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Auction Dinner Party

What's the best part of serving a dinner party for a group of people who bought it at an auction?  They are there for the food!  When I was asked last year to donate a dinner for our local high school's fundraiser, I didn't have to think about it long before I said yes. As part of the package, the Varsity Lacrosse coach was going to be my waiter for the evening. Cook a dinner for a group of people who are actually going to be paying attention to the food?  Yes! Cook a dinner where I can just stay in the kitchen and plate things and send them out? Yes! That was my idea of a good time.


The menu was six courses and highlighted Italian food.  I made all the bread that day, fresh, including the baguette for the crostini.  I used the ever reliable Artisan Bread recipe and it saved me a trip to the bakery. I used my regular recipe, though, for the Focaccia, which takes 3 risings to make. I made my little Parmesan Crisps that we love so much for the first little appetizer and sent those out with glasses of Prosecco and some very good salami. The perfect way, in our opinion, to begin an evening.  We made up our favorite little crostini of fig jam, goat cheese and prosciutto and then everyone sat down to dinner.

parmigiano reggiano crisps, salami
crostini with goat cheese, fig jam, prosciutto

fennel and onion bisque, pernod
fennel puree
homemade artisan rolls

handmade spinach linguini, toasted pine nuts, grana padano

arugula, homemade crouton, pecorino, quail egg
toasted hazelnuts

grilled steak with balsamic vinegar, salsa verde
zucchini pappardelle, garlic, red hot chili pepper
fresh focaccia

hazelnut semifreddo with caramel sauce
hazelnut brittle

sicilian averna



The pasta course was handmade spinach linguini that I dressed with toasted pine nuts, good olive oil, a little sea salt and a good amount of Grana Padano cheese. One of my absolute favorite dishes.   I always serve it with a big Chardonnay and it's delicious and rich.


I love these little quail eggs.  I hard boiled them and put them on an arugula salad with some toasted hazelnuts.  I made my homemade Thomas Keller croutons and served those with the salad and dressed it all with an anchovy, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette that I whipped up in my mortar and pestle.  My God, that dressing is good.  I could lick the bowl when I make it (I didn't.)

Coach Grady was our super waiter for the evening. After he gingerly served a full tray of glasses of Prosecco, he could handle anything the rest of the evening

Dessert was Italian Hazelnut Semifreddo with homemade caramel sauce.  The caramel sauce is very dangerous. Seriously.  You cannot stop eating it. I poured extra caramel sauce into little shot glasses and everyone got one of those with their dessert, in case they needed more caramel sauce.  Which they did.  The next three days, Brian kept sneaking the caramel sauce out of the fridge and putting it in his morning coffee. I made a batch of hazelnut brittle and we stuck a nice little piece in everyone's slice of semifreddo as a crunchy little extra goodie.  Looked cute, too.

I gave out a couple of goodies at the end of the evening - my ever popular homemade vanilla extract and little bags of the hazelnut brittle.  I made the stickers for the vanilla extract bottles on my computer, using Epson Self-Adhesive Sheets and Pages on my Mac.  I love Pages - you can be so creative.  I've totally ditched my MS Word.  Goodbye!

If you like the little glassine favor bags I used for the brittle, you can buy them from Nashville Wraps, one of my favorite shopping sites for goodies like these.  I just punched two holes in the bag and tied it with some rustic twine. The 4 ounce Boston bottles for the extract you can buy from Specialty Bottle.

My extra set of hands in the kitchen that evening was the lovely Lydia Itsell, who helped prepare everything beautifully and washed way too many dishes that night. I would have drowned without her.

The group that bought the dinner was great.  Such enthusiastic, fun people.  And the best part - no food allergies, no vegans and they all liked their steak medium rare.  Perfect diners.  I made a music playlist especially for the dinner that included a lot of Thievery Corporation, Michael Bublé and Raphael Saadiq that I think everyone enjoyed.


I had to pick out a soup that was not too heavy because I wanted the meal to progress in a certain way. I chose this fennel and onion soup, which is delicate and flavorful and then I used a David Tanis recipe for the fennel puree swirl on top. Did I tell you I got to meet David Tanis?  Just checking.  This soup recipe is what I'm going to share with you.


Onion and Fennel Bisque with Pernod and Fennel Puree


adapted from The Blue Heron Inn

for a printable recipe, click here

8 servings


  • 2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), washed, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 medium red onions, chopped (3.5 cups)
  • 1/2 lb. fennel bulb, fronds reserved (for puree), chopped (1.25 cups)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth
  • 1.25 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Pernod


Cook onions, leeks, fennel and garlic in butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add wine and boil, uncovered, until evaporated, about 1 minute.  Add stock, water, salt, pepper and nutmeg and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and simmer, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened and liquid is reduced to about 6 cups, about 15 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth, then transfer to a soup tureen and stir in Pernod.  Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with fennel puree.

Fennel Puree
from David Tanis 


  • 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste 


Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until you have a smooth green puree.

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Reader Comments (32)

I want what you're serving. All of it. That semi-freddo made my heart skip a beat. But I will start with the soup - cannot go wrong with fennel. Love that it was for a good cause and you threw yourself into it with glee.

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

You are spectacular! The dinner sounds wonderful, the dessert to die for, and I just love your gifts!
I wish I was sitting around your table Elaine!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermarie

The entire auction dinner post blew me away! It looks spectacular! The detail, the menu, the table, the pictures, the incredible! Can't wait to try some of the recipes. Being a glutenfree vegetarian, I especially am interested in the fennel soup and spinach gnocci ( of course making appropriate gluten free substitutions) ...

I love your blog!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjudee@glutenfreeA-Z

I love, love , love your website! You are amazing. I have shared your web site with many of my friends! Thank you so much!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennie

I LOVE doing events like this - for fundraisers, for friends, for my clients - and am always looking for new menus so may steal yours intact if you don't mind! PS, the table looked absolutely lovely and I like the little ribbon touch in the menu cards.

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCooking with Michele

so lovely! i hope the group paid a big amount for such a great dinner!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjude

I love your website and look forward to your emails to me with all the wonderful receipies. There is nothing on the computer that can live up to yours you are so different and to see the beautiful photos and see what it would really look like when prepared. Don't ever leave the website I look forward every day when I open up my computer hoping that you will be there. I have sent you other emails telling you how great you are. Keep up the good work love you

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarmella

I would be your helper in the kitchen any day!
Looks beautiful!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstacey snacks

I loved this menu! Sounds like a wonderful evening. The guests were so lucky to be able to have your beautiful treats, both dinner and take-home gifts!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermelanie

This dinner looks amazing! I just got the bottles in the mail for the vanilla extract last night! I will be giving them as gifts this Christmas - thank you so much for the inspiration and step-by-step instructions!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

What a fantastic menu you came up with. You really put your heart and soul into preparing that dinner and it shows! I would have loved to be a guest - so many special touches and the food looks absolutely delicious. BTW, I made your potato gnocchi and it was amazing. (Haven't blogged about it yet but will soon) A complete success, I was beside myself. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes.

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I have to say, being one of the lucky people that bought this dinner, that every course that Elaine served was outstanding. Everything was so well thought out and executed perfectly. Between the excellent food and service (Thanks to Shawn, Elaine's husband Brian, and helper Lydia) it felt as if we were at a five star restaurant. You definitely spoiled us Elaine!!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim


November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMalu

Elaine, This menu looks fabulous! I love how you gave out homemade party favors for your guests; what a thoughtful touch! Your table setting was beautiful as well. It looks like the evening was a complete success! Bravissima!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlavia

Such a delicious menu and gorgeous presentation. Did you also do the menus yourself? You've inspired me to do those extra-special touches for my next dinner event. Thanks for all the great ideas!!!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Any chance you would share your anchovy, garlic and balsamic vinaigrette dressing? It sounds delicious!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteritaliangal1

You did all this?? NOOO!! You are officially a superwoman in my dictionary now :-)
Love everything about the dinner you planned, from the menu to the little giveaways to the wine!! And PLZZZ tell me how you made that vanilla extract. I had to read back again just to confirm that you did it yourself. Awesome!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPrerna@IndianSimmer

I would have loved to have a seat at that dinner table -- or even to be a helper (read taster) in the kitchen.

And I love your vanilla extract!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Nova

I love your blog!

Could you post some salad dressing recipes? i would love some alternative dressing ideas!

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

From The Italian Dish:

italiangal1 and Christina: I actually plan to do a post in the near future about salad dressing, so watch for it.

Thank you to all of you for all your wonderful comments!

November 10, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I love your blog and your recipes. I tried already many of them, especially the home made pasta. This looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentereva

I was just introcued to your blog by my dear friend, Joan of Foofalogue. I am so impressed...that is all I can say right now.

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternorma

Auction menu and dishes looks delicious! Wished I was there to enjoy the festivities.

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPam @ Kitchen Cookware

The whole meal sounds fantasic! I love all of the pictures, but especially the pictures of the table with the china and crystal.

November 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

you are scary, amazing! i want to come and hang out with you! you are one confident lady!

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthe urban baker

Definately a class act! I love the pictures and the wonderful recipe.

The bread recipe amazes me - it is so easy and always turns out perfect.

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVicki in GA

Oh my gosh... absolutely STUNNING menu!! This is exactly what I strive for. Such elegant yet simple dishes that really wow. So nicely done!! I'm dying to try making homemade vanilla and will definitely try it out after seeing this post!

Hello! I found your blog searching for a specific recipe (italian biscuits, torchetti al burro). I am so lucky i found you! Your blog is wonderful....! From now on i am your follower! So, if you know these amazing Italian biscuits (traditional Piedmont Biscuits) please let me know... i am trying so hard to find the recipe!!! Thank you so much :) Kisses, Foivi :)

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfoivi.geller

I love the entire ambiance of this - it feels so cozy and warm! And who would have known that there's quail eggs I actually want to try?

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen |

Very interesting post , that's showing all kind of things ........
thanks for sharing it with us

November 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwalks of italy

Elaine, What a fabulous evening. Thanks for the tip on the label making! They look super. Sheila

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStrawberry CAKE

I have been loving all of your posts and have tried a few with great success. The recipe I'm most interested in and can't seem to find much info on here or elsewhere on other websites is how you made the spinach linguini. I have the kitchenaid mixer and pasta attachments, so mostly I was wondering your ingredient list. I did find your spinach lasagna pasta recipe, but in my head it seems like maybe too many eggs for a linguini. I defer to you :) . Thanks again for all the great ideas, one of the great cooking blogs out there!

December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMikeCuts

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