I don’t know about you, but when the headlines get heavy and our phones feel radioactive, one of the things that reliably makes me feel better…
…is having people over for dinner. There’s nothing quite as life-affirming as sharing a pot of spaghetti bolognese and a bottle of Sangiovese with your favorite people. The problem is, that bolognese and Sangiovese can get pricey, especially if you dare to serve cheese or vegetables or dessert alongside them. Plus, you have to plan and shop and cook, too. It’s a lot of work! Why not just order a few pizzas and call it a day?
You could of course 100% serve pizza and be no worse for the wear, but what if I said you can make dinner for six of your friends for under $60? A dinner that actually feels as special as one built around a porterhouse or wild salmon.
The menu I’ve designed here is not only super wallet-friendly, it’s also mostly vegetarian and doesn’t require seven stops at seven different markets. In fact, the ingredients might fit into two grocery bags and only add up to $50 if you do all the shopping at Trader Joe’s.
And because we are such believers in all the good things that can come from feeding your friends, we are determined to make it as easy as possible for you. This downloadable, printable Dinner Party Packet includes shopping list (with price guidelines) as well as all the recipes, which are also published below.
There’s only one thing you’ll have to figure out for yourself: Who will be your lucky guests?
- This menu assumes your pantry is stocked with olive oil (the menu calls for a little over one cup) salt, and pepper.
- It asks that you request a bottle of wine from a few of your guests.
- Prices listed on the attached shopping list are based on Trader Joe’s. If you are shopping in a generic supermarket, prices will be slightly higher, but your total should still clear the $60 mark, assuming you have at least one of the big ticket items — olive oil, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, or Parmesan. (Use the prices listed as a loose guide for budgeting as you shop in your supermarket.) If you do this shop at Trader Joe’s and already have a decently stocked pantry, you might even clear $50.
Starters: Minty Pea Dip with Toasts, Cheese Twists
Dinner: Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions, Roast Carrots with Thyme and Orange
Dessert: Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream
Minty Pea Dip
In a food processor (preferably a mini food processor) whirl everything (except baguette) until it is the consistency of textured guacamole:
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
handful fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
Garnish with some more shredded Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Transfer to a bowl, and serve with baguette.
Crostini with minty-pea dip has been my go-to starter for years — it’s good year-round and is a little more surprising than regular guacamole. And I love that something this vibrant and dramatic looking starts with a humble bag of frozen peas.
Pasta with Yogurt and Caramelized Onions
This is adapted (only slightly) from the Diane Kochilas classic, another recipe I’ve been making for years. I always make more onions than what she originally called for because they are crucial and when I have time, I cook those onions on super low heat up to two hours longer than instructed — they get so jammy and sweet that way. Also: Don’t forget to reserve the pasta water before straining!
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds (about 8 cups) coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds tagliatelle or fettuccine (usually about 1 1/2 boxes)
2 cups thick, strained whole milk Greek-style plain yogurt or sheep’s milk yougurt (see note)
1 cup grated or shaved Parmesan (about 4 ounces)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently and seasoning with salt to taste as you go, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. (If you have time, you can turn down the heat to super low and keep them cooking up to 2 more hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes.)
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. As the water heats, add enough salt so that you can taste it. Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Combine the yogurt with 1/4 cup cooking water and mix well. Add more of the reserved pasta water as needed to get the sauce to desired saucy thickness. Drain the pasta and toss with the yogurt mixture.
Serve the pasta immediately, topped with caramelized onions and their juices, and sprinkled generously with cheese.
Note: It’s important to use full-fat yogurt here to prevent curdling and breaking. If you’re not using thick Greek yogurt, line a colander with cheesecloth and set over a bowl or in the sink. Add the yogurt and let drain for 2 hours. If you have access to sheep’s milk yogurt, that’ll be just as good, if not better.
Roast Carrots with Lemon and Herbs
Do you have to buy a bunch of thyme just for three sprigs? No, you can just as easily omit and then use leftover mint (from your dip) to garnish at the end. But I love the combination of orange and thyme with the carrots, and there was room in the budget, so…
3 pounds carrots, washed and halved both lengthwise and cross-wise, as shown
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
leaves from three sprigs of thyme
1 small orange, halved across its belt
handful mint leaves, torn
Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme leaves. Lay out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Nestle in orange halves, cut-side up. Roast for 35-40 minutes, until carrots look toasty. Plate on a large platter and squeeze the juice from one orange half all over. (Be careful, the orange will be hot.) Place the remaining orange half on the platter so it looks pretty! Garnish with mint.
The combination of tangy yogurt, salty Parm, and sweet onions is delicious, but more than that, it’s unique.
Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream
Hopefully you already have most of what you need in the pantry for this — it’s my favorite for that reason. (And also for the it’s-delicious reason.) All you have to do when the guests are there is whip the cream. And if you even forgo that and spend 50 cents more on the Cabot whipped cream bottle, we won’t love you any less.
3 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
Whisk together milk and yolks. (I do this in a large measuring cup to save a dish.) In a heavy medium saucepan, whisk sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk mixture and turn heat to medium. Whisk until pudding thickens and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Continue boiling one more minute, whisking constantly so it stays smooth. Remove pudding from heat and add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Divide pudding into six small serving bowls or glasses, and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap, laying plastic down directly on the surface of the pudding, and chill for at least two hours.
In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric mixer (or pass your bowl and whisk around the table), whip the cream and remaining extract until stiff peaks form. Add a nice messy scoop to each serving.
Thoughts? Would you make this?
P.S. Hosting a soup group and another very easy dinner party.
(Photos by Yossy Arefi for Cup of Jo.)