I woke Monday morning with just the twinge of a wine headache. My normal weekend limit of two glasses had been stretched to three as a result of flickering candlelight, a table full of friends, and my kids blessedly entertained by people other than me. Twelve of us gathered around two long tables pushed together, on chairs and benches that my husband and I have collected from dumpsters, curbs, and thrift stores over the years. Little jars gathered in the same way were all filled up with wildflowers that Luke and I picked early in the morning down the road from our house. Old glass yogurt containers had votive candles burning, the wine was decanted that morning, more candles burned around the house, lamplight filling the rooms, soft music (Louis Armstrong) tinkled in (And I think to myself, What a Wonderful World) on a small speaker in the kitchen. Mismatched glasses and napkins lined the table set with our white dishes and to top it all off, the windows were cracked to let in the most delicious winter breeze.
I’ve craved gatherings like these over the last few covid-ruled years. Big family style dinners where the food is so dang good, but no one actually cares if it’s fancy or just chili with cornbread because they’re just happy to be there. The fear of gathering together has held me back from creating these special memories (current health crisis and all). We’re still being diligent and of course we still wear masks when out and are vaccinated and and and…but I also know that before I know it my kids are going to be grown or too cool to hang around us and they’ll have missed out on gatherings with loved ones and community and how much longer is this going to last anyway (I fear the answer may be forever)? But anywho – I’m not actually here to talk about the virus. I’m here to talk about the warm feelings that gathering around a table brought. And of course the FOOD! Ahh what I wouldn’t give to be able conjure up for the smells filling the house on Sunday night. Of braised beef cooked for hours in the oven, of herbs I picked fresh from my own little garden, of brownies iced while still warm, of farmer’s market carrots roasted until sweet and topped with carrot top pesto.
Really though, instead of making you all hungry, I just wanted to share the menu in case it might give you some inspiration for your own gathering. And also for myself so I can refer back to it when I wonder to myself…what did I make for that winter dinner party with our people? And how did I make that perfect big batch of polenta in the crock pot? So here it is. Just click on the text to go to the recipe I used. And of course I took no actual pictures of the food because who has time for photos once the friends arrive and the wine is poured?
Parmesan polenta (recipe follows)
Braised beef ragu
Roast carrots with carrot top pesto
Vinaigrette for a big green salad
(Spiked) Grapefruit soda
Big batch Parmesan Polenta in a slow cooker
makes 10-12 servings
9 cups liquid (I used about 4 cups vegetable broth and the rest water) plus another 1 cup or so to add at the end if needed
3 cups fine or coarse ground corn meal
1 cup parmesan
Set slow cooker to low and pour in liquid. Add corn meal and stir. Cook for 3-4 hours, stirring every hour until thick. Just before serving, pour in parmesan and stir together. You may want to add a bit more liquid at the end too depending on how thick it looks. This is for soft polenta. Turn to warm and your polenta will stay nice and soft until serving.
To serve the ragu, I used a large white serving platter and poured polenta and spread to about 1 inch thick or so. Top with ragu, and send everything around the table family style if you’re feeling extra warm and fuzzy.