When fall comes around, my favorite activity is staying home and eating warm, comforting meals with my friends and family. It’s a tradition that started when I was younger and continued as I was in school, sports, and college. Nothing brings people together more than delicious meals and a setup that makes everyone feel warm and welcome.
As a result, I decided to create a fall dinner party menu and host some of my friends at my apartment to catch up and celebrate seasonal changes. Decorations included gourds, pumpkin candles, and flowers. Table settings were simple, but thoughtful, and the menu was the star of the show.
Planning a Fall Dinner Party Menu
When planning a dinner party menu, it’s important to consider the current season so that you can feature seasonal produce and tailor meals to the weather outside. The weather impacts my mood and food cravings immensely. I’ve always found success as a host in serving cold salads in the summer and serving warm soups or pastas in the fall and winter.
As a result, this fall dinner party menu was curated to include fall vegetables like butternut squash, warm textures like pasta with vodka sauces, and transitional ingredients like leftover ripe tomatoes from the late summer.
Consider the Guests
Before you solidify your menu, you should confirm the guests that plan to be in attendance. My dinner party wasn’t formal enough for an rsvp list, but I made sure I had my serving size confirmed as well as who planned to be there. This is helpful so that you know what cuisines people typically enjoy eating. If your guests are close friends, you may also be able to avoid ingredients that you know they do not like.
Additionally, it’s a great hosting tip to ask for allergies before the event. Make sure that you know of any allergies or dietary restrictions, so you can be sure to include their needs in the menu before you begin prepping the food. For example, I had both regular and gluten-free pasta available for dinner.
First Course: Bruschetta
Bruschetta is an easy way to use any ripe tomatoes you have lying around from the late summer. It’s also a quick dish that can be prepped in advance. In fact, I recommend marinating your tomato mixture in the fridge for a couple hours to an entire day before your dinner party.
French baguette (cut into ½ inch thick slices)
4 roma tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
½ lemon juiced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup olive oil
First, chop up your tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil. Mix that with the olive oil and lemon and let sit for a few hours. When ready to plate, toast up your baguette slices, top with ricotta cheese and the marinated tomato mixture.
The ricotta cheese is optional in this recipe, but I also used it for the pasta in my fall dinner party menu, so you’ll already have some lying around. Plus, it cuts the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes nicely. Set this out on a large tray as your first course, so people can easily pick at it before sitting down to dinner.
Second Course: Cranberry and Butternut Squash Salad
For my second course, I made a large salad with a homemade honey dijon vinaigrette. Salads are usually a huge hit at dinner parties because they are light and provide a variety of vegetables. Plus, if you take the extra time and energy to make your own dressing, it will taste like a restaurant quality appetizer.
1 bag spinach
1 bag kale
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecans
1 small container goat cheese
1 butternut squash roasted
As you can see, these salad ingredients are very simple, but include seasonal vegetables like cranberries and butternut squash. All the pieces come together nicely with sweetness and crunchiness. When you top with a slightly acidic salad dressing, it creates the perfect tangy taste.
Honey Dijon Vinaigrette Recipe
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ lemon juiced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp honey
1 Tablespoon brown mustard or dijon
Once again, these ingredients are super simple. You can even prep the dressing a day or two in advance if it saves you time and stress as the host. Be sure to mix thoroughly when you serve so that everything is coated in the dressing. It’s important to note that the dressing is a large batch enough to serve 8 people, so you can cut the servings in half if needed.
Third Course: Fusilli Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Chicken Sausage
The last course on my fall dinner party menu is this fusilli pasta with vodka sauce and chicken sausage. This is a huge crowd pleaser because of the warm and creamy vodka sauce. One of my favorite things about vodka sauce as opposed to regular tomato sauce is that it’s not as acidic. However, with the help of the canned tomatoes, it is also not too sweet or too rich.
Vodka Pasta Recipe
2 boxes of fusilli pasta
2 large Italian sausages chopped up
¼ cup tomato paste
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic diced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large cans of plain peeled tomatoes
3 Tablespoons vodka
¼ cup reserved pasta water
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup of fresh chopped basil
1 tsp salt
When making this sauce it’s important to do so in the following order so that certain ingredients cook off properly and do not burn.
- Caramelize onions, garlic, oil, and salt
- Add tomato paste
- Add vodka and let it burn off for a few minutes
- Add tomatoes, basil, and cheeses
- Mix in pasta water and cream
- Simmer on low to blend everything together
The reason why the order matters so much is because the tomato paste and vodka need to cook down since it is so potent. Also you want to let the cheese melt before you thin it out with the cream and pasta water. This is what creates that really smooth vodka sauce that we’re used to seeing in restaurants.
You can add any kind of protein to this dish like chicken or meatballs, but I decided to opt for chicken sausage because it’s already cooked and just needs to be warmed up. I also suggest garnishing with some of your fresh basil, ricotta cheese, and parmesan on the side.
Overall, my fall dinner party menu was a big hit with my friends this year. The menu is balanced and filling, which perfectly reflects the season ahead of us. Be sure to prep as many things as you can in advance because there can be a lot of moving parts when hosting a dinner party. It’s more fun to think about the presentation of both the food and decor when you’re expecting guests. I hope this menu brings you happy memories like it did for me.