I’D NEVER THOUGHT about hosting an outdoor dinner party in autumn. This year, however, outdoors is pretty much the only place to gather a small pod of friends for a meal. So I dreamed up a warming multicourse menu that doesn’t depend on the need to man a grill (too summery) or hover over the stove inside (too lonely) or heat lamps or fire pits (of which I have neither). And I wanted to avoid any obligation to share serving utensils (a safety protocol), which means plating individually, in the kitchen.
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I’d need to serve a fairly steady stream of piping hot food, but first, good warming cocktails. J.M. Hirsch’s new book “Shake Strain Done: Craft Cocktails at Home” (Nov. 3, Voracious) arrived just in time. His Drunken Orchard combines bourbon, cider, agave and Angostura bitters: Shake, strain, done. Spiced nuts always whet the appetite, and I know of none better than those served at Union Square Cafe in New York City.
As dusk settled in, we’d want to sit down to something unctuous and warm: onion soup. Still, as it is autumn, not winter, I wanted something lighter than the classic deep, dark broth of beef stock and red wine. The recipe at right depends instead on delicate chicken broth and dry white wine. And while it’s hard to beat a melted gruyère topping, I’d also offer chèvre as a lighter option.
I knew my guests would need the food equivalent of double-ply cashmere.
For the main course, we’d need a dish that would more or less cook itself. For serving, warm shallow bowls would hold the heat longer than flat plates. Spice would bring its own warmth. My riff on a traditional French, long-simmered leg of lamb gets tempered heat from the North African spice blend ras-el-hanout; butternut squash and toasted almonds give a little texture to an otherwise meltingly tender dish. For brisk contrast, a salad of wonderfully bitter mustard greens with a vinaigrette of cider vinegar, honey and garlic.
By dessert time, I knew my guests would need the food equivalent of a double-ply cashmere blanket. La teurgoule Normande is just that. This rice pudding, scented with a heady dose of cinnamon, bakes in a low oven for several hours—French country cooking at its best and simplest. (Save a bit for breakfast.)
And for one last round: J.M. Hirsch’s whiskey-infused Celtic Coffee. The occasion demands a nip of caffeine along with the booze. Having spent these long months missing my friends terribly, I knew we’d want to linger late into the night.
- 1 (5-6 pound) leg of lamb
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons ras-el-hanout
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
- 3 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 5 cups butternut squash, cut into 1½-inch cubes
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- Couscous, prepared
- Season lamb with salt, pepper and ras-el-hanout. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a large oval Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot large enough to hold lamb over medium-high heat. Add oil. Once oil is hot, add lamb and brown it well all over, about 15 minutes total. Remove lamb and set aside. Add onions and cook until soft, 10 minutes. Increase heat to high and pour in broth to deglaze pot, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom. Bring to a boil and cook until liquid reduces by about a fourth, 5-7 minutes. Return lamb to pot and cover with lid. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 300 degrees and cook 2½ hours more. Remove lid and add squash. Return to oven and cook until squash is tender, 30 minutes. Add raisins and bake 5 minutes more.
- Meanwhile toast almonds and prepare couscous according to package instructions.
- Serve portions of lamb over couscous and sprinkled with toasted almonds in wide shallow bowls. Add a small ladleful of broth to each serving.
For the bread, you want big slices of peasant bread or several slices of baguette—enough to completely cover the surface of the soup.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 pounds yellow onions, chopped
- 4 medium leeks, whites only, chopped
- 4 shallots, shopped
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 6 cups chicken stock
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Thick slices of bread
- 1 pound chèvre or gruyère, sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- In a large pot or Dutch oven over low heat, melt butter Add onions, leeks and shallots. Cover pot and cook until onions are translucent, 10 minutes. Uncover pot and continue cooking until onions are starting to caramelize but are not yet browning, about 25 minutes more.
- Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add thyme, bay leaf and wine. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, then add stock and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover pot and cook at a low simmer 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Soup can sit at room temperature for 1 hour, or you can prepare it a day in advance, refrigerate, reheat and proceed.
- Just before serving, toast bread on both sides and turn on your broiler. Ladle soup into individual ovenproof bowls. Top with toast, and top toast with cheese. Set bowls on a baking sheet and transfer to broiler. Broil until cheese melts. If using the chèvre, drizzle with a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately.
- 3 ounces bourbon
- 2 ounces apple cider
- ¼ ounce agave nectar or simple syrup
- Dash Angostura bitters
- Crushed ice
- Round apple slice
- In a wide wine glass, stir bourbon, cider, agave nectar, bitters and crushed ice.
- Float apple slice on top and serve.
- 2½ cups assorted raw nuts
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher or Maldon salt
- 1½ tablespoons melted butter
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts across a baking sheet and toast in oven 10 minutes.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add toasted nuts and toss to coat thoroughly. Serve warm.
- 10 cups mustard greens
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Roughly tear greens and place in a large salad bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a small lidded jar and shake to emulsify.
- Toss greens with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.
This is traditionally made in a terracotta terrine, but a 5- to 6-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven makes a very good substitute.
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 quarts whole milk
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees and set a rack in lowest position.
- In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, combine rice, sugar, salt and 4 teaspoons cinnamon. In a saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until it is hot but not simmering. Slowly pour milk over rice. Bake until rice absorbs milk and a thin golden crust forms on surface, 3½ hours. Remove crust and discard.
- Serve pudding straight from the oven in warmed bowls dusted with remaining cinnamon. Leftovers are great cold the next morning for breakfast.
- 2 ounces heavy cream
- ½ ounce agave nectar or simple syrup
- 2 ounces Irish whiskey
- ½ ounce Scotch
- 6-10 grains kosher salt
- 3 ounces brewed espresso
- 1 whole coffee bean
- In a small bowl, whisk cream and ¼ ounce agave nectar until thickened but not whipped, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until needed.
- In a wine glass, stir together whiskey, Scotch, salt and remaining agave nectar. Add espresso. Spoon on thickened cream. Grate a little of the coffee bean over the cream.
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Appeared in the October 10, 2020, print edition as ‘Autumn Al Fresco.’