A lighter dinner party

Fresh herbs and a special presentation make halibut a casually elegant meal
KATE WASHINGTON

Rich, elaborate meals can be welcome at the holiday season; after a few, though, sometimes we all need a break. This stylish dinner party for six is a relaxing change of pace that shows off the lighter side of winter flavors.

In our main course, halibut pieces are roasted on a bed of sea salt and winter herbs ― a fresh adaptation of the classic technique of baking a whole fish in salt.

Purchase roasted red peppers and olives for an easy appetizer; while guests nibble, the scent of warm herbs will perfume your home.

The fish is done in just 20 minutes; bring the whole dish to the table for a beautiful presentation, and complement it with golden saffron orzo and roasted kale accented with preserved lemon. A salad of fennel and oranges and a red-gold compote of dried cherries and apricots complete the meal.

In this menu

Fennel-Orange Salad with Green Olives

Halibut Roasted on a Bed of Salt

Saffron Orzo

Roasted Kale with Preserved Lemons

Apricot-Cherry Compote

A relaxed dinner plan

This menu lets guests watch (or help) you put the finishing touches on the meal. Here's how to time it for maximum effect.

A day or two ahead: Make apricot-cherry compote.

The afternoon of the party: Rinse halibut and herbs; put salt in baking dish; make herb oil; measure ingredients for orzo; chop kale and coat with oil (step 1).

Shortly before guests arrive: Make fennel-orange salad; soak saffron for orzo; heat oven to 450°; set out purchased appetizers.

About 40 minutes before serving: Heat salt in oven.

About 30 minutes before serving: Sauté shallots and toast orzo (step 2); brown fish (step 2).

About 20 minutes before serving: Scatter herbs over hot salt, top with fish, and roast; put kale in oven; finish cooking orzo (step 3).

Just before serving: Drizzle a little extra olive oil over salad; stir lemons into kale; spoon orzo into a serving dish.