The Dinner Party

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     It’s been a while since Allan and I have hosted the big dinner party all by ourselves.  What I mean by this is that for the past 10 years, we have had a full-time cook and when we entertained, while we certainly contributed our “fingerprints” and often more to the meal, we had a team behind us prepping, cleaning, cooking, serving, cleaning up afterward, and leaving the leftovers in nice little containers in the refrigerator for lunch the next day.  In case you’re wondering what universe we’ve been in, we’ve been living the life of an expat in Asia.  And it was nice, especially when our sons were at home, and yet, it came with a certain amount of loss of individuality and privacy.  So when we moved to Tunis, as empty nesters, we decided to take back that element of living.  We do have a woman who comes three mornings a week and cleans and irons, but that is it. 
     Due to a number of factors:  we were renovating our house, our shipment didn’t arrive until December, then there was a revolution, and then we were tired, we haven’t much had anyone over.  But this week our newly hired administrative staff for next year converged for a week of “admin camp”, I’m calling it, and we really wanted to have a great dinner party at our house for about 12 people. 
     I tried to do everything I could as early as I could, but when you’re working with a lot of fresh produce, there is just going to be last minute prep.  Dear Allan is the most wonderful and long-suffering prep cook in the world.  We got away a little early from school on Wednesday afternoon, got the tagine in the oven (see Julie’s Walk for recipe) and then proceeded preparing artichokes, carrots, fresh peas, radishes, roasted eggplant dip, and then the centerpiece of the evening, in my opinion, a baked egg in brik pastry with homemade harissa on a bed of fresh spring pea mash.  With olives. 
     I already said I am a little out of practice with the whole timing of the dinner party.  We were in super shape until the guests arrived and then I needed to also become the hostess.  I got a little distracted.  The brik pastry cups were tossed into the oven that I had inadvertently turned off.  The soupy tagine sat on the stovetop, needing a hard boil to reduce the liquid, and the couscous that I had started on the stovetop scorched in the pan before I had finished showing our guests the upstairs bedrooms.  But these are lovely friends and cooks, every one, so they came in the kitchen to help me fill the pastry cups with eggs.  Ridiculousness ensued, as the cups weren’t completely flat on the bottom and so when we cracked eggs into them, they tipped over and the raw eggs slid freely into the pan.  I fetched out enough workable pastry baskets for one each and the others we scraped into the garbage.  At night’s end, however,  I do think it was the best dish and it’s all symbolic of spring with the grassy pea mash and the baked egg.  
     So we’ve had a wonderful week together and now these strong, brilliant women (they all happen to be) are going to come back in August and help us do the next phase of the work, but also be here to share the life.  I can’t wait.
For Lauren, Ann, Susan, and Barbara
     I tried to look for the recipe already printed online, but alas, no.  So I’m going to have to do it.  David Tanis (if you’re reading my blog) , I give you full credit for the recipe, even though I modified it with brik pastry and the pea mash.  From Heart of the Artichoke.
Savory Baked Eggs in Filo
6 sheets filo dough
8 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. olive oil
l lg. onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed to a paste with a little salt
½ tsp. cayenne
½ tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
6 large organic eggs
Harissa oil, recipe follows (not optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F.  To make pastries, lay a 12” square sheet of filo flat on the counter.  Paint it generously with melted butter and fold it in half.  Paint again with butter and fold once more.  Invert a 51/2” bowl over the folded sheet and with a paring knife, carefully cut a circle.  Gently press the circle of filo into a muffin tin.  Repeat with the remaining pastry sheets until you have six little filo cups.  Bake for 5 minutes, until just barely golden.  Cool.  Leave the oven on.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and let it brown slightly, then turn down the heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, cayenne, and cumin and cook for a minute longer, then transfer the onion mixture to a bowl to cool.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  It should be a little kicky.
Spoon a little of the onion filling into each pastry cup.  Break an egg into each cup and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the eggs are set, but the yolks are still runny.  Serve warm on a bed of fresh pea mash, with olives, drizzled with harissa oil.
Harissa Oil
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
3 Tbsp. sweet paprika or  mild ground red chile
1 tsp. cayenne
1 to 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
1 tsp. salt
1 cup olive oil
A few drops of red wine vinegar
Toast all the seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until they are fragrant.  Grind the toasted seeds in a mortar or spice mill, then put them in a bowl. 
Add the paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt.  Stir in the olive oil and vinegar.  The harissa oil will keep in the fridge for a week or two.
Spring Pea Mash
4 cups freshly shelled peas
4 Tbsp. melted butter
1 cup homemade chicken stock
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until whipped and light.  Add lemon juice to taste.

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