I enjoy entertaining on a Sunday night. It's more relaxed, food is less formal and we generally begin to say our goodbyes before 10 p.m. because we all usually need to work the next day. That means an early night in the kitchen for me with time to relax a little before bedtime.
Here's an easy menu to put together for an informal, small gathering. You could easily double or triple these recipes for a larger group. There's a variety of flavors and textures in this menu, from the salty-sweet and aromatic picadillo filling in crispy phyllo, to the satisfying hit of fresh lemon and freshly grated Parmesan in the gratifying chickpea, broccoli and rigatoni main, to the warm tomato salad with just the right balance of sweet and acid, tempered with the gentle heat of fresh green chile and smokey grilled tomatoes. And dessert? One bite of the moist, chocolate cake with a broiled pecan and coconut topping and you'll be convinced you did a wonderful thing. Find theses recipe below.
Crispy Picadillo Bites
Make one recipe of Picadillo and add 1 small peeled potato cut into 1/4" dice when you saute the onion and green pepper (I diced my green pepper for uniformity with the other ingredients). Make sure your green olives are sliced thinly or chopped. I also increased the raisins to 1/2 cup and seasoned everything to taste with salt and pepper. After the mixture cools a bit, you're ready to fill frozen mini phyllo shells (such as Athena brand) with the picadillo--you'll have some left over for another meal to eat on pasta or in lettuce cups, which is never a bad thing. Bake filled shells on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve hot. Makes at least 24 appetizers. People will inhale these.
Meyer's Lemony Broccoli and Chickpea Rigatoni
Find the recipe for this light and flavorful pasta here. I always use extra garlic when marinating the chickpeas (and I often start them early in the day for best flavor). Be sure to use plenty of cheese when you serve. Everytime I make this dish, people want the recipe--and they want seconds, too.
Warm Grilled Tomato Salad
From Eating Well Magazine, July/August 1997. I've made this salad over and over again. We never tire of it. It's wonderful with all kinds of grilled meats and fish as well.
1 Tbs. EVOO
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
4 large, vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1/2 loaf crusty bread, slice or torn into pieces
1. Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together EVOO, lemon juice, garlic, chile and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in basil gently and set aside.
3. Combine 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper and sprinkle over tomato quarters.
4. When grill is hot, sear tomato quarters, turning frequently until blistered on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes.
5. Toss hot tomatoes with reserved basil vinaigrette; season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature with crusty bread. Serves 4 as an appetizer or salad course.
What to drink with this menu: Serve an easy-drinking juicy red wine with lots of fruit, such as a Rhone-style blend, a Spanish rioja, a fruity, soft Malbec (I recently tried The Show Malbec 2010, Argentina, which has plenty of fruit, some spice and a little oak, softer than many Malbecs I've had, and very yummy for about $11), or a fruity, not-too-sweet sangria. Make something really good for dessert. Brownies with good-quality chocolate would be great, but I suggest Easy Chocolate Cake with Crunchy Coconut-Pecan Topping. Then sit back and enjoy your guests and the rest of your Sunday evening.
May your tastebuds dance!