Last weekend, when we arrived at the home of friends for a dinner party, we were led to the living room where a fire was flickering in the fireplace and a coffee table was laden with an array of cheeses and glasses of wine. We spent an hour enjoying these appetizers and good conversation before being invited into the dining room. There we found a beautifully set table for eight.
Our hosts had placed whimsical wrought-iron candlesticks carved with birds around a large rustic basket of crusty bread as a centerpiece and had set each place with attractive china, cutlery and stemware.
For me, the table lit by the soft glow of the tapers seemed magical. And from the first spoonful of soup to the last bite of cheesecake, the sense that the guests were being treated with careful attention endured.
It has been months since I've pulled out my china and crystal for a formal dinner. More often than not I have opted for casual meals served in the kitchen or on our porch in warm weather, and most of our friends have entertained in the same way.
Last weekend's experience reminded me that occasionally (not just for birthdays, anniversaries or other celebrations) a little extra effort is worthwhile and makes guests feel pampered.
As a result, I've decided to plan such a meal myself. I already know what the main course will be: Grilled Lemon-Parsley Veal Chops. The chops are a recipe I've been working on for several months and are definitely an entree for an occasion. They are marinated in lemon juice, garlic, rosemary and olive oil, then grilled and sprinkled with chopped parsley, rosemary, garlic and grated lemon peel.
The bright green mixture of chopped herbs is called gremolada and is a classic garnish to an Italian dish of braised veal shanks known as osso buco.
To go with the grilled chops, there will be bundles of steamed asparagus and small roasted red-skin potatoes, both dusted with sea salt. A light cream of watercress soup will open the menu and a dark chocolate torte will bring it to a close.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
Grilled Lemon-Parsley Veal Chops
2 large thick-skinned lemons, rinsed and dried
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and dried
1 bunch fresh rosemary, rinsed and dried
4 to 5 medium garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling grill rack
6 loin veal chops (8 to 10 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
Using zester, grate enough zest from lemons to make 1 tablespoon. Place zest in small bowl and cover with dampened paper towel that has been folded several times so it fits in the bowl. Wrap bowl tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day. (Stored this way, lemon zest will stay moist so that it can be used later for the garnish.)
Juice lemons to yield 6 tablespoons and place juice in mixing bowl. Chop enough parsley to yield 1/3 cup and enough rosemary to yield 1 tablespoon and add both to mixing bowl. Peel and crush 3 garlic cloves and add to bowl. Reserve remaining parsley, rosemary and garlic for the garnish. Whisk olive oil into mixing bowl.
Place veal chops in large nonreactive shallow pan and pour marinade over them. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight, turning several times.
Thirty minutes before ready to grill, prepare garnish. Chop 3 tablespoons parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary and 1 teaspoon garlic. Place in small bowl with reserved lemon zest and mix well.
Oil grill rack and place it 5 inches from heat. Prepare grill. Remove chops from marinade and salt and pepper them generously on both sides.
Place chops on grill and cook until rosy pink inside when pierced with a knife, about 5 minutes per side. (Cooking time may vary, depending on type of grill used and intensity of heat, so watch carefully.)
When done, arrange chops on serving platter and top each with a generous amount of parsley-rosemary garnish.