We Designed a Fall Dinner Party Menu to Celebrate the Cool Change

fall dinner party

Emily Suzanne McDonald/Getty Images

While there are few greater pleasures than standing over your kitchen sink eating a perfect summer peach, as the shorter days give way to cooler nights, we start daydreaming about slow braises, mountains of roasted vegetables, warm spices, and long, cozy dinners with friends over big red wines. (Fresh vegetables are nice, but have you tried butter?)

The fall dinner party recipes below have been developed to capitalize on the changing of the seasons, leveraging the last bit of summer’s bounty to deepen the flavors of fall produce as it hits the markets. Pair the last of the figs with winter squashes that are just starting to appear at the market, and make the most of the fresh herbs in your window box before the first frost.

We’ve structured these recipes so that they can all easily be prepped together—a seasonal feast without breaking your back so you can focus on the important stuff, like celebrating the crispness in the air, the brilliant fall light, and the snuggliness of your favorite cozy blanket. Light some candles, fill your house with savory smells, and settle in around the table with good company; it’ll be time to hibernate soon enough.

Specialty Beverage: Apple-Ginger Cocktail

Jennifer Schmidt/Unsplash

Ingredients:

6 oz. aged rum
6 oz. apple cider
6 oz. chilled ginger beer
1 lemon, juiced
Ice
6 slices of apple
6 sprigs of rosemary

Directions: Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a carafe.

Salad: Arugula With Kabocha Squash, Pomegranate, Figs, and Chèvre

fall dinner party salad
Half-Baked Harvest

Ingredients:
1 winter squash, preferably kabocha (delicata, acorn, and butternut all work, too)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake
1 tbsp. maple syrup or honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pomegranate, de-seeded
3 oz. chèvre, room temperature
4 oz. (or 1 pint) of fresh figs, halved
4 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup lemony balsamic dressing 

Directions:

While the pork shoulder is in the oven, take the chèvre out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature; this will make it easier to handle.

Halve and de-seed the squash. If you’re using kabocha or delicata squash, the skin is thin enough that it'll be edible after cooking. If using acorn or butternut, peel first. Then, cut the squash into wedges and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper, tossing to coat, then drizzle with olive oil and maple syrup, tossing again.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (you’ll thank yourself later when you’re doing the dishes) and spread the seasoned wedges out on a baking sheet so that they aren’t touching. Bake in the oven with the pork shoulder (on a separate rack) for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping pieces halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Main Course: Porchetta Spiced Pork Shoulder

Porchetta Spiced Pork Shoulder
Gallo Images/Stock Food

Traditional porchetta is a Roman dish comprised of a roast suckling pig seasoned herbs, spices, and lots of garlic. Instead, we use a more widely available and much less expensive pork shoulder, which can be found at almost any grocery store. Pork shoulder is great for a crowd—it's inexpensive, impressive, and hard to mess up.

You’ll need to start this dish the day before your party, as it needs to marinate overnight. 

Ingredients:
7 to 10-pound bone-in or boneless pork shoulder (fresh picnic), tied
1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
2 tbsp. fennel seeds
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
2 tbsp. fresh sage leaves
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 lemon (save zested lemon for Brussels sprouts below)
5 garlic cloves, grated or mashed to a paste
2 tbsp. salt
Water, as needed

Directions:

Combine rosemary, black pepper, fennel seed, coriander, sage, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, garlic, and salt in food processor. Slowly pour in oil with processor running until it forms a paste. Score the skin and rub the spice paste all over the pork, pushing into slits. If using a boneless shoulder, tie with kitchen string at two-inch intervals. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place on a large plate in the refrigerator for at least six hours (preferably overnight.) 

Two hours before you want to cook the shoulder (and at least four hours before you want to serve), take the shoulder out of the fridge and set it on the counter to warm up.

Side Dish: Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Dates, Pistachio, and Lemon

roasted brussels sprouts fall dinner party
Half-Baked Harvest

Ingredients:
1 lb. of Brussels sprouts, bottoms cut off and halved
1/4 cup toasted salted pistachios
1/2 cup of pitted dates, halved
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions:

This dish can also piggyback on the long roast of the pork shoulder. Clean and prep the Brussels sprouts, placing halves in a large bowl (using the same one you used for squash is fine). Drizzle the sprouts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  

Arrange the sprouts on a baking sheet cut-side down and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and set aside.

Dessert: Almond-Cardamom Apple Cake

Almond-Cardamom Apple Cake Fall Dinner Party
Half-Baked Harvest

Ingredients:
1/2 cup canola oil, plus additional for pan
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 Granny Smith apples
1 tbsp. almond extract
4 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp. almond flour
2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 to 2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions:

Make the cake the day before or, if you’re particularly efficient, with the roast pork. Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a 9-inch round pan or cast iron skillet. Using an electric or stand mixer, whisk egg whites until stiff (but not dry) and set aside.

In another bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar, and whisk to blend. Whisk in almond extract and oil. Add almond flour and cardamom. Gently stir a third of the whites into the batter then gently fold in the rest until just incorporated. Core and halve apples. Slice into 1/4-inch slices while keeping them side by side.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Push the apple slices in one-by-one next to one another so that there's a bit of batter between each slice. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Allow it to cool. To serve, dust with powdered sugar.

Fall Dinner Party Cooking Schedule

Day before:
Make the cake and season the pork.

Seven hours before:
Take the meat out of the fridge.
Set the table. (This is the best time to do it!)

Six hours before:
Preheat the oven.
Start prepping the vegetables.

Five hours before:
Start roasting the pork shoulder.
Roast the squash.
Roast the Brussels sprouts.
Bake the cake if you didn’t the day before.

One hour before:
Lay out serving platters and utensils.
Let the meat rest.
Preheat the oven to warm things up.

30 minutes before:
Warm up the Brussels sprouts.
Warm up the pork.

Now that the cooking is done, it's time to light some candles, make sure everyone's glass is full, and serve. Is it a lot of work? Sure. Is it rewarding and great fun? You bet. Should you take the guests up on their offer to do the dishes? Absolutely.

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