Ah yes, Friday. Most of us look forward to this day and I am certainly one of those people. This week I have been counting the days more than most because Randy, my husband, is coming home from a business trip to NYC. He works long enough hours that he doesn't see our baby during the week (he comes home after the baby is in bed), but I have come to rely on him putting our 3 1/2 year old to bed each night. By the end of the day, I am toast so to not have to do that one last thing is a real life saver. It has been a long week but the boys have been great and I had a really nice dinner party last night, so all things considered it wasn't a bad week.
Seven of my friends from our preschool co-op came over last night. About half of us are no longer actually in the co-op (we are in that half) but we were lucky enough to have a terrific class and many of the women have stayed friends. We are all in similar places in our lives - young children consuming much of our energy - so everyone really appreciates (and needs!) a night out. It made me laugh that almost everyone got here exactly on time - these women needed a cocktail! It was such a lovely night that we sat outside for the first part of the evening where we drank wine and nibbled on White Bean Spread with Crostini and the Stuffed Dates that I had made at the last minute.
After the last woman arrived and it started to get too chilly to sit outside, we moved in to the dining room for dinner. The thing I love about the menu I served is that everything was room temperature and aside from tossing the salad, everything was made in advance. I have thrown a lot of dinner parties and one of the many things I have learned is that it is no fun to try and actually COOK when your friends are there. Last minute assembly of a dish is fine, but to try and focus and follow a recipe while also worrying whether everyone has wine, carrying on a conversation with three different people, and shooing your toddler away from the oven is, well, no fun. And dinner parties should be fun, even for the host(ess).
And fun, this one was. We lingered at the table for hours and I got to catch up with some people who I deeply care for. Aside from the few moms nights out that we have cobbled together, most of the time I have spent with these women is with children present - and if you have children, you know that a two minute story can take 20-30 minutes to tell in the presence of babies and toddlers. So just to have uninterrupted conversation was nice. My boys behaved themselves beautifully and slept through the whole thing. And the food really was good. The last time I made the Fontina Galette from the Macrina cookbook was for my clients and I didn't taste it - I'm happy to say it's really good. I made a Beet Salad with Green Beans, Ricotta Salata, and Arugula and it made me curse Randy (again!) for not liking beets. It was delicious and I made it up myself. Before I forget when I put in it, here is the recipe.
Beet Salad with Greens and Green Beans and Lemon Honey Vinaigrette
You can use red beets or a combination of red and gold beets (be sure to use some red for the color). If you use a combo, cook them in separate pans so the golden don't get stained by the red.
For the salad:
2-3 large beets
A handful of green beans, ends trimmed and cut in to 2" pieces
A small wedge of ricotta salata (Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market carry this cheese)
About 5 oz of arugula or other salad greens
For the vinaigrette:
1 small shallot, minced
The juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp of honey
5 tbsp of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper
For the dressing, combine the shallot, lemon juice and honey together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. With the lid on, give the ingredients a shake. Pour in the oil, add the salt and pepper and give it a really good shake. Taste and see if it needs more of anything. If lemon is too overpowering, or if the dressing seems too thin, add more olive oil. (The dressing can be made up to week in advance. You can double it and have salad dressing for the week).
To cook the beets, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the beets in an oven-proof dish and fill it with about a half inch of water. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour (or more). They are done when you can pierce them easily with a knife. Allow them to cool slightly, then peel off the skins with a paring knife. Cut in to wedges and toss with a few tablespoons of the dressing. (These can be made 2 days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge).
To cook the string beans, bring a medium size pot of water to boil. Add a good pinch of salt, then the beans. Cook for 3 minutes then drain. Rinse well with very cold water and drain again. (You can shock them - which sets the color and stops them from cooking - in a bowl of ice water, but to me, that's one more dish to wash).
To assemble the salad, right before you are going to serve it, mix the beans in with the beets and allow them to get coated with a little of the beets' dressing. Lay a bed of arugula down on a large plate (or in a salad bowl). Scatter the beans and beets over top and then crumble the ricotta salata over top. It looks best if the crumbles are about the size of chickpeas. Spoon the dressing over the salad and enjoy!