Quieting the crowd…if only for a moment

I think that there are few things better than having dear friends over for dinner. The intimacy and immediacy of dining at home creates an experience that no restaurant in the world can replicate. Dining at home means my favorite people, in my favorite place with my favorite food and drink. What’s not to love? Everyone just relaxes into the evening a little more. The conversations are a little livelier; the opinions, a little more pronounced, the gossip, a little fresher, the laughter, a little more robust. And, if you are like me, you end up barefoot! The shoes get lost along the way and no one cares. It’s just the best.

Saturday night found us dining at home, al fresco with two and a half of our favorite couples- Fran was on her own, a Boy Scout Camping widow. Poor Rich- he got the short end of the deal-stuck on a 2nd grade camping trip with their boys! This was a last minute affair- hey, it’s fabulous outside- can you come for dinner? It was the season’s first dinner on the outside patio and first cocktail on the porch.

The night did not disappoint- it was a balmy 75 degrees and as one of our guests later said: “it was a night of opinions.” A wide range of topics-from kid’s sports to the economy-were discussed (and many world problems solved!) and absolutely everyone had something to say about everything. Quite honestly, that’s just the way I like a dinner party. Oh, don’t get me wrong-any guest that is disrespectful is not welcome. But, a lively exchange of opinions with some well-placed, good-humored barbs is heaven!

So what to make when you are having a crowd of opinion sharers? You need a meal that is tasty, bright and that does not take you away from the conversation for too long. You don’t want to miss anything! For Saturday night I made a Cuban Pork Roast adapted from Sarah Leah Chase’s Open House Cookbook. It was the perfect fare for the first dinner of the summer season- bright flavors, yet minimal last minute work. And, Cuban Roast Pork can quiet- if only for a few minutes of chewing- the most opinionated and fabulous guest.

Note #1: I am always surprised by the cooking time of this recipe- it takes 1-¾ hours in the oven. Plan accordingly.

Note #2: This is great with basil instead of cilantro, or with a mix of the two.

Cuban Pork Roast-serves 8
Adapted from Sarah Leah Chase
8 cloves garlic
1 bunch of scallions, white bulbs and light green stalks, minced
½ c. pine nuts
1-2 Jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 cups chopped cilantro
2/3 c. good quality olive oil
½ c plus 3 T fresh lime juice
1/3 c. Nicoise olives, pitted and minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 boneless pork loin (4 lbs), butterflied- ask your butcher to do this for you. Make sure to also ask for string to tie the roast with once you roll it.
½ c. fresh orange juice
½ c. fresh grapefruit juice

1. On the day before you plan to serve the pork, prepare the filling and marinade: Place the garlic, scallions, pine nuts, jalapeno and cilantro in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process to form a thick paste. With the machine running, pour the olive oil in a thin steady stream through the feed tube until it is all incorporated. Remove to a small bowl and stir in the ½ c lime juice, olives, salt and pepper.

2. Unroll the pork so that it lies flat. Spread about 2/3 of the garlic-cilantro paste over the meat. Re-roll the roast and tie it. This will be messy-so be prepared.

3. Stir the grapefruit, orange and 3 T of lime juice into the remaining garlic-cilantro paste. Make shallow incisions over the surface of the roast with the tip of a small knife. Place the roast in a shallow dish or pan and pour over the marinade. Let marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally for 24 hours.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 375. Remove the roast from the marinade and place in a roasting pan. Roast uncovered, basting occasionally with the leftover marinade for 1-¾ hours. While the roast is resting before carving, take the leftover marinade and bring it to a boil. Let the marinade boil for several minutes. Carve the roast and serve with the boiled marinade on the side as sauce.

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