So I had some work people over for a dinner party. None of them were vego or ever ate much vego food, so I wanted to impress. No pressure.
I think cooking for non-vegos is an interesting challenge. I want them to be full, but I don’t want to simply replace a steak with a mock-meat and most importantly, I want it to be delicious.
After thinking about my guests, I decided to compromise on the mock-meat rule and serve vego sausages.
The other great thing about my choice is that most of it can be taken care of in advance and all you need to do is cook the polenta and serve up the icecream at the end.
The main course was a recipe I found in the newspaper years ago. It’s a Matt Preston recipe I adapted for vegos by swapping the sausage for vego sausage. I forgot to add on my menu that it would be served with a fennel salad with a tomato mustard dressing and a rocket salad. The first time I made this, I used regular mushrooms instead of porcini and it still turned out brilliantly. As you can see, the page is a bit worn and splattered from use.
I’m pretty organised in the kitchen. I didn’t spend all day on this and I didn’t go any prep the day before, which I’ll also try to do if there are lots of steps.
I didn’t start shopping until after midday.
I went to the Swiss Deli Cafe on Boundary Street and bought porcini mushrooms and a nice piece of Australian pecorino.
At Coles, I bought the rest of the ingredients.
At home, I broke the prep into stages: Chopping and veg prep, making the dressing, making the sauce, preparing everything for later.
Chopping and veg prep:
From left to right: Onion waiting to go into the sausage sauce, bowl ready for tomato prepping, fennel all cut and ready to store until the night, scraps bin. I used my food processor to get the fennel sliced finely. Chunky fennel is a bit intense. In the other photo are porcini mushrooms soaking. When drained, you reserve the liquid for the sauce and chop the mushrooms finely. They smell amazing! Regular mushrooms are fine too.
Making the dressing:
The dressing a combination of the tomato gel sacks discarded from the sauce (from about 4 good sized tomatoes), a squeeze of lemon, 1/2 tsp of mustard and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. You strain the dressing to remove the tomato seeds and press the gel through the sieve to get the most flavours.
Making the sauce:
Very easy. Brown two onions in olive oil and a little butter, add the sausage and brown, add the porcini, add the tomatoes, cook whilst stirring for a few minutes, add the porcini soaking water and simmer (I reserved half of the liquid for reheating).
Preparing everything for later:
Firstly I lined up my extra porcini water, measured out my polenta, grated my parmesan for the polenta, shaved my pecorino for serving, chopped and crumbled my dutch gingerbread biscuits, did the dishes, and left the kitchen. The fun part is preparing the table.
I didn’t start any prep until 3, but had from 5-6.30 to get ready and relax in time for our guests to turn up at 7. After cheeses and entrees (which my guests brought along with a bottle of Mumm champagne!), I cooked the polenta (which takes 20-30 minutes but as our kitchen and dining are the same room, remains social and easy to do).
I didn’t take a photo, but to serve, I grabbed a big board and tipped polenta down the middle, making a well. The sauce got pored over the top and then the pecorino goes on top. As it’s plonked down on the table, it got many “oohs” and “ahhs”, which is pretty much crack to a home cook. Eight people were invited, six turned up, but there was enough for about 10 reasonable eaters (or 6-8 starving people). We couldn’t finish nearly all over it and I sent people home with leftovers.
Sweets were chopped gingerbread biscuits with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and gingerbread crumbles over the top, with a shot of black coffee poured over, affogato style. It’s super easy, requires no baking or fuss and was delicious. The coffee (a triple shot long black bought earlier in the day at a local cafe) runs over the ice cream into the biscuit below and makes it all gooey. Heaven.
As I clear plates, I rinse and stack them. When guests are gone we take out the rubbish, tidy everything away and wipe down benches and tables. It was too late to do dishes without disturbing the neighbours, but they are neatly stacked and ready to go the next day. This is the cooking equivalent of taking your makeup off before bed- it saves you a lot of heart ache, even if it’s a pain sometimes.
This is really a fancy, maximum impact dinner for little work.
Leave out the dairy in the polenta and sausage sauce topping and choose vegan cheeses and ice cream and it’s a vegan meal, too!