Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s is a written treasure dedicated to documenting one of the most momentous, yet largely unknown moments in the history of our young country.
The date was 1790 and Thomas Jefferson, after returning from his stint as US Ambassador to France, had been summoned by George Washington to become his Secretary of State. Jefferson is not certain he wants the job, but is ultimately convinced to serve.
Jefferson developed a fondness for the finer things in life while he lived in France. Upon returning to his beloved Monticello, he began importing the finest wines, brandies, cognacs, and Champagnes. With the help of his friends, the Mazzei family of Tuscany, he began planting vineyards at his Monticello estate.
Jefferson routinely held dinner parties for friends, political allies, and adversaries. They became the stuff of legend for their fine exotic foods, the freshest vegetables sourced from his wonderful Monticello gardens, and for the finest Italian and French wines.
The evening in question was no different. Jefferson knew he had to convince his powerful political enemy, Alexander Hamilton, to come around to Jefferson’s point of view on several of the hottest political moments of the day. What’s more, he had to convince Hamilton to give in, without Hamilton realizing he was giving in! For that, he arranged a dinner of unprecedented elegance and gluttony!
The book tells the tale with wonderful poise and is an enjoyable read. It closes with wine lists, and recipes, both from the dinner and from Jefferson’s home at Monticello. Here is a simple, yet elegant and delicious adaptation of one of the main courses he served to Hamilton that night.
Roasted Cornish Game Hens
These are simple Cornish Game Hens served alongside an elegant stuffing. Jefferson served this to Hamilton as stuffed Capon. To accompany, was a Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. You could serve a Vino Nobile or in keeping with the theme, substitute a wonderful Virginia wine from Barboursville Vineyards. I served their delicious 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve.
To serve 4
4 Cornish Game Hens, rinsed, patted dry.
8 oz. diced Virginia Ham
8 oz. chopped pecans, toasted
½ medium Vidalia onion chopped
½ bag unseasoned Pepperidge Farm croutons for stuffing
1 handful fresh, flat parsley chopped
1 pinch crushed red pepper
Salt & Crushed black pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
White truffle oil
Salt and pepper the hens. Set them in a roasting pan and cook according to package directions at 350 degrees. They shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Get the olive oil warming in a sauté pan and then add the pecans to toast for about a minute or two. Don’t burn them. Add the onion, the Virginia Ham, and the crushed red pepper and cook until all is softened and combined.
Meanwhile, prepare the croutons on the stove per the package instructions. I had to add a bit of water and olive oil after they were done because they still seemed dry. At this point, combine the contents of the sauté pan with the croutons, and then add the parsley. Also, right before serving, add a few drops of white truffle oil. Jefferson loved to do this.
You can combine all of the above and set into a serving dish and then warm at dinner time. Serve alongside the hens. The hens are great, but really, the stuffing is the star of this meal.
Jefferson would serve this with a simple salad of field greens harvested from his gardens. Simply dressed with salt, pepper, the juice of ½ a lemon, and the best extra virgin olive oil he had from Italy.
This dinner is simple, and so delicious. The salad can be made in about 5 minutes and all your attention can be on the stuffing while hens roast effortlessly.