Set the table

I think one of the hardest things about entertaining is what to serve. I have been planning menus since the cavemen, and you would think that I would be able to whip one up when I have people over to my own house, but I’m useless. Two things come to my mind: lasagna and chili. That’s it–there is nothing wrong with either one of those–but that’s it, that’s all I get. My grandmother had the same problem, but she just went with the flow. Once a year she served the entire extended family in her one bedroom apartment, the size of a dentist’s waiting room, but with way more furniture. She had chicken liver pate, quiche, smoked fish, and tiny little ham sandwiches with a gerkin. For dessert there was a cheesecake, or a strawberry pie.
If you make something that you love to make, and that everybody loves to eat, I’m all for serving the same thing everytime, whether it’s lasagna, chili, or shake and bake.
If you want to branch out though, and your fifty seven cookbooks make you feel tired before you begin, try to think seasonally.
It’s March. Strawberries are tasting like strawberries, and the asparagus is practically doing split leaps into your grocery basket to get you to take some home. Tiny green peas are making an appearance, and the potatoes are tasting like potatoes again. Leeks are so beautiful in the Spring that I think they should stand on their own. And shellfish. Now is just getting to be the time for shellfish, and the thing about it is, it’s exciting, with no effort.

Here’s my menu for you:
Mussels and garlic
Polenta covered with a salad of arugala, roasted asparagus, and parmesan
Pancetta and peas
Strawberries in red wine with a big bowl of cream

To get the mussels going, just mince about three cloves of garlic, and heat it gently in a some beautiful olive oil with a sprig of fresh oregano, or parsley and a whole peperonocino, until it starts to blush a little gold. Add five pounds of cleaned and scrubbed mussels with half of a cup of (good to drink) white wine. Cover this and simmer for about five minutes, and throw away any mussels that don’t open. Remove the mussels from the pan, whisk in a tab of butter, pour the juices over the mussels, and if your olive oil is really good, give a drizzle.
Sprinkle the mussels with a mixture of toasted ground fresh bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, a teeny bit more garlic, and olive oil to hold the crumbs together.
Follow the directions for making polenta (you can make the five minute kind, but not the instant; yick) When it is done, gently fold in some butter and parmesan. Pour it into a lovely flat dish and cover with your salad.
Cook the pancetta slowly until it crisps, add the peas with a spoon of stock or water, and cook for five minutes, until the peas are tender. Taste for salt, and tear in some fresh mint.
Reduce a cup of red wine with half as much sugar, and after about fifteen minutes, turn off the heat, and cool. Add cut up strawberries. These are good served with biscotti on the side.

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