If you can’t imagine having friends over for a midweek dinner, you haven’t see this menu and game plan.

By Rori Spinelli-Trovato and Kay Chun
Updated June 21, 2007
Susie Cushner

The Menu

The Planning Timeline

Two weeks ahead: First thing to do is invite your guests. Next, make a quick survey of what you'll need to serve eight happily: wine and water glasses, dinner and dessert plates, flatware. Lay out serving platters and bowls, polish any silver you plan to use, and store it in anti-tarnish cloths. Now is the time to line up all the necessary cooking utensils. But don't worry: You don't need much―just a heavy pot for the soup, a few skillets, and a baking sheet.

One week ahead: Buy candles, dinner wine―a dry white like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc would be a perfect choice for this meal―and other nonperishables; bubbly water, some high-quality, extra-thin breadsticks, and marinated olives.

The weekend before: This is the perfect time to cook the soup and the beans. Both can be refrigerated and reheated the evening of the party, and both will improve with age. If you're making your own dulce de leche, do it now as well. Transfer it to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. The night of the party, you can stick it in the microwave or warm it in a small pan on the stove.

Two days ahead: Shop for all remaining fresh ingredients except the shrimp; call your local fish store and ask to have peeled and deveined shrimp prepared for pickup the next day.

One day ahead: Pick up the shrimp. Buy flowers and arrange them in vases. Set the table and cover it with an extra tablecloth to prevent any dust buildup.

Three hours before: Transfer all precooked dishes into the appropriate pots for reheating (it's fine to leave them out from now on). Marinate the shrimp for 30 minutes, thread onto skewers, and store in the fridge. Cook the spinach, remove from heat, and cover. Broil the apricots and pecans and reserve. They can be served room temperature, or you can warm them later if you wish.

Two hours before: Take a breather. Get dressed. Relax.

During the party: Start reheating the soup, the beans, and the spinach while your guests enjoy a glass of wine. Broil the shrimp, arrange on a platter, and cover to keep warm. Serve the main course after guests have finished the soup. When the second course is over, it's okay to leave your guests to one another and a final glass of wine while you arrange dessert and start the coffee. Better yet, give one of them the job.