Warm Weather Food for Dining Al Fresco
Sunshine + good company = a great opportunity for al fresco dining!If the sun is shining and you want to eat outside-without too much hassle and preparation-the secret is to keep it simple: freshly-prepared quality food with eye (and stomach) appeal. Use foods with cool colours, firm textures and an overall light ‘crisp’ look. (Al fresco dining is not a time for stodgy stuff.)
The food you serve doesn’t have to be barbequed or include bowls of limp-looking lettuce. Try mixing a few good quality dishes that are simple to put together-with tasty accompaniments-then you’ll have time to enjoy the party atmosphere too.If your al fresco meal is an impromptu affair, invite some close friends and ask them to contribute a dish or two, themselves-that’s a great way of sharing the workload and extending the menu! (Not to mention spreading the cost.)
For the planned-in-advance type of al fresco dining, stick with light foods and keep the menu simple; one fish dish, one chicken dish, one rice or couscous, pasta or potato salad, bowls of small firm tomatoes and mixed olives for colour and one or two fruit desserts.
A cold meat platter, basket of fresh bread rolls and a selection of chutneys may be included. It’s better to provide a small number of well prepared and attractive dishes-that go well together-than a large quantity of mismatched bits and pieces. Much less hassle for the host too!
Salade Nicoise (for 6 people)This has so many variations but they all include the same basics. Adapt your salad to suit the tastes of your company.
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 225g French beans
- 350g firm tomatoes
- 100-125g tin tuna
- 4 salad onions
- 50g small black olives-pitted
- 1 firm lettuce
- Small jar anchovy fillets
MethodShell the hard-boiled eggs then cut them into quarters.Trim the tops and tails from the beans, wash them thoroughly, then, boil in lightly salted water for 5-6 minutes. Drain immediately and leave to cool.
Wash and quarter the tomatoes (remove skins if you wish)Trim and wash the salad onions then slice them thinly.Wash and dry the lettuce then shred it by hand.
For the Dressing
- 8 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Half a teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper
- Add either 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, chopped parsley, tomato paste and paprika, or caster sugar to this basic dressing to complement different dishes.
Whisk all the ingredients together or put them in an empty, clean jam jar. Put the lid on, and shake the ingredients together.Place half the dressing in a shallow bowl. Gently toss the lettuce and beans in the dressing. Next, add the drained tuna (flake this with a fork to separate it) and anchovy fillets, olives and onions. Arrange the tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs around the salad, then, sprinkle the remaining dressing over it.
Al Fresco Chicken PieThis is best made the day before so the liquid jellifies and the flavours mellow together. Preheat the oven to 190C.
- 1 chicken, skinned and boned (your butcher will do this for you. Alternatively, use skinless chicken breasts)
- 3-4 rindless bacon rashers, cut into strips
- 1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 100g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
- 2 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- One 225g packet shortcrust pastry
- 1-2 tablespoons cold water mixed with 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce in a small pouring jug.
- Beaten egg or milk for pastry glaze
MethodFlatten the chicken slightly with a rolling pin.In a deep pie dish, place a layer of chicken in the base, then sit the shelled, whole, hard-boiled eggs in the middle of the dish. Add the onion, mushrooms, bacon and parsley in layers.
Next, season the layers with a good shake of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Roll out the pastry and cover the pie dish with it. Use a small sharp knife to make a hole in the centre of the pastry lid. Slowly pour the water/soy sauce mix into the pie.Decorate the pie as you fancy and brush with beaten egg or a little milk.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes-until the pastry looks golden and firm.Leave to cool overnight and slice the cold pie as required.Enjoy the food, the company and the sunshine!