I was watching dear old Hyacinth Bucket “It’s pronounced BOO_KAY” on PBS last night, and despite having seen the episode countless times, I found myself once more cruising down the Thames with her crazy companions in search of the perfect spot for “a waterside supper with riparian entertainment.” There’s a perennial quality to her character that speaks to every host or hostess who tries, with various degrees of success, to pull off the perfect dinner party. Hyacinth, of course, always fails, simply for trying too hard – something that I’ve learned long ago is death to a good party. Yeah, I admit, I’ve had some real duds too, but by and large My personal key to success? Three points: 1) Choose your guests carefully – a studied blend of engaged and engaging personalities is more important than the food – remember, it’s all about them, not you! 2) serve only what you know how to cook well – a dinner party is no time for experimentation; 3) most of all, be yourself, and keep it genuine. If you’re the burgers and beer type, black-tie and raw fish on fussy little sticks is probably not the way to go…
And speaking of success, I received quite a number of notes on my last guacamole post, requesting to know the full menu from last Saturday’s Summer Dinner Party, so here’s it is. Our entertainment was not riparian (ripes refers to the stream bank in Latin; “fontal “would have been more accurate, as we had dinner in the dining room, just off the fountain in the upper terrace) but a good meal was had by all nonetheless, and no one, thankfully, ended up like poor Hyacinth, in the water!
A Summer Eve’s Dinner Party for 10
In keeping with the season, the dishes are simple, cool, and feature ingredients fresh from the garden:
Boneless Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Pesto (this is a great easy summer dish; pound breasts in waxpaper to 1/4″; spread with pesto, rool into aluminum foil packets; poach packets for 20 minutes in good stock; serve with a reduction of the stock sauce and a top dressing of fresh pesto for color. Fantastic!)
Fettuccine (regular and spinach mixed together) with a light butter and shallot sauce
Fresh corn on the cob, lightly buttered and salted
Asparagus with dill hollandaise
Fresh Gooseberry Fruit Tart
Wine: Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc
By the way, if for some arcane reason you’ve never watched Hyacinth, Rose and Violet (“you know, my sister with the Mercedes and room enough for a pony”) Keeping Up Appearances is a must see, now available on DVD.