Summer entertaining in its simplest form uses a big bowl approach. Large bowls of elegant serve-your-own food located within easy reach make casual gatherings easy for the cook and fun for guests. Put the food on the table and invite the guests to eat. Just relax.
An example? Hummus garnished with a savory Mediterranean-style concoction of herbs and olives, cucumbers and toasted seeds, is perfect for dipping toasted pita chips. Another winner is a plate of eye-catching roasted summer vegetables. The vegetables are delicious on their own, but when used on toasted slabs of sourdough bread spread with soft herb cheese, the combination becomes irresistible.
Serve the tasty gazpacho in a large pitcher (not for pouring, just to look pretty) or in a large glass or ceramic jar. Provide cups and a long-handled ladle. Guests can serve their portion in a glass and garnish to their liking with a couple of toasted tortilla strips, a lime wedge, and celery leaves. If you like, you can pre-rim the glasses with a savory mixture of seasoned salt and coarse salt, anchored on the rim with a swirl of lime juice.
A selection of cheeses and laminated and/or dried fruits, arranged on a board or platter, could complete the meal. For a self-service bar, provide a chilled bottle of Rosé, plus mineral water and ice water with lemon.
Roasted summer vegetables
Cookbook author Ina Garten says that even in summer, it’s easier to roast vegetables in the oven than to grill them. They’re scrumptious on their own, but for a big bowl gathering, I like to provide toasted slabs of sourdough bread and soft cheese spread and then top with roasted vegetables. Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs works well, as does Trader Joe’s Creamy Goat’s Milk Cheese.
Yield: 6 servings
2 medium zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow or orange bell pepper
1 fresh fennel bulb
1 small red onion
2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic, about 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
To serve large bowl style: Thickly sliced sourdough bread, olive oil, soft cheese with garlic and herbs such as Boursin,
1. Adjust the oven racks, one in the lower middle and one in the bottom position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Trim ends of zucchini and slice diagonally into 3/4-inch-thick slices. (The slices may look large, but they will shrink.) Cut bell peppers lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch-wide slices, discarding core and seeds. Trim the fennel stems and cut the bulb through the center into 1-inch wedges. (Cutting out the center keeps the pieces intact.) Peel onion and slice into 1/4-inch-thick slices, leaving slices intact.
3. Arrange vegetables in groups on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, add garlic and toss gently, making sure vegetables are all lightly coated with oil. Divide the vegetables between two rimmed baking sheets, making sure they are in a single layer and still bunched together. If they are too full, they will be steamed instead of grilled. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place a few sprigs of thyme on top. Roast 15 minutes. Flip each piece over; change and rotate the positions of the pans in the oven. Grill an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are crisp-tender. Sprinkle with extra kosher salt and serve warm or at room temperature, arranged in groups on a large plate.
4. If desired, serve with toasted sourdough bread and soft cheese. Guests are invited to spread cheese on toast and top with roasted vegetables of their choice. For the vegan version, simply top the toast with roasted vegetables or offer a vegan cheese.
Font: Adapted from “Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35)
Hummus with Herb Salad Dressing, Cucumber and Olives
This salad-like topping is one of my favorite ways to top hummus. If you’re looking for an easier approach, the garnish can be as simple as a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sumac, smoked paprika, or za’atar. Coarsely chopped Marcona almonds are tasty, as are toasted pine nuts.
Yield: about 8 servings
3 to 4 cups store-bought or homemade hummus; follow the recipe
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber (such as Persian), unpeeled, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon pepitas, toasted; see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds; see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted; see cook’s notes
pita chips, homemade or store-bought; follow the recipe
Cook’s Notes: Most of the time I buy roasted and salted sunflower seeds and pips. If you buy raw sunflower seeds and/or nuggets, toast them by placing them on a rimmed baking sheet and lightly toasting them in a 350-degree oven for about 3 minutes. To toast the sesame seeds, place them in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Shake mango to redistribute seeds while lightly toasting; Keep an eye on them because they burn easily. Remove the seeds from the pan as soon as they turn light brown.
1. Spread hummus in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, gently toss together the parsley, dill, olives, cucumber, oil, and juice. Season with salt to taste. Spoon over hummus. Sprinkle pepitas, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Serve with pita chips to use as dips.
Source: Adapted from “Boards” by American Test Kitchen (American Test Kitchen, $30)
This easy hummus recipe comes from the “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” cookbook by Mark Bittman. He likes to have hummus for breakfast, accompanied by carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and whole wheat toast. I’ve doubled your hummus recipe here to make enough to serve large bowl style topped with herb salad and olives.
Yield: 8 servings
4 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons of tahini; see cook’s notes
1/3 cups fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground paprika or ground cumin (or both)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
Cook’s Notes: Tahini is a paste made from ground and hulled sesame seeds. It is sold in health food stores and supermarkets with large specialty sections. Stir well before measuring.
1. Combine chickpeas, oil, tahini, juice, paprika (and/or cumin), and salt in a food processor. Puree until very smooth, adding a little chickpea liquid if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Font: Adapted from “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” by Mark Bittman (Clarkson Potter, $26)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
4 pita breads (8 inches), white or whole grain
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut around the perimeter of each pita bread and separate into 2 thin circles.
2. Working 1 round at a time, brush rough side generously with oil and sprinkle with salt. Stack rounds on top of each other, rough side up, as you go. Using a knife, cut the stack of pita into 8 wedges. Spread wedges, rough side up and in a single layer, on 2 rimmed baking sheets.
3. Bake until wedges are golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes, changing and rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cool before serving. Pita chips can be stored at room temperature for up to three days.
Font: Adapted from “Boards” by American Test Kitchen (American Test Kitchen, $30)
Yield: About 8 servings (8 ounces)
1 medium greenhouse cucumber, unpeeled, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely diced (reserve leaves for garnish)
1/2 medium sweet onion or red onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely chopped
4 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced; see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
32 ounces of tomato juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
freshly ground black pepper
As needed to adjust seasoning: optional hot sauce and seasoned salt
Optional Garnish: Celery leaves, lime wedges, toasted tortilla strips, see cook’s notes
Optional for coating rims of glasses: 2 tablespoons seasoned salt mixed with 2 tablespoons coarse salt, fresh lime juice to moisten rims of glasses
To serve: glasses, ladle
Cook’s Notes: Be careful when working with fresh chiles; wash work surface thoroughly when finished and DO NOT touch face or eyes. To make toasted tortilla strips, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut 3 corn tortillas into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Place on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven and bake until crisp and lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
1. In a nonreactive container, such as glass or ceramic, combine all ingredients except seasonings and optional garnishes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Cover and refrigerate overnight or about 8 hours. Stir and taste. Adjust seasoning as needed.
2. If you want to add condiments to the rims of the glasses, place the salt mixture in one saucer and the lime juice in another. Dip the rim of each glass in lime juice, then in the salt mixture. Serve gazpacho in each glass or have guests serve themselves. Garnish glasses with celery leaves, lime wedges, and two tortilla strips.
Font: “Melissa’s Daily Organic Cookery” by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95)
Kitchen question? Contact Cathy Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org