Having a few guests over for an intimate meal? A casual, yet stylish, dinner is something every hostess should learn to master with ease. Whether it’s an impromptu, 11th-hour invitation or a mid-week gathering, get your hosting game on top form with our cheat sheet for foodie tips and menu ideas.
Effortless bites to start
Nibbles will keep your guests happy and preoccupied while you’re preparing any last minute flourishes for dinner. You can never go wrong with a simple bruschetta of chopped tomatoes and basil topped on a sliced baguette sprinkled with cheese and quickly toasted in the broiler. To keep it carb-free, serve a platter of crudites with sliced cucumber, carrot and celery sticks, endive or radicchio leaves, and radishes with dips like hummus, tapenade or an aged balsamic vinegar with a high-quality olive oil. Fill small bowls with olives, artichoke hearts and roasted peppers -- the deli section should have jars of them that you can keep on hand for these occasions.
Keep the main course looking effortless, never fastidious
When it comes to entertaining, quiche is one of the most versatile dishes that should be in everyone’s arsenal. Go for a prepared crust and get creative with the fillings! If you need inspiration, go for whatever’s seasonal and showcase the season’s vegetables in your savory tart. This is an especially adaptable dish for vegetarians, those with particular allergies or fussy eaters.
Roast chicken is the ultimate “fancy” dinner party show stopper without being fancy at all. It’s also perfect if you’ve only a few mouths to feed. There’s a best roast chicken recipe for everyone out there, our personal favorite is Thomas Keller’s version.
Gourmet pizza party
Ready-made pizza dough can be your best friend on nights like these. Go for some unexpected and even unusual pizza toppings. Try cured meats like speck, guanciale, spicy nduja. Be adventurous with the cheese: why not fresh mozzarella, fontina and taleggio and fresh goats cheese? Quickly finish the pizzas off with a sprinkle of rocket, brushed garlic oil or lemon zest just before serving. Your guests will never think of pizza the same way again (and they’ll think you’re some kind of genius).
Embrace one-pot wonders
Dishes like bolognaise, curry, stews and ragus, the beauty of them being that they can all be made well in advance (and will freeze well if you’re that organized!) or prepared in a slow cooker the evening or morning before. Then all you have to do re-heat and make rice or pasta just before serving!
Don’t forget the sides
Sides shouldn’t be an afterthought, but you don’t want to spend too much time prepping for them either. A fresh green salad with a homemade vinaigrette pairs or an assortment of roasted vegetables add color to the dinner table and is a welcome (and healthful!) accompaniment with any meal.
A cheese platter at the end
So easy, all you have to do is put it on a plate!
Don’t forget the dessert
Serve a few flavors of the best quality ice cream you can find at your grocery store. Or here’s a knock-their-socks-off cheat: serve scoops of vanilla ice cream and let guests help themselves to fabulous (and sinful) spreads like Speculoos, Nutella, Sicilian pistachio cream to drizzle on top.
A few other low-key dinner party tips:
Your pantry is your ultimate dinner party accomplice! Think about items you’d serve at spontaneous and low-key gatherings and keep them in your pantry as go-to appetizers. Small bites like olives, sun-dried tomatoes in oil and bread sticks will make an easy antipasto plate. Stock up on pates, tapenades, salsas and other canned and tasty dips. It’s always a good idea to keep luxury balsamic vinegar and good olive oil on hand.
Keep a few bottles of emergency wine for unexpected occasions. Sparkling wine, like prosecco, cava or even champagne can elevate any dinner party! Or have a few classic apero-friendly spirits in your bar, like Campari, vermouth, or pastis to wet everyone’s whistle!