For years, I lived in an apartment in San Francisco that was so small that in order for my husband and I to have another couple over for dinner, we had to rearrange not just the kitchen or living room furniture, but the entire apartment to make room to set a proper table. And I’m not even exaggerating for comic effect. Yet somehow, we managed to throw frequent dinner parties with elaborate menus.
When we moved to our current home in the East Bay two and a half years ago, we were overjoyed to finally have a proper dining room (so to speak, in our 1,100-square-foot house.) One of the first things we did, long before we even procured a bassinet for our baby who was due to be born mere weeks after our move, was to buy a big square dining room table with seating for eight.
As we stood in the furniture store debating the merits of a light stain over dark, visions of dinner parties danced in my head—a constant stream of visitors, bottles of wine being poured, fascinating dinner table conversations, and platters of tantalizing foods being shared around that very table.
And that’s how it was . . . for a month or so. Then our son was born. Sure we had a lot of visitors in those early weeks, but no one sat at the table. Mostly they dropped by, sat on the sofa long enough for a cup of tea or a beer.
They dropped off bags of groceries and plastic tubs of homemade soup, held the baby for a few minutes, and then said hurried, well-intentioned good byes. “We should go,” they said. “I’m sure you’re exhausted so we’ll get out of your hair.” And so on.
Once the novelty of a newborn in the house wore off, those visits were replaced by morning moms group meetings and afternoon play dates with other infants and their parents, hours spent sitting cross-legged on the floor watching our babies wiggle about.
The big square dining table became nothing but a giant pedestal for our son, who would sit happily perched atop it in his bouncy seat like a festive centerpiece.
Over the past two years the words “We should invite people over for dinner” have become a near-constant refrain. “We have this great table,” I hear myself saying to my husband again and again, “We should really use it more.”
What is that they say about being careful what you wish for? Somehow our social calendar has worked out such that we are hosting four dinner parties in the space of eight days, beginning with Christmas eve. Never have I needed that Lazy Gourmet magic more than now.
I’ve been cooking up a storm all week in anticipation and will be posting a number of simple-yet-impressive recipes in the days ahead.
First up is this quick and easy Artichoke and Fennel Caponata—a sweet-and-sour veggie spread that’s great on crostini, or served as a dip for pita chips alongside a cheese plate and assorted olives.
It’s even great tossed with hot pasta and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. It’s a cinch to make, keeps well in the fridge for several days, and is best served at room temperature. Love that.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 1 small fennel bulb, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup golden raisins
- 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 1 heaping tablespoon capers, drained
- Grated zest of one lemon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup canned tomato sauce
- 6 ounces frozen or canned artichoke hearts, thawed or drained and diced
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, fennel, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes until vegetables are soft.
- Add raisins, vinegar, sugar, capers, lemon zest, salt, pepper, tomato sauce, and artichoke hearts.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
- Serve at room temperature spread on crostini or as a dip with pita chips or crusty bread.