A Dish Your Guests Will Love…And a Backup Just in Case

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Welcome to You’ve Got Time for This, a column where Bon Appétit’s editor in chief Dawn Davis highlights recipes from our archives that are delicious and accessible, and work every time.

I’m here to rhapsodize about a dish from the BA archives that offers a big payoff with minimal effort, but first let me tell you about a dinner that party went awry.

When my friend Greg graduated from law school, a celebration was in order. I turned to Second Helpings from the Union Square Cafe because the main courses are consistently delicious and foolproof, though admittedly a bit involved. I selected the Indian “bouillabaisse,” monkfish and shellfish cooked in a fragrant broth accented with cardamom, coriander seeds, and fenugreek that have been bloomed in mustard oil. For a starter, I served a hearty lentil and celery salad, which I figured could double as a main, should a dinner guest be allergic to shellfish. What could go wrong?

Plenty. One of Greg’s friends, let’s call her Madeleine, was allergic not only to shellfish but also to lentils. As far as dinner parties go, it was an embarrassing bust. Back then, I didn’t know how to pivot, so it fell to Madeleine to save the day. Unfailingly polite, she pretended she’d eaten a late lunch. I could hear her stomach growling with hunger.

Since that day, I always ask if anyone has any allergies, and I always have a backup plan, one I had to use this weekend.

On Friday, I hosted a dinner party and chose a different recipe starring shellfish: Chris Morocco’s Chile-Lime Clams with Tomato and Grilled Bread. This dish is over-the-top delicious, enhanced by restaurant-level amounts of butter and sambal oelek, a chili paste that lends flavor but not, in this instance, lots of heat. With autumnal hues, this dish is gorgeous, especially with a smattering of red onions (which I used in addition to the shallots the recipe calls for) and multicolored cherry tomatoes. The skillet goes right on the direct heat of a grill, though you can use your stovetop instead. Everyone loved it so much, we jockeyed to get the little bit left in the skillet. (If you like clams, I strongly recommend it.)

I noticed, however, one friend was eating around the clams, choosing instead the garbanzo beans, the jammy, caramelized onions, and the grilled bread. I’d asked beforehand; she wasn’t allergic to shellfish. So what was the problem? Cilantro, with which the dish is finished.  

This time, instead of panicking, I turned to my go to: Fridge-Dive Pesto Pasta. It’s great for a spontaneous plan B because, as the name implies, you can make it with “any leftover hardy green, lettuce, or herb you don’t know what to do with.” I had fresh arugula and basil and some wilting escarole and parsley on hand, though I suspect it hardly matters because it’s the sesame seeds, which I toasted in the skillet while the greens were boiling, and the ricotta salata that make it memorable. (Ricotta may not be a pantry item, but it lasts awhile, so good to have on hand.) Twenty minutes later, the pasta was done and, this time, no one left hungry. So if a surprise allergy or aversion pops up, don’t panic, open another bottle of wine, and get your water boiling. 

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Fridge-Dive Pesto Pasta

This pesto pasta recipe is the solution for any leftover hardy green, lettuce, or herb you don’t know what to do with. Cleaning out your fridge has never been so rewarding!

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