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Jun 20, 2006 02:51 PM

Need a side dish

  • d

I'm having folks over for dinner on Saturday and experimenting on them with some untried recipes, but I need a side dish. I was thinking about sauteeing some spinach or broccoli with garlic but, I don't know, that seems a little boring. Since I'm starting with gnocchi, I've been hesitating about having potatoes or couscous or another starch. Here's the menu - tell me what you think...

Starter: ricotta gnocchi with browned butter and sage - the recipe for the gnocchi (ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, salt, flour) appears to be relatively easy and says I can prepare and refrigerate the gnocchi up to 4 hours before actually boiling them, and the browned butter/sage seems simple enough. Any advice?

Main course: grilled mahimahi fillets - the fillets marinate overnight in olive oil with chopped assorted herbs, like basil, thyme, parsley. Then they're sprinkled with lemon juice, seasoned with S&P and grilled, covered, about 4-5 minutes per side. Again, especially 'cause I'm not ultra confident about grilling fish, I'd appreciate any insights you may have.

Salad course: grilled watermelon with goat cheese and watercress - grilling watermelon seems pretty unusual to me, but intriguing, no? You slice a small seedless watermelon (1 slice per serving) and cut off the rinds. Brush the slices with olive oil and season with S&P, then grill a minute or two on each side. Toss some watercress with vinegar, S&P. To serve, you sprinkle each slice with some crumbled goat cheese and then top with the watercress mixture.

Dessert: lemon panna cotta with blackberry sauce - recipe from Bon Appetit magazine linked below. It's something I can prepare on Friday evening, so I won't have to think about it until time to eat. The picture looks really pretty and I figure that, if I can't find frozen blackberries for the sauce in the little market near our weekend house, I can use whatever they've got - raspberries, strawberries, blueberries...

Anyway, if anyone can come up with a reasonably simple side dish other than the sauteed greens I've sort of settled on, I'd love to hear your ideas. I'll be concentrating pretty hard on the last-minute prep for the gnocchi, fish and salad, so something I can prepare ahead of time would be wonderful, but not crucial. Could be a hot dish or cool/room temp.



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  1. first thing that comes to mind is continuity-or lack of...maybe its just me ;).

    anyways, ya got the grill fired up, grill asparagus or other greens. Make a mixed veg salad w/ grilled veg-ratatouille or caponata. Blanch and grill some fingerlings-toss your roast veg and sliced fins with a vinaigrette and use as a bed for your fish. Toss a panzanella on the side or under the fish incorporating grilled veg....

    2 Replies
    1. re: dkd

      I totally agree, but I think it is really just the starter that throws you for a loop. Everything else is light, summery and simple. The gnocchi, especially with browned butter is sort of heavy feeling and wintery.
      I love the panzanella idea. It would be perfect with the fish, but too bready if you are going to do gnocchi as well. I'd ditch the gnocchi for something like a lovely sweet corn soup with cilantro and chili oils drizzled on top...served either warm or chilled.
      Then I'd go for a panzanella with the fish and grill some zucchini, long cut and brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper.

      1. re: Aaron

        Unless you are used to making gnocchi it may be much more of an adventure than you want to have in front of company, especially the delicate ricotta gnocchi which my first time began to disintegrate in the boiling. Not to mention the hassle of the last minute sauce. I love it though, especially when someone else makes it! How many guests are you having?--You'll want to be able to enjoy them.

        Since you'll have your hands full with grilling, I'd round it out with a dish you can make ahead of time. Aaron's soup idea is great.

        A really good cookbook for foods (Italian) which can be prepared ahead & served at various temperatures, including room temp, is Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place & Evan Kleiman (of Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles). It includes a tasty panzanella recipe, and many more great ones. If you like cooking beans from dried beans, and for a somewhat more filling dish (most people will not eat a huge portion), you might consider their recipe for white beans with sage: simply slowly cook beans in lots of water with garlic, a bit of olive oil, s & p & some fresh sage. This can be ready by the time the guests arrive and withstands holding while you juggle other chores. I think it is delicious with fish. You could substitute one of the herbs you are using in your grilling for the sage for continuity--but it's very good with sage.

        Thanks for the link to your dessert recipe. I want to try that.

        Good luck & please report back!

    2. Yes, the browned butter is definitely a last minute right before you serve thing...

      Looking at what you have on menu, I would opt out of grilling the watermelon (and save the grill for the other sidedish) and serve a fresh watermelon goat cheese salad with it.

      As a side, zucchini sliced length wise, brushed with rosemary/garlic infused olive oil is good, throw in some sliced fennel bulb, and whole spring onions/baby leeks/or just plain scallions. Will give a nice hint of green, and some extra flavor with the allium in these tasty little bulbs. Having a grilled veggie platter with similar shapes and differing shades of green will look nice with the grilled fish and colors of fresh watermelon salad.

      3 Replies
      1. re: wasabi

        Wasabi - that grilled veggie platter in shades of green sounds like a terrific idea. Thanks!

        1. re: wasabi

          How do you make your fresh watermelon goat cheese salad? I've never had it but it sounds great.

          1. re: anniediaz

            you can slice or cube watermelon and arrange it with sliced/thickly crumbled goat cheese over a bed of arugula and fresh mint leaves. Top with cracked pepper and a little salt and some drizzled olive oil.

            I do like sliced feta with it in place of goat cheese. omit the salt in the above steps. i like to do double thickness watermelon (about 1/2 inch) to feta ( 1/4 inch slices)

        2. I agree with you - no more starch. How about some pretty colorful mixed roast veg. Roughly chop and toss with chopped garlic and shallots, big pinch sugar, pinch red pep flakes, salt and evoo. Bake at 400 until lightly browned on the edges. Serve room temp. Red bell peps, cauliflower or broccoli, sliced finnochio, fat asparagus, carrots. Easy, healthy, delicious. If you wanted, you could add some bruised fresh rosemary - if you live on the West Coast it's wild in the streets, just be sure to pick it from above doggy level. But I think for your meal, I wouldn't muddy the flavor of the slightly sweet veg. with any herb at all.

          1. The suggestions sound great, but just want to add something about the fish. I grill a lot of fish and don't like to marinate it overnight. It tends to break it down and you can end up with a mushy consistency. (I know you're not using any citrus in the marinade, and that would make it worse, but still.....) Mahi Mahi is not a thick and hearty fish anyway, so I don't think it can take too much marinade for too long. Unless it's something really meaty like swordfish, I try not to marinate fish longer than a couple of yours. Others may disagree with me.....just a thought.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Elaine

              I totally agree. I usually only marinate fish for an hour. If a little more time is required for you to prep things, and you don't want to deal with the marinade, give it a couple hours, but really no longer.

            2. Your menu sounds delicious--PLEASE report back.

              See below for a possible side dish.


              1 Reply
              1. re: Funwithfood

                You asked for a report back, so here ya go. As it turned out, one of my guests was not a fish eater, so I changed the entire menu...

                For cocktail munchies, we served sliced sweet sopressata, mixed olives, and jarred caponata (We got to our weekend house mid-day on Saturday, so I just didn't have time to make fresh), with toasted slices of French bread. Wine: prosecco ($14 - Martini & Rossi - it's all they had at the PA State Store - it wasn't too bad, but I've definitely had better.)

                Main course: "Chicken, Steak & Sausage Contadino." This was a recipe from my old favorite Italian restaurant, the original Grotta Azzurra. The three above-mentioned meats, cut into bite-size pieces - the chicken is on the bone - are sauteed in olive oil (I used a bit of peanut oil, too) with garlic, and tossed together with potatoes, sweet peppers and mushrooms, all of which have also been sauteed with oil and garlic. This was a really good dish.

                Since I was in a Grotta Azzurra mood, I also made "Spaghetti Grotta Azzurra." That's just boiled spaghetti (I used linguine) that's mixed with your own home-made sauce, then put into individual serving casseroles, topped with a little more sauce, sliced mozzarella and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan, then stuck under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese bubbles and browns.

                Wine was a nice Chianti Classico, but I didn't pay attention to the label. Four of us managed to finish two bottles, so I guess it was good!

                Our guests brought a green salad and I served fruit and a few cheeses for dessert, along with some cookies.

                It was a good dinner, but I still want to prepare the one I originally posted about.