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What do you serve guests who don't eat meat, fish, or gluten? Risotto!
When it comes to the sticky question of dietary restrictions, I firmly take the view that if the guests gathered around my table are happy, I’m happy—and therein lies the makings of a good dinner party.
So, as I plan what to cook, I make sure to check with everyone if there is anything that they prefer not to eat before settling on a menu. Perhaps they’re eschewing sugar (fresh fruit and clotted cream for dessert; clotted cream, of course, being an optional addition); perhaps they are gluten intolerant (some kind of shepherd’s pie for the main and this flourless chocolate cake to follow); or perhaps they just don’t like anchovies (no anchovies on the menu). Once you know what your guests do and don’t like, can and can’t eat, you can begin to plan.
If one of the guests is a vegetarian, say, then I plan a menu for everyone that suits them. The aim is not to cook something that feels "vegetarian" or that relies heavily on some kind of meat substitute, but a meal that everyone can enjoy. Dishes that I would eat anyhow and happen to have no meat; it's a subtle distinction, but—I can’t help but feel—a very important one.
This is also the low maintenance approach. The other option is cooking two menus: a "vegetarian" and a "non-vegetarian" which, frankly, I find to be an unnecessary headache considering there is such a bounty of vegetables, grains, pasta, fruits, and cheeses to work with.
If we are talking "vegetarian" in the loosest sense of the term and we really mean "pescatarian" (in other words, they eat fish but no meat), then I might do something fancy like a salt-baked sea bass or a large plate of mussels cooked in white wine with loaves of bread to soak up the juices.
For vegetarians proper, in the warmer months, I like to toss together a series of vegetable-based sharing plates: couscous or farro salad; grilled peppers with a sprinkling of cilantro, sliced almonds, and crumbled feta; an artichoke salad, breads, fruits, and cheeses.
But in the winter, I find risotto to be a very pleasing solution: It's wonderfully warming and comforting, and it satisfies everyone, even the heartiest of meat eaters.
The joy of risotto is that you can make it any which way—just use a good quality vegetable stock and flavor it with what you please: fresh peas when they’re in season (or frozen, when they’re not); mixed vegetables; red wine; and—a particular favorite of mine—saffron and lemon, which I find to be just the right balance of sophisticated and nursery food. If you are cooking for a vegan, just leave out the butter and the grated Parmesan from their portion.
More: Risotto any which way, no recipe needed.
Risotto is wonderfully filling and needs little to go with it, which makes it a pleasure to cook at supper parties. I like to lay out some small bites for guests to nibble on as they chat with me while I cook, and then I serve a nice salad and a decadent dessert. P
Timing is key, so risotto works best for the kind of party where you’re happy to be stirring the rice as your guests have drinks. There is little thinking involved, just rhythmic stirring—which somehow makes the process relaxed and cozy rather than frazzled. I chop my onion and prepare all of my ingredients before everyone arrives. I make the dessert in advance, prepare the salad (setting the dressing aside to add just before serving to prevent wilting leaves), and then, once everyone is happily gathered with a glass of wine in hand (myself included), I begin cooking.
Any of the choices below will make for an excellent menu:
- Salted almonds
- Rosemary potato chips
- Crostini with ricotta and figs and a smudge of honey (leave off the ricotta if you're cooking vegan)
- Bite-size chunks of grilled polenta, perhaps even topped with a few porcini and a little fresh parsley
- Lemon and saffron risotto
- A nice salad: I like this red chicory salad with hazelnuts and a light anchovy vinaigrette, mostly because it adds a color and saltiness to the table (again, leave out the anchovies and add a little extra salt to the dressing if you're cooking for someone who doesn't like or eat either fish or anchovies)
- Chocolate, chestnut, rosemary and almond cake, topped with a mascarpone frosting (sift 2/3 cup of confectioners' sugar into 250 grams mascarpone cheese and whisk until smooth
- Apple and pear "strudel" pie
- Or, if you’re cooking with a vegan menu in mind, something like red wine and cardamon poached pears
2 tablespoons olive oil
700 milliliters good vegetable stock
400 grams arborio rice
125 milliliters white wine
1 pinch saffron
30 grams butter
30 grams Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste
Do you accommodate guests with dietary restrictions? Tell us your policy in the comments below!