I’ve been invited to a dinner where the host is making a family seafood risotto. I always like to bring foods, and almost always it is bread (I make better bread than I can buy anywhere–I think it’s part of why people invite me). While I might bring bread anyway here, I think that’s getting a bit starch-centric for the actual meal. So I’m wondering about what I might bring in, say, as a veggie side that puts minimal burden on the host to prepare or heat.
While I’ll certainly just check with them, I wish to prethink. My initial thought is to do a Turkish/Balkan-style green-bean braise, if I can find really good green beans (in case you don’t know, this prep flies in the face of the “al dente” mindset and essentially poaches the bejabbers out of green beans with garlic in top-shelf olive oil; very tender). The hosts are descendants of immigrants from the Balkan region.
But I think a community like ours probably swarms with other ideas that could be valuably shared, and maybe more seasonal (I’m in USA midwest).
I would go with something that offers textural contrast to the soft, creamy risotto - a shaved fennel and endive salad, perhaps. I love fennel with seafood and I would personally welcome the crunch alongside such a creamy main dish.
First i would certainly reach out to the hosts and say”i would love to contribute to the meal! Can i bring a veggie side dish?” Some hosts don’t welcome contributions to the meal for whatever reason.
I agree something crunchy and bright would make a nice balance to the risotto. Something like a celery apple (granny smith) walnut salad with dijon vinegrette would be great, and i do love a fennel salad- actually just brought one to thanksgiving today!
If the hosts insist you not bring anything for the meal you could still bake and bring a nice loaf of bread and give it as a hostess gift saying it’s for their breakfast tomorrow
I think bringing a dessert is a nice touch too. Can you make brioche? A fruit tart can be an idea. Or well the classic, a bottle of good wine. But like @Ttrockwood said, ask the host what you can contribute. Some hosts they planned everything and dislike surprise.
I appreciate everyone’s replies so far. I was thinking that crunch and textural contrast to the risotto would be good for a side, but I’d not thought of fennel, which comes up a lot here. Can it be eaten raw, or par-pickled? As varied in my cooking life as I’ve been, uncooked salads have remained an area I always feel kind of lame in. I just seem to like cooking things, but maybe I should learn up. Teach an old dog new tricks…
Yes, fennel is delicious raw. Shave it on a mandolin or use the slicing blade on your food processor to get it nice and thin. It has a slight sweetness that pairs well with bitter or spicy greens like arugula or endive, imo. I frequently make a fennel, arugula and avocado salad with red grapefruit segments and vinaigrette when I need something crunchy and bright to balance a rich meal.
Oh yes fennel is wonderful raw! Although it’s definitely important to shave it very thin, easiest with a mandolin but good knife skills will get you there too.
Another thought i had was the classic french carrot salad would be great here too, although note you do need fantastic carrots- i do think organic taste better and I’m selective about what i buy organic- and you do have to shred them either with a box grater or if you have a shredding disk for a cuisinart that will make life easier. And who doesn’t like carrots??
Hahaha!! Apparently i said as much on the food52 recipe too !
This is funny - fennel salad and shredded carrot salad were my two “standard” entertaining accompaniments for a while, for the crunchy contrast and because I would happily eat any leftovers.
There is a delicious carrot salad recipe in Plenty - good hot or cold. The first time I had it, the carrots and onion were roasted and the caramelization lent a wonderful flavor, so I always do that now:
I just had a dish at a local restaurant that I think would pair very well with a risotto - it was a beat, apple and celery salad with a smoky blue cheese. It has such a fresh, light taste with some crunch from the apples and celery (the beats were roasted), with a light dressing and some parsley leaves. You could leave out the blue cheese if that didn’t work with the risotto.
I love a shaved fennel salad, as others have suggested. You really can do a lot with any shaved raw vegetable (carrot, asparagus, celery, cabbage, etc, etc) and a light dressing to pair with whatever risotto you’re serving.