One of my favorite parts of summer is when friends head over on the weekend for a visit which always includes a long and leisurely lunch. Although I don’t always serve the same exact things, through experience I’ve come up with a menu plan that works by following a few guidelines:
1. Make things that don’t require a lot of time at the stove and away from your guests.
2. Make things that can be eaten at room temperature and still taste delicious. And I always try and have a fresh jar of pesto (on this occasion it was one made with swiss chard and walnuts) in the fridge so I can put it out on the table for scooping out to dress string beans or slather on bread.
3. Even though you’re keeping things simple, still consider the tastes of your guests so that you have something that pleases everyone: the meat eater, the experimenting vegan, the 4 year old bread and cheese fanatic, etc.
4. Use the opportunity to use up all of the CSA and farmer’s market booty taking up real estate in your fridge. Because nobody will mind a selection of four salads to choose from.
5. A lot of the time, friends may have skipped breakfast or lunch in an attempt to get to your place on time (and also in anticipation of a delicious meal that surely you will be making!) So always have a cutting board out on the kitchen counter or porch coffee table laden with things for nibbling while food is being made. I usually do crusty bread, a few very nice cheeses, maybe some cashews, or guacamole, sliced radishes, etc. Sometimes just having a bowl of washed veggies like sungold tomatoes or string beans out on the counter invites happy snacking.
6. Don’t forget the tipples, but don’t over complicate things (unless your some kind of ninja mixologist). I learned this the hard way after one extremely time consuming experience pressing pounds of blackberries through cheese cloth to make some crazy-ass drink that turned my hands purple for a week. Now I just serve prosecco and lots of it.
7. And the easiest thing in the world to make? Sausage! I learned this after attending a summer dinner party at the house of my friend Melissa Hamilton, the co-author of the Canal House Books. When everyone had just arrived she put out a platter of plain grilled sausages that I think she had gotten at Shop Rite. They were so good and just right for eating on a lawn chair, people devoured them in minutes. Recently I grilled some slightly fancier chicken sausages from Griggstown Farm made with garlic, parsley, and white wine, but almost any decent sausage grilled very crispy on the outside will make people happy.
8. And for dessert, I think a bowl of ripe fruit or chilled watermelon slices is always good in a pinch, but my go-to this time of year is a peach crisp, topped with an almond crumble and if you’re feeling fancy, some vanilla ice cream.
So what are your favorite summer lunch tricks and dishes?