Summer lunch with friends
Summer is the ideal time for entertaining. It is a pleasure and necessity to feed visiting friends and relatives “from away,” but sometimes it is just nice to spend a leisurely afternoon al fresco, entertaining local friends for lunch.
Such an idea sounds most relaxing and pleasant until you realize that without judicious planning and selection of a menu, you, the cook, is likely to spend an inordinate amount of nonrelaxing time in preparation. There is the option of take-out food, but while useful for filling in gaps for your menu, it defeats the purpose of a homestyle get-together.
Recently, I had to come up with such a plan and menu and it seems worth sharing. The recipes will feed 6-8 persons, but any leftovers can be easily saved for another day.
This is best prepared the afternoon before, since it allows the flavors to blend and chill the freshly chopped vegetables.
Peel 1 or 2 large cucumbers in strips leaving some of the rind intact, halve lengthwise, remove the seeds only if cucumbers are very mature, and cut in large chunks. Cut one 8-inch zucchini into chunks. In a 3-quart pot, saute 1 roughly chopped medium onion and 2 stalks celery in 1 tbsp. olive oil for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 minced garlic cloves, and after 1 minute add 3 cups chicken broth and ½ tsp. ground thyme. Bring to boil; add 1 peeled diced potato and the cucumber and zucchini pieces. Continue to cook for 15 minutes, adding ¼ cup each chopped Italian parsley and celery tops during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Allow to cool and puree the mixture in a blender with 2 tbsp. white vinegar and 2-3 cups plain yogurt. Remove to a bowl and stir in 1 diced medium red or orange seeded pepper, 1 cup diced tomato, 1 unpeeled small young cucumber diced, 3 thinly sliced scallions with their green tops, ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley, and ½ cup slivered almonds. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or room temperature garnished with chopped chives and bread sticks on the side. It will keep refrigerated for a couple of days.
Fresh peach-pecan pie
Pie always makes a welcome desert, and once baked, requires no last-minute preparation. Peaches are just coming into season and provide an excellent seasonal treat. Blanch, peel, and slice 4-5 cups of peaches in a large bowl. Line a 9-inch pie plate with premade crust. Sprinkle the crust with 2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup sugar with 2 ½ tbsp. corn starch and sprinkle ¼ of this mixture on top of the bread crumbs and toss the peaches with the remainder. Toss the peaches again with ½ cup pecan halves cut in half, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and grated lemon rind. Turn peach mixture in the pie dish, dot with 1 tbsp. butter, and top with the top crust, crimping the edges of the crust tightly. Cut vents in top crust. Sprinkle crust lightly with nutmeg and place in a 450-degree F. preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 30 minutes until the juice bubbles up from the vents. Cool on a rack and serve warm or cold with or without ice cream.
European-style open sandwiches complete this simple soup and dessert menu. They are unusual and decorative enough to grace any table. Start with cocktail rye and a baguette sliced in angled slices for basics. For a luncheon like this, I spread cream cheese on the cocktail rye and butter the baguette. To complete the palette, individual slices were topped with: 1) slices of smoked salmon topped with a sliver of red onion, capers, and fresh dill; 2) thin hard salami slices with a dill pickle slice; 3) (on baguette) a slice of Gouda cheese topped with half of a cherry tomato. The variety of these colorful sandwiches arranged on a plate and tucked in with a few nasturtiums completes the relaxed visual atmosphere of the luncheon.
Summer luncheons accompanied with a bottle of white or rose wine and iced tea are to be treasured at this time of the year.
(I. Winicov Harrington lives in Waldoboro. She is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)