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It's Too Darn Hot
Dinner is for snacking.
WOW, it’s hot out there! There’s even a heat advisory here in Nova Scotia. Dinner's been about snacking the last few nights. At home in Hudson we do it with friends and call it a family picnic.
Below is an expert from my newest book Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food with some ideas on how to do just that. I’ve also included a salad recipe from the book that just needs assembling.
I’ll be back this week with a new recipe for subscribers only.
Photo by Tara Donne.
A Family Picnic
My friend Tamar and I established a family picnic tradition about one year into our
friendship. (In my opinion, an appropriate time to put a tradition into place, as you
know you’ve really committed to the relationship.) Our family picnic dinner consists of odds and ends, leftover from the week, and plenty of wine.
In recent months, this tradition has also become part of our routine with our no longer “new” neighbors Chris and Kelly. Because as soon as I get the five P.M. text “Drinks?,” we all know what it really means—I dust off the front porch chairs and, unrequested, take out the leftover olives I stored with the Italian artichokes in olive oil from last weekend, a wheel of already-wedged-into Camembert, a few slices of last night’s pork roast or chicken, and whatever else I can forage. There is also usually something pickled. We are all very, very good wine drinkers, so one must arrive prepared with sustenance. (Luck favors those that do, so I’m told.) There are more meats, cheeses, and crackers on their end to round out this meal, and in a flash it’s ten P.M.
In our ever-growing friend-family, these picnics generally take place at a walkable location on a Friday or Saturday evening. But do what feels right to you. If a Monday comes around and it feels appropriate, you should most certainly lean in and embrace it. There is no “right night” to cobble together a meal with friends.
For some inspiration, please allow me to provide you with some examples of family picnics past: One evening, I brought over roasted beets to Tamar’s, the remains of a meat and cheese plate, and some eggs to soft boil. I also had some leftover homemade mayonnaise, so I brought that too. Tamar had braised beef the night before, which she gently reheated in the oven, and then dressed with garlicky chive oil and wide ribbons of Treviso radicchio. We also drizzled the eggs with the garlicky oil and some pickled chiles. The beets were tossed with homemade sherry vinegar and topped with flaky salt. We combined our cheese and cured meats and put the board down in the center of the table. Her husband Pete’s father had made bread, which we tore apart with our hands and sopped our plates with. In my book (now literally), it is still one of the most satisfying meals in my forty-four-year-old history.
We’ve also enjoyed dinners with outsourced fried chicken, complemented with homemade chicken liver mousse, roasted red peppers in olive oil with capers and herbs, cream laden polenta, and the remains of a layer cake created by the brilliant pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz.
An evening of leftover, recipe-tested shrimp pâté spread onto endive leaves and smashed into our mouths is also high on the list, as is one with day-old roasted root vegetables with yogurt dressing and a side of meatballs swimming in cinnamon-spiked tomato sauce. There are no rules for a family picnic menu (although they generally tend never to be the same twice), I just happen to host a lot of cocktail parties, which is why mine tend to be meat, cheese, and brine forward. They are all about creating merriment and the ease of entertaining with your chosen family and throwing together a simple and soulful meal that is assembled with what you have as opposed to shopping, preparing, and cooking in advance.
And, if you cook often, infrequently, or barely at all, I have faith there is always something in your fridge or pantry you can pull together to feel nourishing and special, even if it’s filling a bowl full of potato chips and opening a bottle of Champagne on a stormy day to thank Mother Nature for her wild and wily ways. Wouldn’t you agree?
Photo by Tara Donne. Styled by Pearl Jones and Rebecca Bartoshesky
Pretending I’m Vacationing In Italy Salad
As I write this, I am desperate to be anywhere but here in the Hudson Valley. My wanderlust has peaked, and in my mind I’m in Italy with friends in a big house by the sea. It’s July. We likely have just gotten home from the beach and are rummaging through the kitchen to make a late lunch. I find some cucumbers and some local mozzarella and begin to assemble a salad so simple, it deserves the very best of ingredients. I place it on the table with some thickly cut pieces of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and perhaps a plate of sliced, still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes, and figs too. We sit outside and drink fizzy wine and afternoon slips into evening and we laugh a lot. I’m hoping maybe we’ll be together there next summer. For now, I’ll make the salad and eat it barefoot on my front porch.
2 pounds (910 g) heirloom cucumbers, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
8 ounces (225 g) fresh mozzarella, at room temperature, torn into bite-size pieces
4 ounces (115 g) prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup (80 g) loosely packed fresh basil leaves (torn if large)
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves (optional)
Good-quality olive oil, for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper and flaky salt
On a medium platter, arrange the cucumbers and mozzarella and season with salt. Gently and evenly add the prosciutto and top the salad with basil and marjoram, if using. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over everything. Season with a few good turns of black pepper and a few pinches of flaky salt and serve.