Normally, each supper club has a theme. Last supper club’s theme was just complete fabulousness, but we’ve done everything from “Living Color” to a Hawaiian Luau. I spent a magical summer studying Ancient Greek Art & Archaeology abroad in Greece in 2004, and I fell desperately in love with the food, terrain, and culture. I yearned for a night that would reconjure the flavors and the mood of a warm, summer night on the coast of the Aegean. My husband and I hosted an informal, buffet-style Late Summer Greek Dinner Party for our lovely friends in Jubilee Supper Club.
I had originally planned to host a seated dinner on our bone china, but thirteen of us meant that my six-seater dining table wouldn’t cut the mustard; I decided to go with the informal, family-style vibe and set all the food up at the dining table, with the chairs interspersed throughout the room for noshing and mingling. Our everyday china is one aptly called Parthenon, and its architectural-patterned rim complemented the theme quite well.
Late Summer Greek Dinner Party Menu
Spinach and Feta Puff Pastry Bake
Orzo Salad with Zucchini, Eggplant, and Tomato
Zucchini, Rice and Cheese Gratin
Roasted Leg of Lamb
Pistachio, Honey and Fig Cake
In the front room, I set up a meze platter to take the edge off of the guests’ appetites. Meze means a little “taste” or “snack”: these consisted of hummus, tabbouli, olives, roasted red peppers, artichokes, tzatsiki, and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), accompanied by triangles of warmed, soft pita bread. I prepared the tzatsiki myself, but the rest of the meze I purchased, mostly from our local Middle Eastern deli, the Food Pak. Amy also brought their ready-made feta dip, which is pungent and salty and purely divine.
Tzatsiki is pretty much my favorite condiment. It makes sense, because apart, the ingredients are among my favorites: cucumber, garlic, greek yogurt, and lemon juice. Together, they meld into sharp, tart, creamy, smooth loveliness. Serve this on a meze platter with pita, with a sliced leg of lamb, with kabobs, or drizzled inside a chicken or lamb pita.
Although many are used to seeing individual triangles of spanakopita, a spinach and feta puff pastry, Elizabeth and John brilliantly transformed this into a large-scale offering (recipe from Georgie Cakes). The spinach filling was tender and the puff pastry crisp, buttery, and yielded with a shattering crackle.
Orzo is one of my favorite pasta shapes. Druhan and Patrick’s side salad of fresh summer vegetables with a tangy vinaigrette was a perfect addition to the buffet. Druhan notes that the zucchini could easily be substituted for cucumber (even though she avoids it like the plague) and olives would be a nice addition.
I’m really not sure of any combination of flavors better than herbs and lemon, and those two things elevate the humble roasted potato to new heights. Amy brought these lemon-scented potatoes (recipe from My Greek Dish), and they were perfectly fluffy and tender on the inside, lemony, herby and crunchy on the outside. She mentioned later, after cleaning out the dish, that it would be a good idea to serve this with extra pita to sop up the delicious herb-flavored olive oil. Yes, please.
Elizabeth and Scott took on the green vegetable offering: a delicious zucchini, rice and cheese gratin (recipe from smitten kitchen). One can’t go wrong with grated zucchini, melded with creamy rice and sharp parmesan, burnished with a golden panko-crusted top. Scott and Elizabeth also were VIPs of the night; they were the ones who hunted and procured two bottles of ouzo* for the evening.
*A word about ouzo before we get into the recipe for that fabulous zucchini gratin. (By the way, aren’t you always sold when you hear the word “gratin?” Doesn’t it essentially mean “amazing bubbly cheesiness?”) Ouzo is my thing. I don’t actually enjoy the taste (I actually despise anise–weird, I know), but it brings me back to the summer nights on the coast of Gerakini, a coastal hamlet situated in the webbing between the first and second fingers of the Halkidiki peninsulas. Every evening after class, we would walk across the street from our beach resort to the little taverna, where we would knock back shots of ouzo, cry “Opa!” and generally revel in the amazement that we could earn college credit living it up in one of the most gorgeous places in the world. (I learned a lot about Ancient Greek Art and Archaology, as well, of course, Mom.)
I love to learn new languages, and I remember the moment that our server, who had his head down while filling glasses, automatically responded to my “yassou” (hello) in Greek. He looked up, his face lit up, and he gave me a high five. My Greek language skills are lost after years of non-use, but I will always treasure the small triumph of being treated like (or rather, sounding like) a local.
No late summer Greek dinner party feast is complete without a Greek salad (Horiatiki), and Sarah and Cole delivered. Tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, red onion, and feta, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette and garnished with herbs, meld together into a salad so delicious it doesn’t even need lettuce.
The main event had to be lamb, so I procured a four-pound boneless, butterflied leg of lamb. I marinated it in olive oil, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, and parsley, encased it in sprigs of rosemary, tied it, and roasted it in the oven for almost two hours. It was a perfect medium-rare and made a lovely centerpiece to a fantastic meal.
This recipe is from Curtis Stone, one of my all-time favorites. Take Home Chef was a TLC show in which a more-than-slightly-attractive chef (Curtis Stone) picked up women at the grocery store and took them back to their place to “cook dinner” for their husbands. When it was on the air, I was a devotee. To his credit, my own husband tolerated my infatuation and would even watch a few episodes with me. He even refrained from rolling his eyes that time I freaked out because Curtis Stone made a joke about zucchini in response to my gardening question (about 14 minutes into the video, just in case you’re interested). But I digress. Dynamite lamb recipe, Curtis.
Roast Leg of Lamb with Rosemary
- A 4 1/2-pound semi-boneless leg of lamb at room temperature
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 20 large rosemary sprigs
- kitchen twine
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper. In a very large, deep skillet or roasting pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the lamb and sear over high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest with the garlic and remaining olive oil. Rub the mixture all over the lamb.
Arrange nine long pieces of kitchen string crosswise on a large rimmed baking sheet, 1 inch apart.
Arrange 10 rosemary sprigs across the string and set the lamb on top.
Cover with the remaining rosemary, then pull up each piece of string and tie tightly to secure the rosemary and form a neat roast.
Roast the lamb on the baking sheet for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 130°.
Transfer the lamb to a carving board and let rest for 30 minutes.
The pièce de résistance was Allison’s cake. We had chatted back and forth about ideas for the night’s dessert. We envisioned something with honey, figs and nuts. A visual person, I Googled images of “fig honey pistachio cake” and came upon Cake Crumbs and Beach Sand’s Honey Cake with Mascarpone, Figs and Pistachios. Allison put her own spin on the original recipe and the result was a cake for the ages. Seriously. I heard many supper clubbers comment that this was one of the best cakes they’ve ever tasted. What’s more? It was absolutely gorgeous.
Allison stacked yellow layer cakes (which, in a brilliant shortcut, she purchased from Whole Foods) and frosted them with heaven itself (aka mascarpone buttercream). Then, she decorated the top with crushed pistachios and figs and drizzled the whole cake with a spiced honey just before serving. If your mouth isn’t watering just reading this, you don’t have tastebuds.
Bottom line: This Late Summer Greek Dinner Party was a hit, and I can’t wait until next months’ meeting of JSB. Be sure to follow our hashtag on Instagram to see what Jubilee Supper Club’s eating, and tag your own supper club photos with #jubileesupperclub.