Matinee Idyll: A Relaxed Affair

Fussy dinner parties be damned. Some of life’s most memorable affairs look better in the light of day

Two hours before we have friends arriving at noon on Sunday, our house is the image of sloth. Newspaper sections lie scattered about; bags of farmers’ market produce have toppled over on the kitchen counter. Dirty cereal bowls are stacked in the sink. (It’s amazing how kids who are whizzes with iPads are flummoxed by loading a dishwasher.) Neither my wife, Bonnie, nor I rush to right any of it. Brunch is not a dinner party in daylight but the antithesis of that more formal gathering. The comfortable, washed-out garment is chosen over the crisp one; the adrenaline rush of a soiree is supplanted by the balm of a Bloody Mary, an indulgence in pastries, and the luxury of time. Over the decade that brunch has become our favorite mode of entertaining, I have developed two convictions about the meal: The first is that cutting any jumble of ingredients carefully with a sharp knife creates the illusion that you’re following a recipe. The second is that except for egg dishes—a quick spin in a very hot pan for my scramble—everything should be served cold or at room temperature. Who wants to be frazzled at a stove while others are savoring blood orange mimosas? Bonnie’s orzo salad is just the thing, providing the starchy pinwheel around which all manner of side dishes take on the semblance of a cohesive spread. You can start it as you ready the house for guests and have it done before the doorbell rings. After the hours of catching up, swapping stories, and general lingering that a good brunch entails, friends are still requesting a few more bites before heading home in the waning light.

Bonnie’s Orzo Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts
Serves 8

¾ cup orzo
1 cup diced onion
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups diced zucchini
Juice of one lemon
⅓ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup pine nuts
Salt to taste

Cook orzo according to package instructions. Strain. While orzo is cooking, sauté onions in 2 of the 6 tablespoons of olive oil. When onions start to turn golden, add zucchini and continue cooking until all ingredients are slightly browned. Remove pan from heat and add half of cooked orzo to ensure that oil and flavor from browning process aren’t left behind in pan. Empty ingredients from pan into large bowl. Mix in rest of orzo. Add lemon juice, remaining olive oil, and parsley. Toast pine nuts under broiler or in oven (careful—they burn easily), and mix into salad. Add salt; Maldon, fleur de sel, or pink Hawaiian are recommended. Serve at room temperature.