Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Party’s Over
What's cooking? Sweet Pea and Mint Pesto

The extra chairs on the porch are put away. The leftover paper plates and cups have been stored in the closet, and after two days of concentrated skimming, I’ve worked my way through the four issues of the New York Times that I haven’t gotten to read. The guests are gone – all 19 of them, gathered at our house for a long weekend as the latest in a series of biennial reunions among college friends and their wives.

Walking through the empty house, I am revisited by a sensation I remember feeling when our sons went off to college – happy for the peace and quiet and the need to do less for fewer people, but within the silence missing the hum of conversation, the frequent laughter, and the spirit of camaraderie so thick it changes the texture of the air around us.

My job was to feed them, or at least see that they got fed. So in the spirit of Texas culinary inclusion, I covered as many types of cuisine as I could in a short time: gumbo the first night, Tex-Mex the second, barbecue the third, and fried chicken the last night. And in case you are thinking I’m a complete glutton for punishment, I should add that only the gumbo was my own cooking, and for the barbecue, we actually went to a restaurant.

I loved the planning – orchestrating the variety of hors d’oeuvres and desserts to work with the various cuisines is the sort of challenge that as a food geek I relish. The challenge of actually getting it all on the table, on the other hand, is one I could never have accomplished on my own. Luckily for me, a herd of fairy godmothers (and yes, the collective noun for fairies is “herd”) showed up in the form of my husband’s friends’ wives. They hovered around my kitchen counter, waving magic wands that chopped veggies for crudité, shredded cabbage for the cole slaw, arranged food for serving, and set the tables for dinner. And at the end of the meal, they shooed me out of the kitchen and cleaned up. Cinderella was never this blessed.

Days later, my husband and I are finally settling back into whatever routines we had before. Wrapped in the warm glow of friendship for just long enough, we’re pretty sure that our porch – which each night witnessed the full group gathered in a circle and telling stories into the wee hours – will never be the same. As I stretched out on the couch the next day, I was reminded of a phrase from a Janis Ian song, “And what will I do with my mornings? And what will I do with my nights?” I thought about maybe the day's New York Times, then very quickly realized the answer to both questions was, “Sleep.”

* * *

One reason I needed so much help is that, as the classic overachiever, I felt compelled to set out hors d’oeuvres with the cocktail hour and some small dessert each night. Which is where the stash of food in my freezer saved me. You, too, can be ready for any size crowd, with much less planning than Martha or Ina ever did. Just invite a fairy godmother or three.

■ I made batches of my cornbread the week before and froze them in freezer-worthy zip-lock bags. Reheated at 350º for 5 minutes in a baking pan covered with foil, they tasted like I’d made them that afternoon.

■ A single recipe for herbed ricotta – made the night before everyone arrived – served as a crudité dip for two nights.

Basil pesto – frozen a couple of months ago – mixed with light sour cream took the place of the ricotta as a crudité dip on the third night.

■ I put together Meyer lemon mousse from lemon curd I’d frozen a couple of weeks ago, and served it for dessert the last night.

And one new thing.
Do you keep sweet peas in your freezer? The Kitchen Goddess considers them a must-have, so put that on your list for your next grocery trip. And as the season of mint raises its pretty green head, you’ll want to try this new dip. Takes no time, and tastes so fresh you’ll want to do a little spring dance when you serve it.

Sweet Pea and Mint Pesto

Makes about 3 cups.

1 16-ounce bag frozen sweet green peas, thawed

½ cup (packed) mint leaves
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cloves garlic, chopped
zest of ½ lemon
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon salt
generous grinding of black pepper
5-6 tablespoons olive oil

Load all ingredients but the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse long enough to produce a grainy mash. Then with the processor running, add the oil in a thin stream and continue to process until the texture is smooth (about 20 seconds).

Serve alone with crudité (red and yellow bell peppers work nicely, as does English cucumber). Also very good on crostini topped with fresh ricotta. I used the same toppings to excellent effect on these wonderful crackers, Raincoast Crisps, which are available in several flavors at Whole Foods and other specialty grocers. They’re nutty with little bits of dried fruits in them, which balances really well with the cool pea/mint combo.


  1. Those crackers are the best! A little pricey, but my mom is usually willing to pay for them. Great post!

  2. Fantastic fare. I was there.


    Temporary Sous-Chef #2

  3. Love the post, too. Read it a month ago and gave up posting then in my usual identity dilemma that surrounds posting. Your friend, mc.