I love dinner parties that are small enough to enable good conversation, have good food and drink and thus usually a good time is had by all.
My friends Steve and Bob host great dinner parties, and I always enjoy their hospitality. I was somewhat puzzled, however, when I overheard Bob invite someone to the same party and he was asking them if they had food preferences. So later I asked him why he never asked me what I liked?
His reply was “You like everything.” Humph.
Consequently, I started thinking about it. I am not a picky eater. I identify with James Beard when he said he liked just about anything as long as it was well prepared. I agree. Almost. A fabulous Asian cook, my late friend Maggie Gin and I fixed him a platter of pigs ears, well done and crispy. I liked them but drew the line at eating a platter of snouts! So I don’t like everything. Touring rural China, I was served a bowl of fish soup. I like fish soup but not when eyeballs are floating around. When in Italy with my Italian mentor Giuliano Bugialli, we had lunch at a small country restaurant whose specialty was Screech Birds on Toast: a small, featherless naked bird, head on, stretched across a piece of toast. You were supposed to eat it, crunchy head and all. Couldn’t do it, so gave my bird head to GB. So, Steve and Bob, I don’t eat everything. However what I like, I really like.
When planning dinner parties, one of my favorite standbys is an onion gratin. Everybody likes this.
1½ pounds yellow onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced (or dried 1 teaspoon)
2 large eggs
2/3 cup cream
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and halve onions, slice into 1/4-inch wide pieces. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large sauté pan. Add onions, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to coat onions with the butter, then cook slowly over low heat until they are very soft. This may take up to a half hour, but you are not trying to caramelize them. (They may color a little). When done, set aside to cool.
Beat the eggs well, stir in the cream and then the flour. Wisk everything together and pour batter through a strainer. Combine the batter with the onions and cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Pour into a buttered gratin dish, and bake until gratin is slightly puffed and browned, about 25 minutes.
Another favorite is this Winter Gratin.
3/4 pounds Belgian endive (3 or 4 small heads)
1 bunch leeks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 pounds mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/3 cup chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup ground walnuts
Cut bottoms off the endives, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. The leaves will separate. Cut off bottom of leeks, and trim the tops to the lighter green area. Cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/4 inch slices.
In a large skillet, melt butter and oil, sauté the leeks and mushrooms until the leeks begin to soften. Add the stock and endive, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Drain (reserving the liquid) and transfer to gratin or baking pan. Reduce the reserved liquid down to about 4 tablespoons and use it to moisten the vegetables. Sprinkle walnuts on top. This can done in advance. Heat in a 425-degree oven until heated through and the walnuts are crisp. Season with salt and pepper.