Whether it's an impromptu visit from the in-laws or a more formal fete, entertaining should be fun, not frightening. When Top Chef judge, chef, and restaurateur Tom Colicchio hosts parties in his home, the last thing he wants to do is stress about what to prepare or spend all night in the kitchen. "I don’t believe that you have to wow everybody, but a few simple things that are really delicious is good enough," he says. Colicchio told us his top five hassle-free tips—including quick and easy recipes—to help to keep your cool when company arrives.
1. Keep It Simple
Before you go shopping, consider what's already in your pantry. Put out a great antipasti platter that includes items you might already have on-hand like nuts, dried fruits, cured meats, cheeses, and spreads for guests to nibble. "Olives, pickles, roasted peppers… those things are easy and you can put them in a bowl and people can just help themselves," Colicchio says.
"If you have eggplant, grill it and add a little olive oil, chopped mint. or maybe some chili peppers. Grill some zucchini, sliced peppers—all of this stuff is great at room temperature, so there is no waiting timing to get it on the table. Plus, it looks great. Don’t try to make it too pretty and have a good time!”
Try Colicchio’s super-simple and tasty one-pot pasta dish. It not only cuts down on calories, but by using ingredients you already have in your pantry, it's also cost effective—and there's only one pot to wash!
Tom Colicchio’s One-Pot Pasta Recipe
Store-bought dry pasta
Broccoli rabe (or any vegetable in the refrigerator)
Throw the pasta into boiling salted water. Add uncooked broccoli rabe, strain; add back to the pot with garlic and olive oil. Finish with a bit (or a lot) of cheese and black pepper. Enjoy!
2. Cut Down on Prep Time
Having everything prepped and ready to go before the party starts can be tricky so be sure to think ahead. "In restaurants we call it mise en place, but you can do the same thing at home. You don't want your guests there when you're taking corn off the husk. That should be done in the morning so you can actually enjoy yourself when your guests arrive." And don't be afraid to use high-quality prepared goods if you're short on time. "I rely on some jarred things. There are marinated vegetables from Spain or Italy that are done in olive oil and other relishes and spreads that are just delicious. I have no problem adding that to other things you're cooking on your own to help you along."
3. Use Fresh, Seasonal Ingredients
Who says side dishes can’t be the main attraction? Forgo a boring, calorie-packed potato salad for a fresh new twist on a simple tomato salad. "Instead of just slicing the tomatoes, make them different shapes by cutting them on a bias or angle to make it a little more interesting." Add fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and fennel fronds to punch up the flavor and toss with simple olive oil to keep it light.
"If your ingredients are fresh, you don’t need to do a whole lot to them. Let the food speak for itself," Colicchio says. "One of my favorite things to make in the summer is a corn relish. Start by taking all the corn off the husk, add little bit of jalapeno pepper, finely diced, a little bit shallot, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. Let that cook and add the corn, toss it around, and then let it reduce down. You can use it for fish, meats, or anything that is grilled."
4. Just Grill It
There's more to grilling than just burgers and hotdogs! Toss fish, chicken, and veggies on the barbie. Grilling is fun, easy, and allows you to be a more social host! "If I'm having friends over, I want to spend time with my friends and I don't want to be behind the stove, especially in the summer. Grilled red onion is one of my favorite things. Slice it up, put it on the grill, and let it cool. Keep it simple so you can spend time with your guests."
5. Don't Stress! Shortcuts Aren't for Everything
No one wants to spend all day preparing a main dish, but it’s never a good idea to cut corners on cooking time. "The longer it takes to cook something, the more flavors develop, so that’s one place you really shouldn’t take a shortcut."
You can make Colicchio's quick and easy Roasted Chicken with a Roasted Pepper Relish and Fresh Green Salad in less than 20 minutes—perfect for a party! The trick? Roast the chicken ahead of time or have a prepared chicken in your fridge. You can re-roast it quickly with olive oil and lemon and serve it at room temperature. To prepare the relish, julienne an onion, caramelize in a sauté pan and add a jar of piquillo peppers, julienned (or any kind of jarred red pepper) to the pan. Soak golden raisins in warm water until plump, and then add to onion/pepper mixture. Add sugar until caramelized, and then add sherry or red wine vinegar. Reduce down to relish consistency and serve warm or cold. Serve this dish with a side salad of seasonal arugula, romaine, or spinach and simple dressing. It’s that simple!