An Italian Polenta Supper: The Party Plan

Gatherings from The Kitchn

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While all of us here at The Kitchn love to chat about simple meals and the day-to-day realities of cooking, we also really love a good party. So this week we're launching a new monthly series, Gatherings from The Kitchn, showing you our own dinner parties, large and small. Gathering with friends can be as simple as a cozy dinner party for for four in a little apartment, or as ambitious as a backyard movie night. We'll show you our real-life parties, taking a week to walk through planning, recipes, tips, decorating tips, and the party itself. 

Our first party comes from my own kitchen, where last week I threw a dinner tailored for the end of winter, one with hearty, rustic polenta and lots of red wine. Simple, right? Well, we decided to add a dramatic centerpiece for this party -- a four-foot-long polenta board! Want to see more? 

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The Party Idea: Polenta alla Spianatora

I have always wanted to do a dinner around one giant board of polenta. Just pour the polenta on a board (or right on the table!) and top it with stew and braised greens, hand everyone spoons and tell them to dig in! How much more communal does it get, sitting around a board of hot food, spoon in one hand, and wine in another, giggling at the sheer drama of it all? 

This style of serving polenta is an old Italian tradition (alla spianatora means "spread flat"). I've seen it here and there, but I'd never done it myself or seen it on such a long board, the way I wanted to serve it. And I knew I would need a special piece to serve it on. 

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The Centerpiece: Polenta Board from Gray Works Design

For this party I knew I would need an awesome board to serve the polenta.  So I turned to a pair of artisans I have admired from afar for a while: Elizabeth Bryant and Andrew Gray of Gray Works Design. (We recently mentioned them and their gorgeous boards here.) They agreed to make me a custom rustic board for the polenta. I'll share more about them later this week -- look for more on them and their approach to their craft. 

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The Party Menu: Polenta, Braised Beef, Red Wine

The menu for this party needed to be simple and easy to make ahead, to allow for the most relaxing sort of evening. Here's what I sketched out: 

Appetizers
  • Antipasti platter with olives, peppers, and prosciutto
Dinner
  • Polenta with mascarpone and Parmesan
  • Braised beef in red wine and tomatoes
  • Braised kale 
  • Creamy mushroom sauce 
  • Fennel salad with lemon dressing
Dessert
  • (Store-bought) ice cream with cherries in red wine

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The Party Look: Keep It Simple & Rustic

With a giant board of hot polenta on the table I knew we wouldn't need any special extra table decorations! All eyes would go there, obviously. So I pulled out my basic white pasta plates, my IKEA towels-now-napkins, and a striped runner -- plus lots and lots of of cheap candles. 

I'll share more on getting a rustic, warm dinner party environment (on the cheap) later this week, along with at least one of the recipes I used, and the timetable for pulling all this together. 

Have you ever done a party like this? One that centered around one giant board of something delicious and special? What kind of dinners do you like to throw this time of year, when it's still cold and wet outside? 

Stay tuned -- I hope you'll come along with us for this party -- it was certainly a warm, cozy way to spend an evening with friends! 

More posts in this series

Gatherings from The Kitchn: An Italian Polenta Supper