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Autumn Dinner Party Menu Ideas??

Hey everyone!

I'm hosting a dinner party in a few weeks and I wanted to have a "fall/autumn" dinner menu. I was thinking of making sweet potato gnocchi as a side dish, a salad, and a roast chicken as the main. For dessert, I was thinking of either a pie, panna cotta, or something like that. Any suggestions or comments on the menu would greatly be appreciated.

Here's the sweet potato gnocchi recipe I was going to use (courtesy of the Italian Dish):


1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 14-ounce sweet potato
1 10-ounce russet potato
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour (approximately)
3 ounces pancetta, chopped finely (omit if you want a vegetarian dish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place hazelnuts on foil and toast the hazelnuts in a 400 degree F oven for about 8 minutes. Immediately wrap hazelnuts in a clean towel and let steam for about 5 minutes. Roll the hazelnuts around in the towel - this will remove a lot of the skins. Take the hazelnuts out and set aside.

Place the potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about one hour, or until they are soft and easily pierced with a sharp knife. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper. A pastry scraper helps a lot in making gnocchi. Cut potatoes in half and remove their skins. Force potatoes through a ricer. Make a mound on a work surface with the potatoes and make a well in the center. Beat the eggs slightly in a small bowl and pour into the well. Sprinkle a cup of the flour onto the potatoes and with a fork, start mixing the eggs and incorporating the flour and potatoes together. Add another half cup of flour and with a pastry scraper, mix the ingredients together until a dough begins to form. Add another half cup of flour and work into dough. Use a pastry scraper to scrape up the dough and fold it back on itself. Use additional flour if dough is overly sticky. You want the dough to be slightly sticky, but not too sticky.

Cut off a chunk of dough and roll it out into a rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. If the dough is too sticky, it will be hard to roll but if it is too dry, it will not stick enough to the counter for you to be able to roll it out. This takes practice to get a feel for this, but it's very easy. Use a little sprinkling of flour on the counter if the dough is sticking too much. After you roll out the rope, then sprinkle the rope with flour and cut either with the pastry scraper or a sharp knife into inch long pieces. Place on the wax paper on one of the baking sheets and sprinkle with additional flour so the gnocchi don't stick together. Repeat with remaining gnocchi and refrigerate until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, fry the pancetta until crisp. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Wipe fat out of pan. In same pan, warm the olive oil, butter, nutmeg, and sage together over low heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a strainer or spider ready. Place half the gnocchi gently into the water. Do not let the water boil vigorously, just gently. When the gnocchi float to the top, continue to cook them for about 30 seconds. Remove with the strainer and place in the skillet with the warmed oil and butter. Cook the rest of the gnocchi, add to the skillet along with the pancetta and toss gently. Add sea salt to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with the cheese. Sprinkle hazelnuts on top.

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  1. Yum :-)

    I know it's trite, but you really can't beat apple crisp.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jvanderh

      I agree, any crisp is a classic comfort food dessert. Can be jazzed up in many different ways also. Try making in individual casseroles and top with a really good ice cream. I add walnuts and raisins to my standard apple crisp. Also, try combining apples and pears.

      1. re: othervoice

        Oooh yum that sounds good! Apple crisp is a great idea, it's a quintessential fall dish. I think I might try your idea about serving them in individual ramekins. Thanks for the great tips everyone!

    2. I'm cooking for my first autumn dinner party in a couple of weeks and I'll be doing Nigella's so-called Venetian Lasagne: has polenta layers instead of pasta and a rich meaty ragu, to which I'll add some wild mushrooms too.

      Pudding I think will be plums stewed with star anise and maybe some hazelnut icecream.

      Your gnocchi sound great, definitely autumnal.

      1. That gnocchi looks amazing.

        As for dessert, I have brought this pear-ginger-maple pie (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...) to a few autumn dinners and it's always a success.

        1. That sounds like a killer gnocchi. For the salad, you may want to have a frisee with bacon with a red wine vinaigrette to have both the fall flavor of bacon and the bitter frisee. Instead of the roast chicken, the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for chicken breast with shallots (essentially seared chicken breast with a shallots. http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recip.... YOu can lighten it up by omitting the cream and the extra butter and just reduce the jus.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Dcfoodblog

            Good idea, thanks for the great recipe

          2. I love sweet potatoe gnocci. I wish someone would serve me that!

            I have one suggestion about dessert. It seems individual desserts are all the rage right now so I've been making rustic hand pies for my dinner parties. Double crust=10-12 hand pies. I've done apple with a pecan crumble on top. Serve with a dollop of cream or icecream. Here's a pic so you get the idea. I'm assuming you know how to make apple pie. Sorry I didn't include a recipe for that.

            Also the individual desserts jars are not much effort. You can pretty much do any of the suggestions here and adapate it to a jar. You can do a day or two ahead, put the top on and stash away in the fridge.

            All the suggested recipes look great. It will be hard to decide! Good luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: TSAW

              What do you mean by "individual dessert jars." Not sure what that is.

              1. re: karykat

                The smaller size mason canning jars (maybe one cup). You cook and serve it in the jars. I've seen it in quite a few restaurants and on various foodie blogs so I tried a few recipes using them. Then I reused the jars to can my salsa last weekend!

            2. I just made prunes stewed in red wine served over mascarpone and it was AMAZING and would be perfect for fall.

              1. Sounds great... I am having a dinner party Saturday and am thinking of making sweet potato or butternut squash gnocchi as well ...

                Have you made gnocchi before? because it can be very tricky to get the hang of with texture and timing...
                The recipe I use (I think it is Batali's... it doesn't use egg), calls for me to shock the gnocchi in an ice bath after boiling... This makes them great for dinner parties because I can store them in the fridge after the ice bath and then cook them in butter etc... right before serving with out loosing texture. I love the hazelnut and pancetta idea.

                7 Replies
                1. re: lrealml

                  is "shocking" gnocchi similar to "shocking" asparagus? does it affect the texture of the gnocchi? I have never heard of this method applied to gnocchi before. sounds interesting...

                  1. re: masdiamond

                    yes... in my experience, it helps the gnocchi hold together better (I've had trouble with gnocchi falling apart in the sauce); it also is very convenient for dinner parties/leftovers since gnocchi does not reheat without loosing its texture.
                    Here is a Batali recipe where he uses an ice bath:

                    Actually he does use egg.... I don't remember why I don't use egg in my gnocchi. I think I just experimented with recipes until I found a combination of things that worked for me.
                    It is definitely a finicky dish... When I was learning how to make them, I wound up with everything from little rocks to mashed potatoes :)

                    1. re: lrealml

                      How about a plum tart for dessert? It's not something you see everyday and plums are in season now.

                      1. re: lrealml

                        Marcella Hazan does not use an egg - 1 1/2 lb boiling potatoes (not russets) boiled unpeeled in H2O. try not to puncture them when testing for doneness as i makes them soggy. 1 C flour. peel them as soon as you can handle them, rice them and knead and shape as above - they come out as light as air. I think the egg can be what makes them go tough sometimes. Not sure if these would survive the cold water bath though.

                        PS this is an awesome fall gnocchi recipe also: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                        1. re: hoaxter

                          Cooks Illustrated just published a gnocchi recipe/method - their assertion (which makes perfect sense to me) is that excess moisture in the potatoes is the root of textural issues with gnocchi, because the wetter your potatoes, the more flour you have to add, which means a greater chance of forming gluten, which means toughness. Anyway, they call for nuking the potatoes briefly, then baking them, then peeling them while hot and putting them through a ricer. The riced potatoes are spread out on a sheet to cool, allowing them to release even more steam. They call for an egg and 4oz of flour to 2lbs of potatoes.

                          The recipe doesn't address sweet potatoes but I'm sure the method would work with sweets as well. They (IMO) tend to be wetter than white potatoes and they definitely absorb a lot more moisture when boiled. I see that the OP's original recipe calls for the SP to be baked, which I think is the way to go, but I would recommend ricing them while hot and letting the steam evaporate too.

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            That is similar to what I do... I bake the potatoes, sweet potatoes and/or squash, and then put them through a ricer. Since sweet potatoes and squash are more moist, I let the puree dry out in a warm oven or in the fridge. If I am in a hurry or have a very wet squash, I will use cheese cloth to squeeze out the moisture.

                            My dinner party gnocchi turned out great. I used a mix of sweet potato and squash and added spices (cinnamon and nutmeg mainly) and served it in brown butter with a five spiced duck breast with a fresh plum sauce and some roasted shitaki mushrooms.

                            This week I made a blue cheese gnocchi with russets and decided to try adding an egg.... I made two batches the first batch was too wet and fell apart when I reheated the gnocchi in the sauce. So in the second batch I added more flour, and they came out denser than I like. They were still tasty, but next time I will skip the egg like I normally do.

                        2. re: lrealml

                          I don't use potatoes, I like to make it with ricotta/egg/flour...

                    2. http://www.pauladeen.com/index.php/re...

                      apple pie with a hot butter rum sauce and cinnamon ice cream would be good too

                      1. Our was pretty basic, but I recently hosted a potluck dinner party that was meant to evoke the autumn feeling. I served coq au vin as a main dish, as well as a nice loaf of crusty bread, while some girlfriends brought over roasted vegetables (sweet potoatoes, bell peppers, onions) and a salad with blue cheese, cranberries and pecans. We finished up with an apple pie.

                        1. I'm a big fan of this pear tart courtesy of Ms. Martha.