I’m thinking a lot about garden parties, picnics, BBQs, and even the food at county fairs . . . sure, it’s summer but also I’m working with Suzanne over at Salt Cafe to choose the first themes for my new venture Hel’s Kitchen that opens August 3rd (read all about this dinner takeout spot in Montpelier at helskitchenvt.com)
When I think of garden parties or dining al fresca, I think of Middle Eastern food – courtyards and fountains and platters of rich fruit like figs and dates and whatnot.
Lawrence and my mother both claim I should be thinking more about fried chicken (which I will be for the actual Hel’s Kitchen menu).
Based on this New Yorker article from 2008 “The Garden of Contentment” by Fuchsia Dunlop I might broaden my thinking to include (as she calls it) “prelapsarian Chinese cuisine.”
And then there was David Lebovitz writing about a Spring Picnic in Versailles.
And. . . well, the larger point is that if you’re choosing a garden party theme for a dinner, you’ve got a range of cuisines available for inspiration.
Here’s a medley presented as one possible dinner menu:
Agua fresca is a fancy way to say fruit puree with water and a little sugar. Here are some recipes collected by The Kitchn.
Yesterday at Cisco Brewery / Triple Eight Distillers I rediscovered that the same concept can make a cocktail as refreshing as a cold beer. Soda water, ginger puree, and a floater of cranberry vodka was my favorite. A blueberry vodka, mint, lime combo with some sweetener would have worked nicely.
Then there’s Champagne.
Things that Go with Flatbreads:
Labneh – Drain whole yogurt through a cheese cloth overnight (or until it is the consistency you want) and dress it up – olive oil and lemon zest works, a sprinkling of sumac powder or za’atar, fancy smoked salt, infused oils, gourmet balsamic vinegars (blood orange for example). Good on flatbread. You can also turn it into a salad with chick peas, thin sliced radishes, thin sliced carrots, and fresh herbs.
Lamb, Hummus and Sumac – If you don’t have any sumac powder, it’s worth getting. It’s citrusy and a nice red color.
Eggplant Caponata – Traditionally this would be on top of crispy crostini bread, but with a little of the above labneh it can work on flatbread too.
Zucchini Baba Ghanoush – From Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi, conveniently reprinted with permission on Serious Eats so that I may link it here. Me linking it and using the picture may not have been their primary purpose. It’s still in the spirit of publicity though.
Sliced Fresh Veggies – That’s it. That’s all it needs to be.
Butter Dipped Radishes – On a related note, I have the reviewer’s copy of the upcoming NoMad cookbook (the restaurant where the linked recipe originated). I’m saying this for no reason except to brag. The only thing I’ve paid attention to so far is this radish recipe.
Stone Fruit, Arugula, Pecorino Romano – I’ve been craving summer fruit with sharp cheese and equally sharp greens lately. For whatever reason. Luckily, there’s a salad for that.
Linguine with Red Pesto and Corn – This recipe mixes almonds and tomato in the sauce, a trick that I first learned from a truly outstanding fresh tomato marinara sauce in Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher and use all the time in different incarnations now.
Yibin “Kindling” Noodles – One of any number of Fuschia Dunlop cold noodle recipes, which all need to be pantry staples. And I agree with the author note on Tianjin preserved vegetable.
Spaghetti with Good Butter and Better Parmesan Cheese – Yup. Surely people are serving this in Brooklyn. You make this into a grown up dish by using expensive butter and cheese, then having a whole array of minced fresh herbs to sprinkle on top and either some lightly sauteed sugar snap peas or fresh shelled peas blanched in milk. A few turns of the pepper mill and voila, a $22 small plate.
I think about dining outside and I crave meringue-topped cookies, like the Dream Bars from Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love or Lemon Meringue Bars from King Arthur Flour. Which is cruel and wrong because you know what makes meringue anything turn out terribly? Humid weather. Like summer in Vermont. I need to do my dining al fresca in Arizona.
BUT while browsing for a replacement craving, I came across this cake on Food52 and while I haven’t made it yet, I’m going to go ahead and recommend it because the next time I get near my own kitchen (which will be in 10 days) it’s first on the list weather be damned. . . World’s Best Banana Coconut Cake (with meringue).