In Dinner in Five, Ivy Manning shares 5-element menus that are so easy, you can pull them off even on a weeknight. Cooking hacks, time management tips, shopping secrets, and beverage pairings, she covers all the bases, so you can enjoy the dinner party, too. Today’s meal? A comforting feast of crisp-skinned roast chicken, roasted roots, Francophile salad, and sparkling wine that is elegant and easy.
I adore bringing people together and feeding them, it’s how I show affection. Once upon a time, I’d kill myself when I entertained. Days before the event I’d haul out cookbooks and magazines and write menus, plan (even obsess a little), and then I’d spend hours cooking elaborate meals to impress. By the time my friends actually arrived, I’d be a wreck. I was stressed about the slew of dishes I was making and when they were done so I ended up mostly in the kitchen feeling like the hired help. By the time we sat down to eat, I was usually too exhausted to enjoy the meal or the company of the people I love the best.
After one particularly elaborate soiree involving a suckling pig and the rental of chafing dishes, my husband quipped, “These aren’t dinner parties so much as they’re an arms race. You’re always trying to one-up the last party. Can’t you just chill out a little?”
I took that comment to heart. Next time friends came to dinner, I took it easy. I didn’t over-plan. I didn’t make more food than we could possibly eat. I didn’t even pull out our fancy plates. I kept it simple and served good, pared down food. Not only were my friends thrilled with the meal, they were also quite happy that I was fully present. For once I was part of the conversation and laughter that makes dining together so much fun in the first place.
To Start : Warm Marinated Olives
These olives are an old trick I learned in my brief time as a cook for a large catering firm. I trot them out nearly every chance I get. Place a few cups of gourmet olives in a small oven-safe baking vessel, add a few pinches of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, or red chile flakes, a long strip of lemon or orange rind, and enough extra virgin olive oil to come about halfway up the sides of the pan. Pop it in a moderate (350 to 400°F) oven 30 to 40 minutes before guests arrive. Serve the olives warm in the baking dish with a little cup on the side for folks to leave the pits.
The Main : Roasted Chicken
There are volumes written about how to roast a chicken for the juiciest results from brining it in fancy solutions to rotating the bird a quarter turn every 15 minutes. Honestly, I find the best route the most simple. Buy a good roasting chicken, pat it dry, and season it with salt and pepper. Plop it into a Dutch oven and roast it at 450°F until the juices run clear when pierced where the drumstick and thigh meat, about 1 hour for a 3 1/2 to 4 pound bird. You can tie the drumsticks together if you want to, but it’s not crucial. The high heat roasting yields deliciously crispy skin and meat that is always juicy. Let the bird rest for 30 minutes uncovered in the pan before carving. Spoon the drippings in the bottom of the Dutch oven over the meat as you slice it to make it even more succulent.
The Side Dish : Roasted Carrots
No roasted chicken meal is complete without roasted carrots, so I stick a heavy rimmed baking sheet in the oven while the chicken roasts to preheat it, which helps keep the carrots from sticking to it. While the chicken rests, toss 2 pounds of carrots (cut into 1/2-inch wide by 2-inch sticks) with good olive oil, salt, and pepper. Throw the carrots on the preheated baking sheet, reduce the temperature to 400°F and roast until they’re lightly caramelized on the edges and just tender when poked with a fork; no need to stir them while they are roasting. You can add potatoes, parsnips, fennel, whole peeled shallots, radishes, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Add a fistful of fresh, tender herbs like tarragon, basil, or parsley to the veggies before serving, if you’d like.
The Other Side : Simple Green Salad
A simple, fluffy green salad lightens this menu and gives it a sophisticated Francophile note. In a big serving bowl, whisk 1 teaspoon of minced shallot with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon each of white wine vinegar and olive oil. Add salad greens (about 1 big handful per person). Don’t toss the salad; just keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. When ready to serve, give it a sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper and toss at the table.
The Drink : Cava
I like to serve Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, with roast chicken. There’s nothing like the pop of a cork to put everyone in a party mood and Cava is an affordable everyday alternative to Champagne. Plus, most bottles have a bit of a yeasty note and enough acidity to counter the richness of chicken fat. You can find an excellent Cava for under $20 at well stocked markets; just remember to serve it chilled.
- 8-ounce container plain mixed olives with pits
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and red chile flakes
- Dijon mustard
- White wine vinegar
- 1 lemon
- 2 pounds carrots
- 5-ounces baby lettuce mix
- 1/2 small shallot
- 3½ to 4 pound whole chicken, preferably free range
- Spanish Cava