I know that I came at you with a couple of polenta recipes over the last few weeks, but I promise that I am not obsessed! Well, not really. It is just that I wanted you to have a few things in your arsenal other than a basic ragout before I introduced you to a little idea I wanted to share.
California entertaining is kinda known for being casual and delicious. Being a huge fan of a well thought out charcuterie and cheese board, I have been nothing but excited about how grazing dinners have become a “thing.” They are the pinnacle of casual entertaining! They keep things food-centric and yummy, but allow for the host to actually enjoy themselves with good conversation and quality time with their guests. It’s a bit of a “have your cake and eat it too” scenario. However, doing charcuterie at ALL of your gatherings may impact the novelty…you don’t want people declining because of the fear of experiencing a night on repeat! So, I love to think of ways to bring people around the table (or living room, or backyard) in a similarly casual fashion, but with new flare. Enter the polenta party. It’s nothing new. The lovely Italians have being doing it for forever. So, it’s a borrowed idea, but a lovely idea. Let me break it down so that you can pull it off with ease and enjoy the night as a host, too!
First off, the pretties. My favorite thing to do is to dress the table simply by heading out to the backyard and seeing what I can cut. Fresh flowers are overrated. Greenery is a wonderful way to bring the outdoors-in and make things feel special. So grab some clippers and prune some trees or herbs to tuck in around the table.
The biggest element of a legit polenta party is the board. I simply used a a 1″ x 10″ pine board that I picked up from Home Depot. Wiping it down with a water and vinegar solution (or bleach if you are super freaked) and then giving it a rinse is all you need to do to prep the board. If you are worried about staining, you can rub on some olive oil or butcher block oil as a protectant. Then it’s just about putting it on the table. You can have it lay straight on the table, or you can put some old books or such underneath as risers – that is when tucking in some greenery does a great camouflage!
Now for my favorite part! The cooking timeline. This is why this idea is a gem!
1-3 days ahead – make your sauces
*Sun-dried Tomato Shrimp Fra Diavolo*
Day off preparation:
Start reheating sauces about 1 – 1 1/2 hours before your guests arrive. Most of them can be reheated in the oven in a covered dish, so that you are not wasting time stirring or using up every burner on your stove. The only exception would be the shrimp. I like to make that sauce in advance and then cook the raw shrimp in the sauce as it reheats…fresher is better with seafood!
About 30 minutes before your guests arrive, start cooking your polenta. The process is fast and doesn’t require a bunch of babysitting. Check out our soft polenta recipe here. The polenta has a LOT of water content, so it stays hot in the pot for a pretty darn long time. When it’s time to eat, just pour out the polenta and have a guest or two help you top it off with your sauces. Garnish and pour wine for a epic feast and amazing conversation (assuming your guest list was dialed).
This is what I call California feasting for cold weather!
We hope you are feeling inspired to give grazing dinners a try! They are so easy that you may find yourself hosting a whole slew of gatherings!