Nat’s What I Reckon’s guide to dinner parties: ‘Plonk it on the table’
Who to invite – and who not to
Pick the people where it feels like it’s gonna be an easy night. You don’t fucking need any more stress right now.
I’ve started hanging out with newer groups of people via online gaming – they’ve now invited me to a dinner party which I’m really excited about. Invite the people you’ve been communicating with a lot who you just can’t wait to see.
I don’t have a real big blacklist. But if you’ve invited someone over who’s a fuckwit who’s gonna start talking shit, then you’ve got a problem. There’s not much you can do about that except kill the party.
How much to cook
I suppose I’m more known for that level of dinner party where I’ll end up cooking seven different things. I’m also a big ‘plonk it on the table and fucking let it rip’ kinda guy. I’m meticulously fiddling in the kitchen for hours and then I like to just lay that all out.
Usually I cook so much that everyone’s got a backpack full on the way home.
The all-important sound and lighting
I’m a big lighting-obsessed person. If you’ve got fluoros on the ceiling and candles in the cupboard, fuck the fluoros off and get the candles out. It’s gonna look a little bit less like it’s in a 7/Eleven, and a little bit more delicious. I’ve never seen a candle upset someone.
I’m always building playlists too. I’m so affected by music around me that if the music’s shit, I’m having a shit time.
I can’t deal with you playing sad Coldplay when we’re trying to have a laugh at the table. It does my head in. I’m not ever putting on Nick Cave’s Into My Arms while serving dinner. I don’t need that.
I don’t mind a bit of jazz. I’m a bit of a jazz-head. But there’s a certain point at which you feel like you’re in a hotel foyer and not at a dinner party.
A bit of 90s hip-hop is always a safe move. Something upbeat. Gets you in the mood for a good laugh.
The post-dinner entertainment
If you’ve got some champions onside, someone will have had enough wine to go, “All right, let’s clean this shit up.” I love a bit of a team clean-up. Just fuck off into the kitchen, down a couple more drinks, gradually get louder until someone tells you lot to shut the fuck up.
I am also big on the YouTube party – I don’t mind a post-dinner “you gotta check this out, how good are all these vids?” We just have a one-for-one on what’s the funniest shit you’ve seen.
I’ve got leather skin in that respect. I think my vids are strong. I always go down the expensive car fails or boat fails. I’m never not gonna laugh at those.
The main: Vegenator 2 – judgment tray lasagne
‘My mission is to protect you’ from shitty lasagne. The amazing stuff that can go into a vegetable lasagne is awesome – I occasionally prefer a good vegetable one over a meat version because of all the amazing layers of flavours you can get going on. This dish is layer upon layer of action-packed radness.
800g to 1kg butternut pumpkin
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp dried thyme
375 to 400g fresh lasagne sheets, or some pre-cooked un-fresh ones
300g mozzarella, coarsely grated
50g parmesan, finely grated
For the filling
30g butter or ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and diced finely
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 celery sticks, diced finely
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bird’s eye chillies, chopped (optional)
1 sprig rosemary
240ml red wine
400g brown lentils, drained
800g whole peeled tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp brown sugar
480ml vegetable or chicken stock
For the spinach ricotta layernator
500g deli basket ricotta – the shit that comes in water in a basket
2 bunches (100g) English spinach
Handful basil leaves
Pinch nutmeg, finely grated
Heat your Cybernetic Ovenism to 220C (200 fan-forced) and get terminating the skin from the pumpkin, discarding its seeds and slicing into centimetre-thick slices. Don’t go too thick because otherwise the shit will take too long to cook. Lay on a lined baking tray and drizzle with olive oil, scatter with salt, pepper, a pinch of chilli flakes and 1 teaspoon dried thyme, then bash into the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender-nation can be detected.
We need to make some sauce for this mission to be a success, so let’s do it. Heat the butter or oil in a pan over a medium heat. I’m going to need your carrot, your onion, your celery, your garlic, your chilli and your motorcycle … hold the motorcycle. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until they are nice and soft. Fang in your sprig of rosemary and stir through for another minute, followed by your red wine to deglazenate the pan for three minutes. Then away we go with the lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and stock. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes or until reduced so it’s not watery. Bash apart the tomatoes a bit with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
This is my favourite layer of the Vegenator: the spinach, feta and ricotta bit. In a large bowl, use a fork to mix the ricotta and milk together, then crumble in the feta. Chop the spinach and basil fairly finely and add to the bowl. Chuck in a little nutmeg and season with salt, and use your hands, a spatula or spoon to give it a good mix. No problemo!
Lock and load your baking dish with a third of a base layer of the sauce, and cover with lasagne sheets. (If the sheet arrangements don’t fit in your tray, don’t be scared, just terminate that shit and make it fit.) Next, cover with a layer of the pumpkin. Break the slices of pumpkin up to achieve good coverage over the pasta. Follow this with a third of the sauce and a second layer of lasagna sheets on top.
Now goes in that incredible spinach, feta and ricotta weaponry. Top with a layer of pasta sheets. Evenly distribute the rest of the sauce over them and cover with mozzarella, crumble over the ricotta and a good shaving of parmesan, and sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of dried thyme leaves.
Reduce the Cybernetic Ovenism to 200C (180C fan-forced), cover that judgment tray in aluminium armour and place in the oven. Terminate it for 35-40 minutes, then remove its armour and say out loud, “I’ll be back … in 10 minutes,” or until bubbling and nicely golden on top.
Remove from the oven and let it rest for five minutes, which makes it easier to serve. And if you don’t it will likely flame thrower the roof of your mouth off trying to eat it without letting it chill for a sec. Good luck getting the first fucken slice out; the rest is easy from there.
Hasta la vista, champions.
The side: Rad salad
Haven’t we all suffered a plethora of heinous salads in our lives that either tasted as if they crawled out of a lawn mower’s arse or like someone tipped five tonnes of airline food-level vinaigrette on a tree. Let’s change the game up and make a salad that doesn’t make you want to put your head in your hands and wish you’d made almost anything else on earth.
75g pine nuts
150g rocket leaves
2 Lebanese cucumbers, sliced thinly
1 peach, de-stoned and chopped
150g goat’s cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 avocado, sliced
For the dressing
1–2 tbsp warm water
⅔ tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
Get yourself a nice flat-bottomed frying pan, and bung it over a medium–high heat. Now, don’t put any oil in the thing because this bit of the recipe doesn’t even need it. Once the pan is warm, fang in the pine nuts and roll them around until they just start to turn a touch brown. They should smell insanely rad too, which is great because this is a rad salad. Once you’ve hit that point of semi-toasted-ness, turn the heat off, tip them from the pan into a bowl and set aside.
This salad has enough going on that you shouldn’t need to drown the fuck out of it with four litres of dressing – if I wanted to go for a swim I would be wearing my Speedos right now. Add a pinch of nice salt flakes and a crack of pepper to a glass, a jam jar or a small bowl. Now, use a tablespoon or two of warm water to dissolve the salt and pepper, kicking it about with a teaspoon, then add your Dijon and balsamic vinegar. Water sounds like a weird ingredient, but it’s actually a cool way to keep it light and get all the flavours to hang together before you add your oil. This is a cool little trick my dad showed me.
Leave the olive oil for last – only once everything else is combined do you want to fang that in as well. Doesn’t hurt to have a good quality extra-virgin olive oil on hand, as obviously the better the olive oil, the better the end result will taste. Cheaper stuff can totally taste awesome too, so don’t stress if you can’t afford super fancy stuff.
Once that’s all stirred together, set it aside and get salad bowling. Tear your rocket leaves into it and add slices of cucumber and peach along with broken-apart goat’s cheese.
Lastly, in goes the avocado you’ve lovingly deseeded and sliced. Before you go full extra turbo lord on the salad tossing routine, let me just say that the less you toss it about, the better. The avo will turn to guacamole if you throw the salad around like a dickhead, so go easy, champ. Give the dressing a little stir with your teaspoon and tip it gently into the salad, then toss together either with your hands, or a cool trick is to pass the whole lot from one bowl to another to lightly combine the ingredients without over-mixing them.
Then chuck those exxy AF pine nuts on top and get stuck into the least shit salad you’ve had all year.
The dessert: Wake and don’t bake orange and lemon cheesecake
I have memories of eating cheesecake at a shitty shopping-centre cafe as a kid and trying to forget the word “cheese” while I ate it. Definitely a little confused as to how it had actual “cheese” in it? I mean, it does, but it’s not the kind of cheese I was thinking of back then. I think I pictured a Kraft Single with sprinkles on it and a lit candle popped on top, or something. I’ve since learned how the magic happens there and I’m sure it helps that I’m not seven years old anymore.
The shit is so easy to make, particularly my way. I mean it when I say “don’t bake”.
1 orange – juice of half, zest of whole one
2 lemons – juice of two, zest of one
200g Scotch Finger or Digestive bickies
100g butter, plus extra for greasing
500g cream cheese, at room temperature (block form, not spreadable)
140g caster sugar
240ml thickened cream
1 tsp ground Dutch cinnamon, or just normal shit
Doesn’t hurt to get your zest sorted before anything else here. Zest the orange and one of the lemons into a bowl, and keep just a pinch of them to one side in its own spesh bowl.
There are a few ways we can start this party. We need to bust up the bickies into a breadcrumb consistency somehow. A food processor pulsing them apart does a champagne job of it, as does bunging them in a clean tea towel and bashing them to breadcrumb-sized bits with a rolling pin. Dad suggested I back over them in the car, which I think he has actually done. I use a food processor, which is a flex.
Grab most of the citrus zest and add it to the crushed bickies. We need to melt that butter next in a small saucepan over a low heat, but don’t heat the bajeezuz out of it – just melt it. It needs to be cool enough to mix thoroughly into the biscuit mix as well.
Grease up the cake tin with butter and, if you can be fucked, cut a piece of baking paper to fit the base – it can help make serving it a little bit neater, but it’s not a crucial move. Tip the buttery, zesty, biscuity mixture into the tin. Now press that biscuit orange butter flat across the base. It can help to use something that has a super flat top on it to help press it down; the back of a spoon might work, or even your hands, eh? Give it a good press flat and whack it in the fridge for a moment while we make the other shit.
Grab a bowl and an electric mixer if you have one (though a whisk is fine too), and work the cream cheese apart as you add the sugar and kinda make it into a heavy paste. In a second bowl you’re gonna need to whip the cream. Beat or whisk until the cream is getting nice and thick, at which point the cinnamon goes in along with the cream cheese, orange and lemon juices. Give it a good mix together until it’s really bloody thick yet smooth enough to be able to spread across the base.
Grab that cake tin out of the fridge and spoon in the mixture evenly across it with a spatula or a spoon or, I dunno, the back of your Nokia 3210 because it seems like it was super popular at the same time cheesecake was and they would get along great.
Sprinkle over the orange and lemon zest you set aside from earlier.
Back in the fridge we go and now we wait … for as long as you can kinda be fucked. We want it to get super cool and set together nicely. The truth is, overnight is the best, but four hours might be enough if you’re in a pinch.
There it is, legends. What a classic. It takes about as long as it does to program your own annoying polyphonic ringtone into a 3210, but this is definitely a way more pleasant experience as a final product.
This is an edited extract from Death to Jar Sauce by Nat’s What I Reckon, published by Penguin Australia (RRP$34.99). Illustrations by Glenno, Bunkwaa, Warrick McMiles and Onnie O’Leary