When I had a full-time job, I used to only consider throwing a dinner party on a Saturday or Sunday. I would wake up at the crack of dawn and slave away for hours. I won't lie to you; it could be exhausting. Sure, I enjoyed it - but I realize that most people, who are more sane than I, would probably entertain more if it didn't feel like an event that required 12+ hours of work.
The Friday Night Dinner Party is a new concept I'm super-excited about, for that very reason. It's a way to show people that entertaining doesn't have to be exhausting. You can, in fact, work a full-time job and still have plenty of time to prepare a fabulous meal for your friends to wind down the week.
For the first installment, short ribs are on the menu. Short ribs typically require a braise that takes several hours and so you might not think to go this route for a Friday night dinner party. But there is a way to do it: Cook the short ribs on Thursday! Or Wednesday, even. You see, short ribs aren't very particular. They actually get better in a day or two, so all the better for an event like this.
Here's the deal with the Friday night dinner party: You're not doing everything on your own. Whether you're asking friends to bring dessert or you're buying a few cheeses and olives instead of making a starter, the key to the successful Friday night soirée is keeping it simple. I used to be a crazy person with stuff like this (i.e. I wasn't having it - I was doing everything myself at any cost) and although I still like to do that for special occasions, I've come to appreciate the breeziness of a more casual get-together at the end of the week.
For this menu, you can either provide the wine, starters, and sorbets yourself or ask your friends to bring something to the table. ;) They're generally happy to bring something other than the requisite bottle of wine.
// plan of attack //
Wednesday: Shop for ingredients. Stock up on wine - even if people are bringing, which they should. A good hostess never runs out of wine.
Thursday: Cook short ribs. Allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating in a covered container.
Friday: Find out who's bringing what, and purchase fresh charcuterie and bread if necessary. When you get home from work or one hour before guests arrive, take the short ribs out and transfer to a pot for reheating.
Prepare vinaigrette in large serving bowl for salad: Whisk together 1 finely chopped shallot, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and the juice of 1 lemon, and then slowly stream in olive oil to taste (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Season to taste. Add 1 (5-ounce) container of baby arugula and shaved fennel (from about 1/2 bulb) to the same bowl and cover with a damp paper towel until ready to serve (you can simply toss the salad together at that point).
Get the polenta going and set the table (set aside in the pot when it's finished, covered). Once your guests have arrived and you've been nibbling and chatting for a while, you can start gently reheating the short ribs on the stove. The polenta will not take as long to reheat, and you can whisk in a splash of milk or water if it's become dry. Enjoy!
- 3 pounds boneless short ribs
- 2 pounds bone-in short ribs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other high-heat oil)
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 large onion
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 bottle dry red wine
- 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, puréed in food processor
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¾ pound high-quality fresh ricotta, for serving
- Creamy Polenta:
- 1 cup milk
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup polenta
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Olive Gremolata:
- ¼ cup Italian parsley
- Zest of 2 lemons
- ½ cup Castelvetrano (raw or uncured) olives
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- To make the short ribs: Bring short ribs to room temperature, cutting into large pieces if necessary. Season generously with salt and a bit of pepper. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat until just smoking. Add short ribs and sear on all sides until well-browned, cooking in batches if necessary. Remove meat and set aside, reserving the fat in the pot.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Pulse carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in food processor until finely chopped finely. Add to hot fat, sprinkle with salt, and sauté over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.
- Add wine, turn up the heat and reduce by half. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, and thyme; reduce this mixture until the liquid is high enough to cover the short ribs by 1/3 to 1/2. Taste your braising liquid and season with salt until flavorful - this is what's going to flavor your meat.
- Add the short ribs back into the pot, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for 3 hours, until meat is very tender. After cooking, skim the fat from the top of the pot. (There will be a pool of clear liquid - this is the fat that you want to get rid of. Use a shallow spoon to remove as much as you can.)
- To make the polenta: Bring milk and water to boil in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in polenta. Add butter and salt; cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- To make the gremolata: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve short ribs and gremolata over polenta. Offer ricotta in a small serving dish alongside.