An Engaging Feast

Shots of Chilled Zucchini Soup, Mini Cheesecakes, the day's menu

Brian and I had been dating for 8 years before he popped the question. Combine that with the fact that I spent the prior three years working at a bridal magazine, and everyone assumed I was hiding a wedding file brimming with ideas of everything I wanted our day to be. Wrong. I was at square one just like any other bride-to-be.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to cater our engagement party. Only me, cooking for 70 of our best friends and family. My family was not keen on the idea, to say the least. There were concerns that it would be too stressful, that there wouldn't be enough food, that it would be too much work. My parents suggested that we have our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant provide trays of pasta, chicken parmigiana and Italian salads. I, on the other hand, wanted the food to mirror the vibe of the party. It was going to be held outdoors, on the water; I thought the menu should match the relaxed, fun atmosphere.*

At that time, I was working in the kitchen at Mirabelle, and had the advantage of asking chefs for advice on cooking large quantities and what to plan in advance. Kelly, the pastry chef, let me know that freezing cookie dough the week before would be easy to bake off the day of the party. I called Bill, the chef de cuisine, before the party with last minute questions on the shots of zucchini soup I planned to serve.

When the day came, it was hot, and bridesmaids were flurrying about, helping with skewer assembly and Champagne popping. My mom was still worrying about the food quantities and my almost brother-in-law was handling the playlist. In the end, everyone was well-fed, happy and we wound up having leftovers for days. (Insert a big "I told you!" here).

Here is the best recipe for mac n' cheese, which we finished off with breadcrumbs and tomato slices. The combination of cheeses with the crunchy bite of the breadcrumbs and the creamy b├ęchamel sauce is ethereal.

Mac and Cheese (courtesy of Ina Garten)
Serves 6-8, generously
  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
1.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

2.) Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

3.) Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

*I should note that although there are a lot of "I"s and "me"s here, Brian was a gem and gave me creative carte blanche over the food I decided to cook up. To thank him, I surprised him with adding one hundred burgers from White Castle to the menu--the low-brow, high-point to his dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Best damn zucchini soup I've ever had!