Dinner Party Image courtesy of New York Natives, photographer Hannah Howard
By Hannah Howard

SCOOP DU JOUR is a weekly column by food enthusiast Hannah Howard about eating, cooking, and exploring her way through New York. From a visit with the City’s greatest grocer to discovering the “umami” of love, Fridays are packed with the unique flavor only Hannah can coax out of a culinary experience.

Allen throws the best dinner parties. From him, I learned the “Rule of One.”

It’s Christmas Eve 2013 in his cozy apartment in Harlem, all strewn with candles, dishes of tasty things (sweet ham shipped from the south, stinky cheese, M&M’s), and twinkly crescendos of laughter.

His “one” that night was black rice mushroom risotto topped with fat rock shrimp, crispy prosciutto, and scallion. It was a good one. When he served the little cups of deep, dark, goodness — creamy and lush and flecked with bright and crispy bites — the party went silent for a few beats, the City shrouded in Christmas quiet; a moment of bliss both communal and personal.

When hosting a dinner party, you may be tempted to go baroque, and show off the fanciest of your fancy skills. Fine. But here’s the rule: Limit yourself to one dish that takes you away from your guests to stir and season and plate; one dish that requires kitchen time and fussing. One, and only one.

Everything else should be ready to go, so ready that all you have to do is take it out of the fridge or oven and serve: your drool-inducing chicken liver pate, your inhale-able guac, roasted veggies or wild rice, rainbow salads, and beautiful breads…maple glazed salmon and citrus braised short ribs, Key lime pie and crimson berries kissed with the world’s best balsamic. Voila!

You want to hang out with your friends, drink bubbly, reminisce about eating from the wrong Halal Guys cart (not actually the Halal Guys), and getting so lost in Paris you thought you may die there, deep in the labyrinth of cobblestone, postcard beauty. You want to munch on stinky cheese and marcona almonds and castelvetrano olives. They’re great, and your guests will say, “These are awesome olives,” and you will nod knowingly.

If you choose to ignore the rule of one, do so at your own risk. The consequences include stress, a sweaty upper lip (and that’s just the start of sweaty body parts!), and the sinking regret of missing your own party.

Here’s a no-fail menu. Put your favorite snacks in bowls — maybe crunchy spring veggies with herby pesto, or aforementioned olives, or rounds of chorizo or salumi. Pop the bubbly.

When people are ready for dinner — there’s that telling ready-for-dinner pause — sear up some scallops, maybe wrapped in bacon or with some cubes of wondrous lardon. Or alternately, blast well-seasoned steak on your cast iron over the highest of high heat. The alarm may go off — recruit your guests to open windows. Open a brawny, juicy red wine. Stain your lips, a little.

Make the sides ahead of time. This weekend, I went for a Greek salad with cubes of goat feta and plenty of rosemary, roasted garlicky asparagus, and those cute little potatoes, also roasted, with a party of herbs. Nothing to do but drink, eat, and bask in the company of people you love. They love you, too, and they love you even more now that you’re feeding them.

For dessert: Steve’s Key lime pie from Red Hook, which tastes of summer sunshine, and a big bowl of cherries, because they’re finally in season and not a million dollars a pound. Such simplicity! I’m the “hostess with the mostess,” and now so are you.

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