Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Al Fresco-ing the Night Away

Nothing says summer like plastic tableware. Maybe flies and bees buzzing around the food, but plastic tableware practically screams the need to Al Fresco (OK, small child’s birthday parties too, but hey!).

Iridescent lime green plastic plates. Matching forks and knives. Garish paper napkins. All laid out evenly on a somewhat wobbly, not too clean, wooden table set under shady trees.

With a touch of breeze now and then to puff away some of the heat and give a chill to that damp streak dripping down your back.

The keys to success are to avoid super thermally hot foods (plastic meltdown, plus possible guest meltdown), avoid soupy or overly sauced foods (unless you have those plastic plates with the little raised compartments, like frozen TV dinners come on), and avoid hard to cut foods (those little plastic knives have their limits).

Some simple guidelines that leave a lot of room for the chef.

We Al Fresco-ed the other night (it is a verb, isn’t it?). Just in the back yard. After working up an appetite in the pool (did I mention that the food should be pool water compatible as well, i.e. chlorine tolerant?).

We turned off the virtually non-stop reruns of Seinfeld for a few hours (TeenBoy can recite entire episodes on cue). Turned off some lights and the fan. Saved some electricity. Brushed off the leaves and spider webs from the old wood table and plastic chairs.

And we Al Fresco-ed the night away. At a loss for things to do between bites of food, we broke down and actually talked on occasion. To each other (who are these people?! Yikes?!).

We could hear some of the TVs from the neighbors (Seinfeld), plus a few different types of music, wafting over the fence. So it was really almost like a normal evening, just a little quieter. TeenBoy recited a few lines from George or Jerry as we recognized which Seinfeld episode we could hear. And songs were alternately diss-ed or lauded as we were able to make out the tunes and lyrics from the jumble of sounds. Some hard house tunes from an upstairs window, and something more from the early 70s (?!) from the neighbors (chortle).

To Al Fresco is one of those terms that sounds a bit more haughty than it is. Al Fresco is really just a fancy way of saying to picnic, as in I Al Fresco, he Al Frescos, we are all Al Fresco-ing (see? simple! you just have to know how to use it), with an implication of chilled white wine instead of Kool-Aid.

We made a few things earlier in the morning. Let the flavors fuse while chilling in the fridge. And just had the salmon to cook that evening. That left a stress-free evening with minimal clean-up. Optimal for enjoying the height of summer!

And, of course, we saved the plastic plates and tableware for the next time - gotta’ recycle! Plus, who knows when we would ever find such hideously wonderful Al Fresco accoutrements again!

The following recipes are based on recipes from the July 2006 issues of Gourmet magazine, with liberal modifications by me, and make a great Al Fresco menu!

Pan Roasted Salmon with Compound Lime Butter
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

2 pounds salmon fillet, divided into 4 equal pieces
olive oil
compound lime butter
Lime slices, for garnish, if desired

Pre-heat oven to 250ºF.

In an ovenproof iron skillet, heat olive oil until hot. Sautee salmon fillets skin side up until lightly browned. Turn, and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Place skillet in oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until cooked to desired degree of doneness. Serve with a tablespoon of lime butter, and a fer slices of lime for garnish, if desired. Enjoy!

Compound Lime Butter

1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, pepper

Melt butter. In a blender or food processor, add garlic, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. With motor running, add melted butter in a stream, processing until emulsified. Remove to a small bowl, and chill.

Roasted Corn Salad with Summer Herbs
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

6 ears of corn
olive oil
1 cup mixed chopped herbs (basil, thyme, sage, savory, parsley, etc.)
3-4 tbsp lime butter

Cut kernels of corn from cob. Toss kernels in a little olive oil and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast corn under broiler, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn, until many of the kernels are well browned, and the corn is softened. Remove to a large bowl, and let cool somewhat. Toss corn with butter and herbs. Serve. Enjoy!

French Beans and Arugula Salad
Serves 4

2 pounds French green beans, trimmed
olive oil
2 coves garlic, sliced thin
1 large bunch fresh arugula
zest from one lemon

Toss the beans and garlic with the olive oil. Place the beans on a baking pan in a single layer. Roast in a hot oven (400ºF) for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add arugula and lemon zest, stir well, and roast an additional 2-3 minutes, or until arugula is just wilted. Remove to a bowl, and season with salt and pepper.

Capellini Pasta with Salsa Fresca
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4

1 pound dried capellini pasta
3 pounds assorted tomatoes (roma, cherry, etc.), chopped roughly
juice from ½ a lemon
1 tsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste with 1 tsp salt
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt, pepper

In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, garlic and salt paste. Let marinate together for ½ hour.

Cook pasta according to package directions until just al dente. Drain pasta, and add directly to tomato mixture. Toss gently but thoroughly. Add basil and toss gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

You can eat this warm, but I liked it better after it had chilled for a few hours and the flavors had combined. Plus the tomatoes gave up some of their liquid, which the pasta immediately soaked up, again enhancing the entire dish.

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6:23 AM  
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10:55 AM  

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