And what she finds most impressive in a party host.
When warm weather hits, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes after a far-too-long spell of unpredictable temperatures, you might find yourself contending with a sudden urge to host a dinner party. The sunshine draws you outside to your farmer's market where fresh produce is in abundance, begging to be experimented with, you dust off your patio furniture, and before you know it you've invited your friends and neighbors over and told them all to "just bring wine." Now what? While you may have all of the know-how you need to pull off a beautiful spring spread in your arsenal, sometimes it helps to be reminded that there are some simple ways to organize your menu and make the most the season's offerings. And who better to calm your nerves and set you straight that the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten?
Garten's recently published a post on her blog with some handy tips for making a spring dinner party a breeze. Combine that with some advice she gave us ahead of the premiere of the new season of Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro and you've got a three-point plan for a successful hosting experience.
1. Build a menu around what's fresh at the farmers market
Garten highlights some of the first produce items you can expect to find at the farm stand: radishes, baby lettuces, asparagus, and rhubarb. "Then I make a menu of dishes with those ingredients that everyone can eat," her blog states.
"When you buy ingredients in season, they're cheaper and they’re better. In the spring, when asparagus is coming in, all you have to do is roast it on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, put it in the oven, and maybe in the last 60 seconds add some parmesan, and you’ve got a fabulous side dish," Garten told Food & Wine last month. "I also make roast chicken with radishes in the pan that is so delicious. It sounds like an unlikely thing but someone made it for me in Paris and I went crazy."
2. Choose dishes that can be cooked simultaneously
Garten told us when she plans a dinner menu, it includes "something you can put in the oven and forget about it, something that goes on top of the stove, and something that’s served at the room temperature" so that everything doesn't have to be hot at the same time.
Part of knowing which dishes fit those categories is looking back at recipes you've already mastered. "Don’t make something you’ve never made before for company," Garten warns. "Part of being a pro is making something over and over again until you feel confident that you can make it well. Inevitably, the ingredients are different, the oven temperature is off, the chicken you got isn’t the right size. Things happen."
3. Prep some dishes ahead of time
Dessert is a perfect candidate for this tip, "like a salted caramel panna cotta, which you can make the night before and it’s ready for whenever you’re serving," Garten explained. Having something completely done or, at the very least, ready to be popped into the oven for an hour without thinking about can be a huge timesaver on the day of.
And lastly, Garten says don't try so hard to impress people that you forget to enjoy yourself. "I think the most important thing at a dinner party is that the host is having fun. If they are wise enough to make a meal that can do without having a meltdown, I think that’s really impressive."