In late September, produce stands heave under the weight of the season’s largess. While one hand clutches a bunch of beets, the other grasps a bag of green beans, carrots and eggplant — and the lure of the September siren entices you to keep spending.
With remorse, you cut yourself off, nodding at the beauties left behind — how on earth will you consume the mother lode of vegetables you’ve already purchased? You could consider inviting your friends over for an autumn harvest supper.
I was in a quandary over what to prepare for a casual get-together; I’d invited friends over for happy hour. We’re a laid back group of women that often meet for the witching hour and have been rotating venues and homes for years. A stroll through the farmers market provided the solution; a bit of everything from most vendors’ tables, with a minimum of intervention on my part.
After all, in a few short weeks, the table pickings won’t be so effusive. I wanted a lean protein, as well, and a grilled chicken platter seemed a reasonable accompaniment. I wanted to enjoy my guests, and not be running around — wailing like a banshee — when they arrived.
Preparing all of these vegetables, with their different cooking techniques, and the chicken is not complicated. But it does require a good bit of organization, pan juggling and advance prep work. I kept the seasoning simple and saved time by making one vinaigrette, which worked overtime as a marinade and salad dressing.
Make-aheads: The vegetables can be grilled, roasted and blanched several hours before your guests arrive. The technique selected depends on the vegetable.
Roasting enhances the natural sweetness of the root vegetables of fall; a quick blanch in salted water brings out the subtleties of summer vegetables. Grilling works for both summer and fall vegetables. I prepared most the vegetables several hours prior to serving, except for the beets. I roasted, peeled and sliced them a day in advance, tossed them with their flavorful cooking oil, and refrigerated them.
The Balsamic vinaigrette, with the omission of the shallot, may be made up to 48 hours in advance. The flavor of the shallot becomes too intense if left to steep that long, so I whisked in the shallot an hour before using.
The chicken may be made ahead as well. After marinating the breasts for 4 hours, I grilled them to 140 degrees (a bit underdone) one day in advance. I placed the whole chicken pieces, with their juices, in foil and refrigerated them.
A couple of hours before my guests arrived, I sliced the chicken into thin strips, wrapped them in the same foil along with those savory juices. An hour before they arrived, I reheated them in a 250 degree oven until they were just cooked through. The meat was tender and delicious. I served both platters at room temperature.
The vegetables I purchased are a suggestion and could be varied according to what is seasonal. I imagine grilled or roasted butternut and acorn squash, and roasted garlic cloves and brussels sprouts, for instance, would be a fine addition to the platter. Or you could serve a platter of just one vegetable that caught your eye — that would simplify operations. The choice, my friends, is yours.
I sent out an e-mail invite attempting to entice the happy Hour group with the promise of bushels of local vegetables and lean chicken. Debbie, the orchestrator of happy hours, tapped back, “I’ll bring something fatty and rich, then.” She made an easy munchie by spreading a divinely sweet Williams Sonoma condiment of Pecan Pumpkin Spread over cream cheese, and topped that with chopped bacon and scallions.
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon,” wrote Doug Larson, a Wisconsin-based newspaper columnist. I concur, and recommend a cheesy recipe incorporating bacon to complement your platters; Debbie’s platter was wiped clean with baguette slices in a nanosecond.