour yourself a glass of wine while you're at it.) Once the wine evaporates, add a ladle of hot stock (I use a measuring cup) and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a high simmer so the rice doesn't cook too quickly. As the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and keep stirring. This should take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice and see if it's cooked. It should be soft but still have a slight bite. When you get the right texture, remove the risotto from the heat and add the bacon-radicchio mixture, butter, and parmesan. Stir gently. Place a lid on the pan and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes, so the risotto becomes creamy. Serve immediately with extra parmesan on top.