Bon Appétit (February 2014)
We are firm believers in the mid-week dinner party.
Or rather: We're not scared of the mid-week dinner party.
When life is ramped up and busy, it's easy to not see friends, relegating them to weekend time. And we, like you, we're sure, are staying plenty busy these days. But we love our friends, and want to prioritize spending time with them. And we love having people over for dinner rather than meeting friends at restaurants. And really, if we wait until the weekend to have people over for dinner, we'll spend the entire day getting ready for their arrival. We love to cook, but after a long week at our offices, we don't always want to spend the full weekend in the kitchen.
As it turns out, mid-week dinner parties are totally doable, even on our busiest days when we don't get home from work and the gym until late, and have, say, only 30 minutes or so until the guests arrive. (In our younger, less prepared days, we thought nothing of inviting people over for dinner and have them arrive when the cooking had barely begun. Dinner would regularly hit the table after nine o'clock, but we always had plenty of wine and snacks to keep everyone sufficiently sated until showtime.)
But there's a catch, of course, to successfully being able to have friends over for dinner in the middle of the week: careful planning. All you need is the right mix of dishes, some of which can be prepped in part or full in advance. That's what we did last week, when we invited our friends Ken and Jeff over for dinner to debrief on Thailand (Jeff had given us lots of good recommendations for our trip) and talk about their upcoming nuptials (they're deep into wedding planning -- huzzah!).
So we planned a three-course dinner that had a simple beginning and end, but we chose a more impressive entree that could be made well ahead of time. We started with a Kale, Black Radish and Walnut Salad. For dessert, we served bowls of simple, ginger-and-cinnamon-infused citrus (kind of a different take on Clementines in Cinnamon Syrup). The mix of grapefruits, blood oranges and naval oranges were bright and tasty. For the entree, we chose this Pork and Squash Stew with Chiles.
Here's why it works on a weeknight: The salad and dessert ingredients could be prepped in advance, then assembled as guests arrived. And the entree was nearly all done in advance; we just had to heat the dish and garnish it before serving.
We got home at 7:30 -- they arrived at 8:00 -- and shortly after, we all fell in love with this Pork and Squash Stew with Chiles.
This stew is a winner, easily among our favorite things we've made in the past few months.
The pork, like all long-simmered pork shoulder, is succulent, easily falling apart at the touch of a fork. The stew, infused with the subtle heat of several kinds of chiles, is a heavenly pairing for the pork.
The recipe calls for kabocha or delicata squash, but there was none to be found. Instead, we subbed in butternut squash. Perhaps the recommended squash would have added different flavors than the sweet butternut, but we were happy with the butternut.
But it's the toppings really make this dish for us. The recipe recommends toasted pumpkin seeds, red onions that have soaked in lime juice, and cilantro. All three add wonderful flavors. The crunch of the pumpkin seeds and the freshness of the cilantro are nice, but the red onions in lime juice are where it's at -- their little hit of acid really elevates the stew. We'd eat these limey onions on just about anything.
Be warned: This stew is not a quick kitchen endeavor. It requires marinating time and long cook time, which we spread out over the course of four evenings. On the first day, we marinated the pork and left it to sit overnight in the fridge. Day two, after work, we cooked the stew for the first three and a half hours, letting the pork tenderize. On day three, we added the squash. Then, on the night of the dinner, we reheated the whole thing and added the garnishes.
We loved this stew. It was perfect for a simple, weeknight gathering. Everyone raved about the flavors, and we all even had seconds.It was just the sort of thing we all needed after a long, cold Wednesday.
Pork and Squash Stew with Chiles
Bon Appétit (February 2014)
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Nutritional information available at BonAppetit.com
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), cut into 2” pieces
1 tablespoon ground coriander
10 cloves garlic finely chopped, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
6 dried New Mexico or guajillo chiles
2 chiles de árbol or ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 large yellow onions, cut into ⅛”-thick wedges, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 sprigs oregano
½ kabocha squash (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeds removed, cut into 1” pieces
1 delicata squash, seeds removed, cut into ½”-thick slices
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh lime juice
Cilantro sprigs (for serving)
Combine pork, coriander, half of garlic, and 1 Tbsp. salt in a large bowl; season with pepper and toss. Cover; chill at least 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes; set aside.
Toast chiles on a clean baking sheet until slightly darkened, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then remove stems, and seeds, if you prefer less heat. Place chiles, half of yellow onion, remaining garlic, and 1 cup hot water in a blender; let sit 10 minutes to soften chiles. Blend until smooth; set chile purée aside.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook pork, turning occasionally, until browned, 8–10 minutes; transfer to a plate.
Pour off fat from pot. Cook chile purée in pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 8–10 minutes. Add pork, oregano, remaining yellow onion, and 10 cups water to pot; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, skimming occasionally, until pork is very tender, 3–3½ hours.
Add squash to stew and cook, uncovered, until pork is falling apart and squash is soft, 30–35 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
Toss red onion and lime juice in a small bowl; let sit, tossing occasionally, 30 minutes.
Serve stew with red onion, cilantro, and reserved pumpkin seeds.
DO AHEAD: Pork can be marinated 2 days ahead; keep chilled. Stew can be made 3 days ahead; let cool, then cover and chill.