By Nancy Caivano
Nothing says "summer" more to me than an outdoor barbecue. I live in New York City, and have lived in apartments all of my life, so my family never had a backyard. My favorite summer memories are of going either to an upstate lake, or to my Uncle Boo's house in Queens, where we always barbecued and stayed outdoors enjoying great food, beautiful weather (usually), and each other's company. Dusk was my favorite time of the day, after we had eaten, we would relax, watching the sun go down, usually laughing at something. It is always a wonderful experience. The tradition still continues, and going to Uncle Boo's house is one of my favorite things to do, especially in the summertime.
In this special July/August edition of Pasta, Risotto and You, I decided to give you some great ideas for eating outdoors. Two big summer holidays are coming up, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend. All the foods in this edition's menu can be mixed and matched, or make the entire assortment to feed a huge crowd. I didn't make these recipes too fancy, but I know that people get tired of eating the same old burgers, hot dogs and plain barbecued chicken all the time, especially by August! So this menu offers a change of pace, but not a lot more work. Most of the dishes have components that can be made ahead of time; in some cases, the entire dish can be made ahead of time, and just reheated on the grill.
I have included 4 main course meats, 3 side dishes, 4 salads and 3 desserts. As with last month's column, I took the Pasta and Risotto out of the spotlight for this summer menu and gave it a supporting role. Everything goes with everything else, so you don't have to worry about what to pair with what. You can make 4 or 5 different menus from this bunch of recipes, and get a lot of mileage out them. They're perfect for a big event, or a small gathering of friends and family.
To begin the meal, I would start with something light, such as crudités, prosciutto and melon, or maybe some fresh salsa and warm tortilla chips. The only thing that you need to add to the meal would be some sliced Italian bread, rubbed with garlic, brushed with olive oil and grilled. It goes perfectly with just about anything.
I've got something for just about everyone. First up is Grilled Chicken Stuffed with Dried Tomatoes, Prosciutto and Mozzarella. This makes a great change of pace from plain chicken just covered in generic barbecue sauce. Boneless chicken breast is rolled around a filling of garlic-oil marinated dried tomatoes, prosciutto and mozzarella, for a fabulous combination of tastes. The chicken is brushed with more of the dried tomato-garlic oil to reinforce the flavor inside and out.
Next is Grilled Lamb Chops with Herb, Garlic and Mustard Crust. This is a wonderful, hearty entree, and lamb tends to be cheaper in the summer, when fewer people purchase it. Racks of lamb are coated with the flavors of rosemary, parsley and thyme, plus fragrant garlic and tangy Dijon mustard. Cooking it on the grill gives the coating a smoky note that is perfect with the flavor of the lamb.
For those wanting something a bit lighter, Balsamic and Garlic Marinated Tuna is just what you're looking for. A simple marinade of aged Balsamic vinegar and lots of garlic cloves plus red onion, rosemary and parsley give plain old "tuna fish" a lovely makeover. Even the dedicated carnivore would be converted!
Speaking of dedicated carnivores, we have a meaty dish of Lemon Marinated Black Pepper Sirloin Steaks with Roasted Pepper-Basil Butter. What a steak this is! First it is marinated in lemon juice, lemon zest and other aromatics to give the meat terrific flavor and make it meltingly tender. Right before grilling, it is coated with Dijon mustard and savory black pepper for an outstanding combination of flavors. As it comes off the grill, a piece of the Pepper Basil Butter is put on top to melt with all the other flavors. The melding of all these flavors makes for a one of a kind taste that your guests will request over and over.
To go with these entrees, I have some hearty sides and salads. Most of or all of each of these recipes can be made ahead of time, giving you more time to spend with your guests instead of at the stove. First up we have Risotto—Zucchini Cakes. The zucchini risotto can be made ahead of time, and so can the actual cakes, making this side dish a breeze to prepare. I made this with zucchini, but you can substitute any kind of risotto dish here. These crispy cakes are also a perfect way to use up leftover risotto.
Next up, we have Grilled Potatoes and Asparagus. This dish is unbelievably simple—and delicious. Sliced potatoes and asparagus are marinated in balsamic vinaigrette and simply grilled. Any meat or fish would be enhanced by this side dish—even a plain old hot dog!! Orzo with Grilled Tomatoes and Fennel is a different kind of side dish that also goes well with just about anything. The pasta is combined with smoky grilled tomatoes, aromatic grilled fennel and tangy Romano cheese, making it a unique and easy to prepare side dish.
I have another pasta, this time a salad, Grilled Mixed Pepper Pasta Salad. This isn't your plain old macaroni salad! A colorful blend of bell peppers are grilled to bring out the natural sweetness, and combined with pasta, sweet Vidalia onions and a balsamic vinaigrette for a salad that everyone will love. For those that love creamy salads, Asparagus, Fennel, Red Onion and Orange Salad will have them going for seconds and thirds. Bright green steamed asparagus combines with crunchy, fragrant fennel, red onion rings and sweet naval oranges in a creamy, fresh tasting dressing. This salad is even better the next day!
This next salad, Green Bean and Pepper Salad with Grilled Tomato Dressing is a wonderful change of pace from plain green beans. Steamed green beans are combined with roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes, and a dressing made from smoky grilled tomatoes, both red wine and balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil for a complex blend of flavors. For a real change of pace, try my Spinach Salad with Grilled Red Onion and Spicy Sesame Vinaigrette. Grilling brings out the natural sweetness of the onion, which is a perfect partner to the Sesame Vinaigrette. Crushed red pepper flakes gives the vinaigrette a great kick, and combines well with the spinach and radicchio.
Summer desserts to me mean MAKE AHEAD. After a day of cooking, laughing and sharing, the last thing I want to do is go in the kitchen and make a fancy dessert. All 3 of these desserts can be made ahead, 2 are frozen and one is a cake. First up, a nice and sort of fancy Frozen Lime Torte with Mixed-Nut Crust and Summer Fruit Compote. This has all the flavors of summer. The nuts and the lime taste really wonderful together, and the fruit compote gives this tangy, refreshing dessert a nice note of sweetness. This is a great change of pace from regular lime pie.
Next is a dessert the kids especially will love, Cinnamon-Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches and Almond Flavored Whipped Cream. This is an incredibly easy and fun dessert. The gingerbread cookie sandwiches are extremely easy to make, and can be made ahead of time. The ice cream is made by softening purchased vanilla ice cream and stirring in cinnamon and toasted almonds. The sandwiches are made ahead of time and frozen, then served with a fragrant Almond whipped cream. Once you know the method, you can vary the cookies and the ice cream flavor—chocolate chip cookies and chocolate ice cream would be wonderful! The only problem might be that the kids would never eat the supermarket brand again!
Last up, a lovely cake, Peach Crumb Cake with Cinnamon Glaze and Homemade Dried Sour Cherry-Pecan Frozen Custard. This would make a lovely birthday or holiday cake. The cake is moist, dense and full of fresh peaches with a sweet, crumbly topping. A creamy cinnamon glaze is drizzled on top and it is served with this sweet/tart frozen custard. I don't own an ice cream maker, so I usually end up making frozen custards that are extremely creamy and easy to do. This one combines the heady flavors of vanilla, amaretto, sour cherries and toasted pecans, for a creamy treat that is perfect with the cake.
All you need now is a backyard full of friends and family, a very comfortable chair and a warm summer breeze. Enjoy some good food, share funny stories and bask in each other's company. These are wonderful times. I'm going to Uncle Boo's house this weekend—and I can't wait!
I will see you again as we start to drift into autumn. Have a wonderful, safe summer with lots of sunshine, laughs and good times.
This page created July 1999
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