It’s considered good luck to ring in the New Year with close family and friends. Preparing a truly memorable feast that celebrates the joy of the past year and conveys a sense of optimism in the future is in order! Indulge your guests by surprising them with the luxurious flavors and textures this meal offers—and good luck will surely follow.
In many cultures, certain foods have come to symbolize hope and renewal, making New Year’s the perfect occasion to incorporate them into your dinner menu. The centerpiece of this dinner is a delicious crown roast of pork—a dramatic symbol of prosperity whose circular arrangement symbolizes renewal and the circle of life. It also incorporates Spain’s tradition of eating 12 “good luck grapes” at the stroke of midnight. In Italy, eating lentils on New Year’s is thought to bring good fortune, so consider serving lentils on the side, in place of the South’s traditional black-eyed peas. In China, the orange is an expression of good fortune, so for dessert, I suggest elegant individual orange and cranberry Bundt cakes.
This New Year’s Eve dinner is best enjoyed as a fairly formal, seated dinner.
This menu serves 10, but can easily be adjusted up or down. Enjoy!
Welcoming Your Guests
To begin the festivities, offer your guests a flute of Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco or Cava with a splash of Cassis. And feast on an assortment of artisanal cheeses, honey or fruit spread, crostini, local cured ham and salami with grain mustard, marinated olives, mixed nuts, and fresh and dried fruit.
Smoked Duck Bites on with Fig Preserves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and arrange 30 3-inch squares of thawed puff pastry on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Gently prick each pastry with a fork and brush with an egg wash. Bake 15-20 minutes or until puffed to a golden brown. These can be prepared ahead of time. To assemble, thinly slice the duck breasts and add a small portion to each pastry. Top with fig preserves.
Roasted Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Brushed with Balsamic Vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently cut 30 dates lengthwise
and remove the pit. Spoon a half-teaspoon of goat cheese into each open date. Arrange dates on a foil-lined cookie sheet, leaving a bit of room between each date. Generously brush each with balsamic vinegar and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cheese is soft and bubbly. The balsamic will provide a sweet, caramelized coating.
Appetizers like these nicely reflect the optimistic spirit of this special gathering. Parts of these appetizers can easily be prepared ahead of time, allowing you more time to enjoy the company of your guests. Several local gourmet stores offer delicious prepared smoked duck breasts—all you’ll have to do is heat, slice and serve. The stuffed dates should be baked just before serving; however, they can be prepped and refrigerated ahead of time (just wait to add the balsamic vinegar until moments before popping them in the oven).
These appetizers will pair nicely with a crisp, smooth White Bordeaux from Graves, such as a 2010 Clos Marsallette.
The Main Event: A Crown Roast of Pork
The aroma of fennel, the tartness of lemon and earthiness of fresh herbs nicely complement the lusciousness of this rich pork roast entrée. To serve 10, request an 8 to 10 pound roast from your butcher or gourmet grocery store. Make sure you have at least one bone per guest. Ask the butcher to tie the ribs into a circle, or “crown,” for roasting.
Create an herb paste for the roast in a blender by combining 2 tablespoons each of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage. Add 3 cloves of peeled garlic, zest of 1 lemon, and 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds roasted for 1 minute. Turn on blender and gradually add ½ cup of olive oil until fully blended. Carefully rub paste all over roast, making sure to include the cavity.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Using a standard roasting pan, place the pork roast onto a roasting rack in the pan, bone down. The rack will help balance the roast. And by roasting this way, the bones will retain their color and the flavorful fat will be well distributed while cooking. Roast the pork for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue roasting for approximately 1 ½-2 hours, or until the meat, measured between the bones, registers 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let the roast rest for 10-15 minutes tented under foil before carving.
To serve, slice two chops and place on a large platter. Arrange the remaining crown of pork on the platter for a nice presentation, and carve tableside. Don’t forget to add the 12 grapes for good luck!
The Sides and Salad
Please your guests by offering tried-and-true family favorite side dishes. I like serving things like green lentils, leeks vinaigrette, mashed potatoes with garlic or creamy whipped sweet potatoes with caramelized onions. Wild mushroom risotto is also a favorite.
As for a salad, I suggest keeping it simple. Try baby greens, thinly sliced red onions and homemade croutons and citrus vinaigrette. To add a visual punch, add oven-roasted seedless red grapes or pomegranate seeds.
Individual Orange-Cranberry Bundt Cakes with Grand Marnier Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 6-cake mini-Bundt cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and lightly flour. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Beat together 1 ⅔ cups of sugar and 1 ½ sticks of softened butter until creamy. Beat in 3 large eggs, one at a time. Add 2 tablespoons of orange zest and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and ¾ cup of buttermilk. Fold in 1 cup of dried cranberries.
Spoon cake mixture into prepared pans, filling three-quarters full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean and cakes are golden. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack. Turn pans upside down onto the wire racks to release cakes. Cool completely. To finish, mix together 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar with 5 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or any orange-flavored liqueur) until smooth. With a skewer, poke several holes in the top of each cake and drizzle. To finish, arrange a small amount of roughly chopped cranberries and orange zest around the cakes.
No matter if you use this menu as written, or use it as a blueprint and put your own stamp on the dinner, the most important thing to remember is that the enjoyment and generosity you bring to the occasion by offering your guests a thoughtfully prepared feast on this very special day will create lasting memories—and hopefully good fortune for the coming year!
Jerry Sole is chef/owner of Aha! Cuisine, a personal chef service. He is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who lived in New York City and Los Angeles before relocating to Charlottesville in 2011.