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May 1, 2008 12:30 PM

Help me plan my menu -- starter ideas, please

Tomorrow night we're having somewhat foodie friends around for dinner. We've decided on chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for the main (from European Peasant Cookery, Luard -- great dish). We'll probably pair that with a salad and I've started my no-knead bread. Hubbie is making a cake for dessert. What to start with? Limitations: guest can't eat red meats except for lamb and game (some metabolic thing); needs to be reasonably cheap; need to do most of the work ahead of time (will be putting kids to bed just before guests arrive). A while ago I did a nice roasted green bean salad with red onions and anchovies but I can't find the recipe for the life of me. Think it was from Gourmet, but it's not on Epicurious. Anyway, ideas welcomed! Thanks!

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  1. Fava bean puree on crostini. Suzanne Goin's recipe is killer.

    1. You could do any cream of vegetable soup pretty cheaply. I recently did a pea one, even using frozen peas, that was excellent, and very springy. Just saute some onions, and once they are browned, stir in your frozen peas and broth, salt and pepper. It only takes a few minutes to come to a simmer, then blend it all. Add a touch of cream. I also added a few mint leaves to bring out the springiness, as well.

      1. If chicken with 40 cloves is your main dish, you could start off with something lighter. Soup is a great idea but can be too heavy or salty. How about tapas, like the ones abud (first post) suggested, and a few other varieties? You could do something easy with lots of crostini types, like sun-dried tomato and olive oil, melted parmesan and basil, or olive tapenade.

        Also this is more of a side dish but you can just put out some roasted vegetables, like asparagus, colored peppers, baby potatoes, and baby carrots, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and served with a side of tapenade and/or aioli. Roast with a little olive oil and it'll be quick and tasty!

        1. What's in season where you are? That's probably where I'd start. Abud's fava bean puree would fit the bill where I am, but if the beans need peeling, you might be tight for time by now.

          Steamed artichokes? They usually go over very well with my crowd. Not much in the prep department, and they don't require a lot of attention while steaming.

          1. Thanks, all. I decided to go for the pea soup idea. I think it will be light enough to balance out the chicken and appropriately spring-like. Found a recipe in the River Cafe cookbook -- very similar to katecm's recipe, except they use parmesan instead of cream. Love the idea of the mint lifting the flavor. Bon appetit!