How to Throw a Gjelina-Style Dinner Party

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Photos: Chronicle Books / Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

If we could tap one person for tips before our next dinner party, it’d be Gjelina chef and founder Travis Lett. At his Venice Beach-based restaurant, Lett has mastered the art of uncomplicated entertaining with his menu of soulful, shareable plates, with options for even the pickiest party guests (from the health-obsessed to those who consider pizza a food group).

For proof, just look at the hour-plus wait lists it draws nearly every night of the week—or the fact that his super popular cookbook, Gjelina: Cooking From Venice, California, is flying off the shelves.

In it he shares his method for giving each dish a ton of depth and personality—especially the vegetable options—while showing how shockingly quick and simple they are to make. Ideal when you're trying to create a breezy, effortless vibe for your dinner guests with some yummy greens, savory apps, and the like.

"The ingredients themselves are unique expressions of art—more so than anything I could manipulate them into,” writes Lett in the book’s introduction. “As a chef, I try not to stand in the way of what is beautiful and delicious.”

Good news for those of us who love to play hostess, but don’t want to spend all night sweating over complex creations in the kitchen. Click through the slideshow to learn how to make three of Gjelina’s most obsessed-over (and easy!) veggie dishes, all of which will have your crew begging for seconds. —Erin Magner

Gjelina_Grilled Kale

Grilled Kale with Shallot-Yogurt Dressing & Toasted Hazelnuts

1/2 cup hazelnuts
3 bunches Russian kale
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp water

Shallot-Yogurt Dressing
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup shallot confit (recipe below), roughly chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill (or preheat a gas grill to medium-high).

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, shallot confit, olive oil, mint, and lemon juice. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Let stand while you make the salad.

In a small, dry frying pan, toast the hazelnuts until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool and coarsely chop.

In a large bowl, toss the kale with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in the water and mix well.

Put the kale on the hottest part of the grill. Once the leaves begin to char, about 30 seconds, flip them over to char the other side. Move the kale to a cooler spot on the grill, stacking the leaves on top of each other, and continue cooking until the leaves are slightly wilted, about 2 minutes.

Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with the dressing, and scatter the toasted hazelnuts on top. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve warm. (Serves 4-6.)

Shallot Confit
2 ½ lb shallots, peeled and halved
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves, crushed

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Place the shallots in an ovenproof casserole dish. Cover completely with the olive oil and sprinkle with the thyme and bay leaves. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the shallots are fork-tender and taste sweet and mellow, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, completely covered with olive oil to prevent air from reaching them. (Makes 8 cups.)
Gjelina_Mushroom Toast

Mushroom Toast

One 6-inch hunk ciabatta, halved horizontally and then crosswise to yield 4 pieces
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for toasting the bread
1 lb mushrooms, such as nameko, hen of the woods, chanterelle, porcini, matsutake
6 cloves garlic confit (recipe below), sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 ¼ cups buttermilk crème fraîche (recipe below)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the bread on both sides with olive oil. Cook the bread until browned and toasted, about 3 minutes on each side. Set the slices in one layer on a cooling rack, lightly brushing the tops with olive oil.

Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and, when hot, add the mushrooms, in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. It’s important that the mushrooms sear and not steam. Cook without stirring until the mushrooms are well browned, about 3 minutes. Give the mushrooms a good toss to turn them and then briefly sear on the other side.

Add the garlic confit to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. With a wooden spoon, stir in the crème fraiche until well incorporated. Cook until slightly thickened, season with more salt and pepper if necessary, and stir in the parsley and thyme.

Place the toasted bread on individual plates. Spoon the mushrooms and pan sauce on top, dividing it evenly. Serve hot. (Serves 4.)

Garlic Confit
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
8 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
12 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves, bruised

Preheat the oven to 350°F

In a medium baking dish, combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. The garlic should be completely covered by about 1 inch of oil. Bake until the garlic cloves are soft, fragrant, and lightly browned but still hold their shape, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, completely covered with olive oil to prevent air from reaching them. (Makes 4 cups.)

Buttermilk Crème Fraîche
4 cups heavy cream
1 Tbsp buttermilk

In a 1-qt jar, combine the cream and buttermilk. Partially cover and let stand in a warm spot (about 78°F) until the cream tastes slightly sour and has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, 24 hours to 3 days.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. (Makes 4 cups.)
Gjelina_Brussels Sprouts

Charred Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Dates

3 oz bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-wide matchsticks
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved through the stem end
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted soft fresh dates
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat a large cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat, and cook the bacon with the olive oil until the bacon has rendered most of its fat but is still juicy, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, and increase the heat to high. If there is excessive fat in the pan, you can drain some, but reserve in case the pan dries out. The sprouts will suck up the fat.

Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan, turning them over with tongs, if necessary, to make sure that the cut sides are down. Sear hard, without shaking the pan, until well charred and beginning to blacken, 5 to 7 minutes. Resist the temptation to meddle with them. The idea is to get a very deep, penetrating sear that nearly blackens the sprouts but keeps them relatively green inside. Flip the Brussels sprouts, and season with salt and pepper.

Add the dates and the reserved bacon into the pan, toss well, and cook until the sprouts begin to color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock into the pan, a little bit at a time. With a wooden spoon, smash the dates into the sauce, breaking them into smaller pieces as the pan sauce recedes. Once the dates are incorporated into the sauce, add the vinegar.

Continue cooking until the sauce is thick enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, 2 to 3 minutes. Be careful not to reduce the sauce too much, or it will become cloyingly sweet and sticky. The sprouts should still be bright green and somewhat firm inside, but tender to the bite.

Transfer to a platter, serve warm. (Serves 4-6 as a side dish.)

Ready for something sweet? These three healthy dessert recipes from Deliciously Ella will cap off your party on a high note.

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