Summer Outdoor Parties

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outdoor party spreadNothing says summer quite like an outside party. Whether you’re in a backyard, on a crowded deck, or in a park, gathering with friends and family to sip chilled beverages while you chat and nosh are what summer is all about. Whatever your outdoor area, it’s great if your party occurs on a hot day, but in the Bay Area, sweaters may also be in order. The one element that is essential, however, is good food. So if you decide to throw a full barbecue or just serve appetizers, food is a crucial element to any successful bash.

I recently threw a backyard party to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of two of our closest friends. It was technically dubbed a “wine shower,” but we were lucky enough to also have a keg of freshly brewed ale, courtesy of the bride’s generous brother. With almost 50 people attending, I decided to serve a variety of small plates along with lots of cheese and charcuterie. A full dinner for that many people would have been overwhelming and too expensive, so we went with a nice selection of appetizers.

I wanted to take advantage of fruits and vegetables that are in season right now, while also providing foods that accented each other nicely. Just as important, however, was providing a selection of plates that would be easy to eat in a backyard setting. Following are some of the dishes I made. All were easy to prepare and went well with the wine and beer we served.

So whatever the occasion -- from a wedding shower or Labor Day party to just finding an excuse to hang out with family and friends -- I hope you enjoy your own outdoor summer party soon.

Grilled Zucchini, Fennel, Onion and Pepper Salad
In separate batches, either grill or broil sliced zucchini, fennel, red onion and red or orange peppers in some olive oil. Once the vegetables are barely browned and still al dente, place in a bowl and season with kosher or sea salt and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar. You don’t want the vegetables to be too vinegary, so just add enough to flavor the dish.

potato and artichoke frittata


Potato and Artichoke Frittata
Spread some cooked potatoes and fresh artichoke slivers sautéed in olive oil in an oiled oven-proof pan. Fresh artichokes work well here. Just pare some small ones so only the choke remains and then thinly slice. Top with a mixture of 6 large eggs, a 1/4 cup of milk, some salt and pepper, adding a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese at the end. Cook on low, with a lid on the pan, until mostly done. Place pan under a broiler to finish off the frittata and then remove it from the pan to cool.

egg salad with homemade mayonnaise

Egg Salad in Endive Cups Made with Homemade Mayonnaise
Make egg salad from about a dozen hard-boiled eggs. If you’d like, add chopped celery or other accompaniments, although I usually don’t as the endive adds enough crispness for my liking. Place scoops of the egg salad into washed endive leaves (I like to use both red and white) and refrigerate until ready to serve. This recipe is particularly good with homemade mayonnaise, which has a much better texture and flavor than the store bought variety. Just be sure to keep the egg salad cups refrigerated until you serve them to reduce the risk of spoilage. Also, please note anything made with raw eggs has a risk of carrying salmonella.

Smoked Salmon and Dill Cream Cheese Rolls
Just place some cream cheese mixed with fresh dill and some salt into 1- to 2-inch slices of smoked salmon and then them roll up. I like to put the cream cheese in a baggie and then cut the corner so I make an impromptu pastry bag. You can then insert a toothpick into each one so they’re easy for people to pick up.

Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto
Kim Laidlaw wrote about figs and prosciutto a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll repeat it here as this is a very easy and delicious dish to serve to guests. Cut very ripe figs in half lengthwise and drape with thin slices of prosciutto. The prosciutto-fruit pairing also works exceedingly well with sliced nectarines, peaches, and cantalope.

Stone Fruit Salad
Cut a variety of stone fruits into slices. If the fruits aren’t as sweet as you’d like, add a little sugar or honey and stir. This can easily be turned into a dessert if you just add some whipped cream. Even better, serve it with a slice of cake or a dish of ice cream.

Chilled Lentil, Red Pepper and Red Onion Salad
In a bowl, mix 2 cups of cooked small lentils (if you don’t want to boil them yourself, you can buy them precooked at Trader Joe’s), a 1/2 cup of diced red pepper, and a 1/2 cup of diced red onion. Mix in about a 1/4 cup each of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and freshly chopped Italian parsley. The oil and vinegar amounts will vary depending on how dry the lentils are. Season to taste. You can make this up to a day before serving (keeping it in the refrigerator) so the dressing becomes incorporated into the beans and vegetables.