Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to host a dinner party without turning on the stove. Well, almost.

It's that time of year - the market is full of berries, tomatoes, corn, summer squash, and I'm desperate to cook it all before it goes away. Which of course means that I'm desperate to entertain as many friends as possible, the better to experiment with copious amounts of produce and seafood.

The only problem? It's really freakin' hot out, and that makes having people over a bit more complicated. Sure, I have a great AC stuck through one of my two windows, but it doesn't do a whole lot when the oven and stove are going full blast and there are five extra people in here.

So, what's a girl to do? Moving is not an option, nor is the complete absence of cooking. Not for me, anyway. So I spend my summers searching high and low for meals that can be made in advance, served mostly at room temperature, and showcase all the delicious things in season right now. Because, really, most of this stuff is better left as pristine as possible. I mean, there's nothing better than popping a single, tart blueberry in your mouth, or stealing a ripe, earthy tomato from the bowl and eating it plain.

Two weeks ago, this meant starting with a gorgeous corn soup courtesy of Dorie Greenspan, and following that up with a giant salad ni├žoise and a buttermilk cake with mascarpone and berries. As far as no-cook meals go, this was on the more-cooking-than-not end of the scale. The soup was made ahead but had to be re-heated, the salad took lots of prep work, even though it was all super-easy, the tuna had to be seared just before eating, and the cake couldn't be assembled ahead of time.

Last night, though, I served what I think might just be the perfect summertime dinner party meal. We started things off with homemade gravlax - which meant, literally, zero cooking. You just cure the raw salmon in a salt/sugar/pepper/dill mixture, then serve it with a coffee and mustard flavored sauce.

Next up, Ina Garten's superlative gazpacho. A lot of chopping, but, again, no cooking. (And, as gazpacho goes, remarkably deep in flavor and perfectly imperfect in texture.) Ina swooped in to my rescue again for the main, which was her "summer garden pasta" - a big bowl of cherry tomatoes marinated for five hours in olive oil, garlic and basil, then tossed with hot capellini and grated parmesan. Yes, you have to cook the pasta, but since it's angel hair, it takes less than five minutes.

To cleanse our palates of all that garlic (12 cloves in all, between the gazpacho and the pasta), we had a small watermelon salad with basil and pickled jalapenos. Sweet, refreshing, but with a slow, savory burn on the tongue from the peppers. Then, finally, the piece de resistance - a ridiculously delicious tart loaded with four pints of blueberries, courtesy of the Gourmet Cookbook.

There's another benefit to this whole made ahead of time thing - you actually get to spend time with your guests. That might even be a bigger plus than not sweating bullets.


Tom Aarons said...

Love the colors and the clarity in your photos. They look brilliant!

Meg Blocker said...

Thanks, Tom!

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