Address Dietary Preferences with a DIY Dinner Party

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/ONEINCHPUNCH

Enjoying great food with friends and family in your own home can be one of the great pleasures of life. However, coordinating such an event can seem a bit overwhelming, particularly since so many people today have specific dietary needs and preferences. Though meeting friends at restaurants is a common alternative, it does not create the same relaxing atmosphere for conversation that your home can inspire, and the food is seldom as healthy.

My husband and I have found that we can minimize our work and have fun by having everyone cook together. Even those inexperienced in the kitchen can chop, dice and follow simple instructions. We’ve often divided our dinner into three courses and created three stations in our kitchen, each with a recipe and ingredients that allow our guests to get to work. Many times, our friends have become competitive, claiming their part of the meal was the best. You can also have a main dish that allows everyone to participate together, chopping, sautéing and mixing.  

Hosting a DIY-style dinner party is also an easy way to honor our friends’ dietary preferences. Guests can fix their own plates with prepared individual ingredients, building tacos, salads or pizzas by including or excluding meat, nuts, olives or cheese as they see fit. A favorite meal of my friends is fish wrapped in parchment paper, fish en papillote. Besides being a healthy preparation method, it is also very flavorful since the food cooks in its own juices along with spices, herbs and other additions. Such items, as well as commonly available foods like mushrooms and spinach, can easily be substituted or excluded based on dietary preferences or needs.

Taking individual needs into account allows everyone to thoroughly enjoy one of life's true pleasures — eating with friends.

Below is a recipe for one of our signature dinner party recipes, Pasta alla Puttanesca with tuna. This is a wonderful pasta dish — the sauce is very flavorful and a portion can be removed before the tuna is added for any vegan guests. This also is a very flexible recipe as the ingredients can easily be increased for a larger group. 

Consider having a dinner party where making great food is the main event and have fun as you are able to enjoy the food that your guests helped prepare.   


Pasta alla Puttanesca

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 finely chopped shallots
  • 6 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes in puree
  • ¾ cup sliced fresh basil
  • ¾ cup pitted and sliced black olives
  • ¾ cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
  • 3 6-ounce cans tuna
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste, optional
  • 1 pound favorite pasta
  • ¾ pound Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in skillet or electric frying pan and sauté the shallots for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.
  2. Add tomatoes and sauté mixture for about 5 minutes.
  3. Fill large pot with water and begin heating it for pasta.
  4. Add basil, olives, tuna, capers and red pepper flakes to tomato mixture. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. You may sauté longer or add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste if you wish to have a thicker sauce.
  5. Cook pasta per package directions and drain.
  6. Mix ¼ of the puttanesca sauce together with pasta in a large bowl, serving it with a bowl of remaining puttanesca sauce. Pass the parmesan and grater, allowing guests to grate their own.   
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Patricia Gregory
Patricia Gregory, MA, RDN, has been a registered dietitian for 35 years and worked in many areas of health care, counseling patients with cancer, cardiac disease, kidney patients in an NIH study, bariatric patients and most recently those with gastric disorders. In all the various areas she's worked in, Patricia emphasizes the pleasures and benefits of cooking and eating at home.