I absolutely adore entertaining and feeding people. But I also want to enjoy their company when they arrive rather than being held captive in the kitchen, thus missing out on all the lively conversation.
If you’re like me, I have just the answer for you! A vegan charcuterie platter and a make-ahead entrée.For the charcuterie platter (you can call it an antipasto if you’d like), grab a large cutting board or marble slab. To make the platter attractive, I like to use a large leafy green, such as collard greens, because they are sturdy and usually lie flat.
I typically plan for three different vegan cheeses. My personal favorites are Riverdel Cheese and Bryt Life Foods; but unfortunately, both are in New York and don’t currently ship. (So, note to yourself…if you or someone you know is heading in that direction, make a stop at Riverdel Cheese in Brooklyn and pick up some of theirs as well as Bryt Life’s cheeses. I carried mine home in a cooler pack with frozen ice in my suitcase.) Try to select three different types of cheese—i.e., a hard, a semi-soft, and a soft would be great. For example, a spicy peppercorn cheese, a truffle cheese, and a cheddar cheese.
To round out the heartier contributions to your charcuterie platter, go with two different vegan meat alternatives. I like making my own seitan as a loaf and slicing it thin. There are some wonderful brauts, sausages, and loafs that would also be lovely additions.
You want to add some crunch, so two small bowls of different nuts are welcome. You can use plain ones, or go all out and season some. You can melt a scant amount of vegan butter with some herbs in a pan, then toast the nuts in the scented butter. Or, you could melt some vegan brown sugar in some vegan butter and caramelize some nuts, then toss them in some cinnamon. Be creative here.
Fruit is critical to complement the juxtaposition of hearty savory and succulently sweet. Go for a variety. For this platter, I used green, red, and black grapes. And, oh my, the figs were perfectly in season. Sliced in half, they certainly added some “glam”.
And finally, what vessel to use to get such a wonderful array of tidbits from the charcuterie platter to your palate? Well, you could go old-school and flank the platter with a variety of crackers; or you could go a bit out of the box and use some endive leaves. I opted to make a sourdough boule with Kalamata olives, black walnuts, and regular walnuts. I cut the loaf into small two-bite pieces, perfect!
Arrange your platter about 15 minutes before your guests arrive so that everything remains vibrant and fresh.
And what about your entrée? Make-ahead is definitely the way to go. For my dinner party soiree, I went with polenta points and a Bolognese.
When making polenta, don’t be shy. Make a huge batch. Oh, and never use water. Every ingredient is an opportunity to add flavor; so use a good broth instead. Finish with a tablespoon or two of high-quality vegan butter, some fresh herbs, and some nutritional yeast. You can serve it soft in a bowl with the Bolognese topping it; but that means that you’re in the kitchen for about ½ hour, if you are going to make real polenta (please, don’t use the instant stuff….think “risotto” here….a really delicious polenta is a commitment, staying at the stove, stirring it for 20-30 minutes).
Since you’ve made a large batch and have leftovers (or in this case, I skipped the soft polenta), lightly oil a cookie sheetpan, pour the polenta in the pan spreading evenly with an offset spatula; and allow the polenta to cool. As it cools, it will become solid. You can now cut it into square with a knife, or get fancy using cookie cutters. Lightly spritz the polenta squares with a scant amount of olive oil and grill until golden brown on both sides. You can park them at this point and simply reheat them in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Still have leftovers….no worries! Cut them into small squares, like croutons, spritz with a scant amount of olive oil, and fry them in an air fryer. Use on your favorite salad, and enjoy.
Bolognese is another dish that you’ll want to prepare a large batch. It freezes so incredibly well and is so very versatile. Here, I made it to top the polenta squares; but you can toss it with your favorite pasta, use if for sloppy joes, make a delicious lasagna, moussaka, or shepherd’s pie.
Everyone is not only going to be raving about your dinner party soiree for days to come but also you are going to be free to be the hostess with the most-ess, enjoying and savoring every moment of the evening (and the delicious food).