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STYLE / SUMMER ENTERTAINING

Made in the Shade

Cook Ahead. Greet the Guests. Enjoy.

June 02, 1996|Barbara Thornburg BARBARA THORNBURG

One of summer's greatest pleasures is dining alfresco with family and friends. The trick, of course, is to pull it off without having a nervous breakdown. That means starting with a tempting menu, the simpler, the better. Here, we've selected a casual buffet from cookbook author Anna Thomas' latest, "The New Vegetarian Epicure," published by Alfred A. Knopf. Light and lean--with a hint of decadence for dessert--every dish can be prepared in advance and served leisurely at room temperature. What's more, many recipes--roasted green beans with tomato dressing, sage-seasoned white beans and marinated grilled eggplant--make the most of fresh herbs and vegetables you may be growing in your own garden. A frittata of chard and chopped parsley and a pasta tossed with fruity olive oil and basil, oregano and thyme will satisfy larger appetites. For nibblers, there's sun-dried tomato pesto to spread on crackers or bread. The more self-indulgent will appreciate ripe strawberries dipped in honey-sweetened mascarpone. So forget slaving over a hot grill. With a meal this easy, you'll feel like a guest at your own party.

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The following recipes, part of a menu for a simple summer buffet outdoors, are excerpted from "The New Vegetarian Epicure: Menus--With 325 All-New Recipes--for Family and Friends," written by Anna Thomas of Ojai and published last month by Alfred A. Knopf. Most of these dishes can be prepared in advance and may be served hot or warm. Unless otherwise noted, all serve 6 to 8 people or more in a buffet.

TUSCAN WHITE BEANS WITH GARLIC AND SAGE

1 pound small white beans

handful fresh sage leaves, or 2 tablespoons dried whole-leaf sage

1 head garlic, separated and peeled

3-4 tablespoons green olive oil

salt and pepper

Soak beans in cool water for a few hours or overnight. Drain beans and put in large, shallow skillet, with enough fresh water to cover by an inch. Add sage leaves, garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bring water to boil, then lower heat to simmer.

Allow beans to simmer until tender. Cooking time will vary depending on freshness. Do not stir more than two or three times, and then only gently with wooden spoon. If water evaporates, carefully add more.

Shortly before beans are done, when they are just becoming tender, add about 2 teaspoons of salt. When they are soft, and cooking water has become a savory broth, pour beans and broth into large shallow bowl. Drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, grind on black pepper and serve.

ROASTED GREEN BEAN SALAD

2 pounds thin, tender green beans

1 head garlic, separated and peeled

3 tablespoons green olive oil

salt and pepper

2 large, ripe red tomatoes

balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Wash and trim green beans, and separate and peel cloves of garlic. Reserve 1 small clove of garlic and toss remaining garlic and beans in bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, salt to taste and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread beans evenly over 2 baking sheets and roast at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Stir and turn beans at least once.

Roasting time will vary with size of beans. They are done when they have wrinkled and blistered and smell toasty.

While beans are roasting, peel tomatoes and chop, reserving juice. Mince reserved clove of garlic. Combine tomatoes, juice, garlic, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and basil. Crush to blend flavors.

When beans are ready, transfer to large shallow bowl and add tomato dressing. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

PASTA WITH OLIVE OIL AND FRESH HERBS

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/2 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

1/4 cup green olive oil

salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti or linguine

1 small clove garlic, minced, optional

Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts, or sliver of kalamata olives and red pepper flakes, optional

Combine chopped fresh herbs in large ceramic bowl with olive oil and salt and pepper. Add minced garlic to herbs if desired. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain and immediately toss with herbs and oil. Correct seasoning if needed, and serve.

This is delicious with grated Parmesan cheese and a few toasted pine nuts scattered over it. It's also nice with slivers of kalamata olives and red pepper flakes.

CHARD AND PARSLEY FRITTATA

1 medium onion (about a cup, chopped)

1 clove garlic

1 large potato

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

8-9 eggs

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped (packed)

pepper

2 1/2 cups Swiss chard, chopped (packed)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Chop onion, mince garlic and scrub potato and cut it into 1/4-inch dice. Heat olive oil in 12-inch skillet, preferably a non-stick type. Saute onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add potato and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Vegetables will start to brown.

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