Summer Dinner Party Invite

Plagued by an inexplicable restlessness, I tend to move around more than the average person.  Seven months in this apartment; eleven months in that one.  With the change of each season I find myself perusing Craigslist, clicking through images of downtown lofts and Santa Monica bungalows, and this somehow funnels into a black hole of research on apartments in Rome and the process of applying for a work visa from the Italian consulate.  I can box up everything I own with remarkable efficiency.  I can remount frames, and restock bookshelves at an enviable speed.

This summer, however, I reached a milestone—I had lived in my apartment for a year and a half. What’s more, for the first time while living on my own, where I slept and where I wanted to stay, became the same place.

This meant it was time to throw a dinner party.

In memory of my travels down the coast of Spain—when the Mediterranean was as warm as a summer shower, and every day began with a cool glass of sangria—I decided upon Spanish cuisine, in a nautical setting.  We constructed menus, trucked in furniture, and crafted sailboat place holders.  When people arrived, candles were lit, wine was poured, and dinner was served.

I remember eating Matt’s chile-spiked short rib, which fell off the bone, and I remember scooping bowlfuls of Danielle’s gazpacho, as vibrant as the day was long.  I recall Joanna plated more chorizo and jamon iberico than the whole party could consume, garnished with Eileen’s Manzanilla olives.  I remember Taylor’s Spanish cheeses, each adorned with sailboat flags, and I recall going through cases of Tempranillo.  But what I remember most about the dinner party was the laughter—the jokes thrown wildly across the table, the playful sarcasm that followed.  There’s nothing better than a dinner punctuated by the noise of happiness.

That was the night, as we toasted to summer and threw back our heads in laughter, that my apartment became a home.

For the paella recipe, see below. 

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Menu and Invitation designed by Matt Halvorson

All photos courtesy of dinner party guests

Spanish Summer Paella

Serves 14

5 cups of paella rice (I prefer Bomba)

3 pounds of uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined

1 pound of fresh mussels

1 pound of fresh clams

4 tomatoes, chopped

3 large onions, chopped

2 heads of garlic, chopped

4 bay leaves

1 tablespoon saffron

10 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a pescatarian-friendly dish)

1 ½ tablespoon paprika

2 cups dry white wine (I prefer Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)

½ stick Butter, plus more for buttering paella

Italian parsley, chopped

Olive oil

Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onions and 20 garlic cloves and sauté until tender.  Add tomatoes and bay leaves then transfer to another bowl.  Season with salt.

At medium-low heat, add rice and paprika to the pot and add enough broth to cover the top of the rice.  Stir until the liquid is completely absorbed into the rice.  Once absorbed, add more broth and continue to stir until absorbed.  Continue to add broth until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then season with a generous pinch of saffron and salt.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Mix onion mixture with rice and transfer to a large baking pan.  Butter the top of rice and bake until rice is slightly toasted.

While the rice is baking, toss shrimp with remaining saffron, olive oil, and 4 minced garlic cloves in medium bowl.  Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and sauté shrimp.

Heat large shallow pot over medium-high.  Add mussels, clams, white wine, ½ stick butter, and 6 cloves of garlic; season with salt and pepper, and cover pot.  Cook, occasionally shaking pot, until all mussels and clams are opened.

Remove paella from stove and top with shrimp, mussels, clams, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm.