One of the very special delights between May and September is being able to move dinners, with family and friends, to the outdoors.
Leaves rustling and a cool breeze, grass pokes at your toes and as dusk rolls in candles light up everyone’s face to the backdrop of enchanted forests and dunes.
Tonight’s dinner is at an old converted barn in East Hampton with nearly everything built by hand. The home is a masterful display of wood craftsmanship.
For this summer’s eve, candles are lit on a long wooden table set in the lawn. It is relaxed, traditional and timeless, almost nostalgic, epitomizing Americana.
The mix and match of chairs and benches is eclectic, yet informal. Benches allow people to cozy right up to each other for a night of laughs and great conversation.
Choose a cocktail to begin the evening. I like this Spiced Pear Prosecco Cocktail from talented New York City chef Diana Yen’s book A Simple Feast, one of my favorite cookbooks we keep prominently shelved in our house for constant inspiration.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups pear nectar
- 4 star anise, plus 12 for garnish
- 4 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Two 750-ml bottles Prosecco, chilled
Instructions: In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, pear nectar, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer. For 10 minutes, or until the liquid thicken to a syrup. Remove from the heat and steep for 20 minutes for the flavors to infuse. Strain the syrup through a sieve into a jar and discard the spices. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. The syrup can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. To make the cocktails, fill each glass with ¼ cup pear syrup, top off with Prosecco, and drop in a star anise for garnish.
In summertime I recommend having a salad as big as your main. Let your guests fill up their plates to their liking. I turn to one of my favorite cookbooks, The Kinfolk Table, for our dinner parties and after a day soaking in the sun, the cucumber fennel salad is refreshing with complex undertones of licorice from the fennel for a full flavor. It’s a perfect complement to the anise in the evening’s cocktail.
Photo credit: Hope and Organic
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 1 to 2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Here on the East End we have incredible access to seafood. Choose some clams from a local spot like Stuart’s Seafood Market and make an American take on the Italian classic, spaghetti alle vongole. It’s light, simple and good for groups. There are plenty of recipes out there – here is one from Bon Appétit that looks tasty – make sure you have dry white wine, parsley and red chili pepper on hand as those are staples to the dish.
Lastly, it’s time to satiate everyone’s sweet tooth. Nearly two years after we first made it, people still request one of my evening favorites: vanilla, lavender, sea salt and Earl Grey chocolate pudding – thanks to The Kinfolk Table again.
- 1 tablespoon loose Earl Grey tea
- 1 tablespoon dried edible lavender flowers
- ¼ cup boiling water
- 10 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Sea salt
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Instructions: Steep the tea and lavender in the water for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Press on the solids to release any liquid, then discard the solids. Add the chocolate and vanilla to the tea mixture, stirring until the chocolate begins to melt. Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and immediately pour it into the chocolate mixture, stirring until completely melted and smooth. Stir in 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Pour the mixture into 4 to 6 ramekins or coffee cups. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto each of the pudding surfaces and refrigerate for about 2 hours or until chilled and set. To serve, tip with lightly sweetened whipped cream and spring with dried lavender and sea salt.
Serves 4 to 6
Of course, the East End is home to some fabulous bakeries with mouthwatering goodies. Check out Round Swamp Farm in East Hampton for their rhubarb crumble, lemon pound cake, or basically everything they make will be a hit.
If you would like to try more of the recipes here check out:
Yen, Diana and The Jewels of New York. A Simple Feast: A Year of Stories & Recipes to Savor & Share. Boston & London: Roost Books, 2014.
Williams, Nathan. The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings. New York: Artisan, 2013.