Last updated on November 29th, 2016
So we started hunkering down at our friend Bryan’s house in Boston six years ago and it’s worked out incredibly well. It’s such a great compromise: All I have to do is cook lots of food, I don’t have to drive anywhere, and the party just happens around me with a rotating, crazy, always amusing cast of regular characters.
After the first year’s ad hoc affair where I cooked a few random appetizers and munchies, we started assigning ethnic themes to the party food. As the crowds grew from seven to now more than 70 people, we of course couldn’t leave well enough alone, and the tradition got a little more elaborate every time.
In 2005, Bryan decided we should attempt paella, despite having way-too-small skillets incapable of holding enough rice to feed 20 people. (A nor’easter at the last minute left us with a lot of leftovers anyway.) In 2006, the Chinese Year of the Pig—Bryan’s favorite animal—gave us inspiration for a few Asian courses. In 2007, Bryan and his boyfriend LeeMichael’s gut-renovation condo in the South End necessitated a few trips to IKEA, so we hosted a Swedish-themed party influenced by the frugal retailer. Last year, in honor of Bryan and LeeMichael’s upcoming wedding, we celebrated the food of the Netherlands, the first country to legalize gay marriage.
Even before the first Dutch oliebollen and oudejaarspot were set on the table in 2008, I made an executive decision to take a year off from obscure culinary challenges. 2009 would be simple and delicious: an Italian feast. Having an entire year to prepare and a massive library of recipes from which to choose, I couldn’t resist going a little nuts (so much for simplicity) and make as much as I could from scratch—breads, pastas, sauces, ricotta. Had I thought of it earlier, I would have even tried homemade mozzarella for the first time.
The final menu was gut-busting:
- Arancini with Gruyere and Parmesan
- Handmade grissini
- Antipasta with marinated olives and artichokes, lupini beans, chianti salami, black pepper salami, and pepperoni
- Bruschetta bar with handmade ciabatta and fresh ricotta, pesto, sundried tomato relish, and balsamic ceci beans (the traditional amuse at Babbo)
- Grandma Barber’s meatballs and sauce
- Caesar salad with rocket
- Orecchiette Bolognese
- Baked gnocchi with marinara and fresh mozzarella
- Chocolate salami
- Cranberry-almond biscotti
- Sesame cookies
- Polenta-rosemary pound cake with mascarpone cream
Desserts can sometimes be a stretch depending on the country we’re “visiting” that year, but Italy posed no issues. One of the more experimental buffet components, however, was the chocolate salami. Don’t freak out—there’s absolutely no meat involved. Melted chocolate, almonds, dried fruits, and crushed vanilla wafers make a cookie log that when sliced, look unnervingly like a traditional salami. Disturbingly named, but universally adored by the champagne set!
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes plus at least 2 hours chilling time
Makes 2 foot-long pieces
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 3 ounces chopped almonds
- 7 ounces vanilla wafers, coarsely crushed
- 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries
- 3 teaspoons candied orange peel
- 2 egg yolks
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water until smooth. Add the sugar, almonds, vanilla wafers, raisins, and orange peel and mix well. Remove from heat and thoroughly incorporate the egg yolks. Let cool 10 minutes.
Divide the mixture in half onto two large sheets of waxed paper and form into cylinders. Wrap the waxed paper tightly around the “salami” and twist each end to seal. Refrigerate for at least two hours or until the salami is fully chilled. Slice into thick rounds to serve.