There’s nothing quite like the smell of a four-hour Bolognese wafting into the hallway through an apartment door or the warm blast of rosemary air that comes from a just-opened oven. Then guests arrive, and bright smiles and conversation fill the room, mixing with the sounds of classic rock and food bubbling on the stove. When I first entertained the idea of hosting a dinner party, I was engrossed in the end result: eating great food with great people. Figuring out the logistics of the matter was far from my mind, but the excitement and anticipation of myself and my fellow Spoon writers and photographers encouraged me to get to work, planning, researching, and eventually cooking. So, without further ado, here are the steps to creating a dinner party that is food for both the body and the soul.   

Anamaria Cotelo

Step 1: Determine a theme or central dish

I find that it's easiest to create a menu around a specific theme or central dish. For this dinner party, we decided to build around Max's four-hour Bolognese, but other themes might include an appetizer party, build-your-own pizza party, or a potluck style party where everyone brings a dish that represents their culture. It’s important to remember that guests might have different dietary restrictions, so having different options is always a plus. In the case of this dinner party, one of the guests was vegetarian, which meant that the Bolognese was not an option. So, I made a quick pesto sauce (pesto and heavy cream) over some of the pasta that was just as delicious but still kept with a vegetarian diet. It's all about adaptation!

Christian Hernandez

Step 2: Create a menu

After choosing a theme, the next step is to create a menu. I would recommend choosing a main dish first, and pairing it with side dishes, appetizers, and a dessert. I was excited to work with another writer this week, because instead of doing all the cooking myself, I was able to focus on complementary dishes while Max cooked the main dish. After we decided on the Bolognese, I drew inspiration from my study abroad travels in Italy this summer to create the rest of the menu.

One thing that I wanted to incorporate into the dinner party was the familial aspect of an Italian meal. Eating in Italy takes longer than in the United States, and conversation is a big aspect of that. Some of my favorite memories from my study abroad trip were the big groups of people having a late dinner, laughing and talking while eating amazing dishes. For the appetizers, I chose to make a caprese salad and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, something very simple, but terribly addictive. I also knew that I wanted to use skills that I had learned from taking a bread making class and made fresh rosemary bread to complement the Bolognese. For dessert, I opted for a light and refreshing strawberry panna cotta. Delicious would be an understatement!

Anamaria Cotelo

Step 3: Work with space and timing 

College dorms and apartments are not usually known for their spaciousness, and my apartment is no exception. But, speedbumps and detours simply require a little extra planning. The most labor-intensive items on my portion of the menu were the bread and panna cotta, both of which needed to be in the fridge overnight. That way, I would be able to give Max most of the limited kitchen space on the day of the dinner party. The caprese salad and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe was mostly assembly, so it was a lot easier to manage two people cooking in a small space at once. Keeping in mind what dishes are being made, how long they will take, and how many dishes they will require is extremely important, unless this dinner party is being hosted in a fully staffed commercial kitchen (now wouldn’t that be the dream). But, for college students like us, making magic, memories, and magnificent food isn’t always as simple.

Anamaria Cotelo

Remember to plan well, but also have fun. Cooking with and for people is such a special experience, putting love into the food and joy into the conversation, connecting and being together, sharing an experience so important to human life and making it a ritual even more sacred.  

Anamaria Cotelo