When it comes to summer entertaining, it's not hard to impress. But it's easy to get yourself in over your head trying to do so.
Which is why I have a few rules about summer gatherings. About all entertaining, actually. But this menu is better suited to summer, so we'll call it that. My rules are thus:
— I don't bake. Not even seasonally appropriate berry pies, or cupcakes or muffins or quick breads. Baking is a fall and winter activity. In summer, that's what bakeries are made for.
— I don't fuss with individual cocktails. If I can't make it by the pitcher or in a blender, or if it doesn't pour directly from a bottle into your glass or your mouth, it doesn't get served.
— I make judicious use of the grill. It's kind of a no-brainer, but still. There's no cleanup!
— I don't worry about mains and starters and sides and such. I make what I feel like making. I put it out. You eat it. Done. If that means we nibble on five starters and drink a bunch of wine, that works. If it means we graze over several slabs of juicy meat off the grill while tearing hunks of baguette to sop the juices, that works, too.
— Anything that can be prepped ahead should be prepped ahead. A summer gathering is for chilling out, not getting hot and bothered in the kitchen.
To show you how it all looks in action, I've recreated a recent menu I assembled — mostly on the fly — when I found out a bunch of family was coming over on a toasty Saturday afternoon. It was simple, delicious, effortless and everyone left satisfied. Depending on the size of your crowd, add some chips, hummus or guacamole, maybe a hunk of cheese and some fruit, and you're good.
Make this in the morning in a large pitcher and refrigerate until ready to serve. The flavors get better with a few hours to meld. I'm not picky about the wines I use. I grabbed whatever bottles happened to be open on my counter at the time. Use whatever you like, but don't spend a fortune.
Start to finish: 5 minutes
2 cups rose wine
2 cups red wine
2 cups peach juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup orange liqueur
1/3 cup rum
1/2 cup superfine sugar
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate for several hours, then serve over ice.
Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 38 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 29 g sugar; 0 g protein; 15 mg sodium.
Roasted red peppers with feta
Start to finish: 10 minutes
Two 16-ounce jars roasted red peppers, drained
4-ounce block feta cheese
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Extra-virgin olive oil
Baguette, thinly sliced
Use paper towels to pat dry the red peppers. Cut the peppers into strips, then arrange them on a serving platter. Thinly slice the feta cheese, then arrange the slices over the peppers. Season with pepper. Sprinkle with the rosemary, then drizzle olive oil over everything. Serve with the sliced baguette.
Nutrition information per serving: 210 calories; 90 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 25 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 7 g protein; 780 mg sodium.
Farro and arugula salad
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 cup pearled farro
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
6 Peppadew peppers, thinly sliced (or about 1/4 cup jarred banana pepper slices)
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
5-ounce container arugula
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Ground black pepper
6 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the farro and cook until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss the shallots, peppers and tomatoes. Add the arugula and feta, then toss to combine. When the farro has cooled (to speed cooling, place the baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes), add it to the bowl and toss well. Add the vinegar and toss again. Season with black pepper. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle over the salad. Serve immediately or chill.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 140 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 11 g protein; 410 mg sodium.