Casual, local, and less-than-perfect is both 'green' and fun.
Ah, summertime. It's any nervous party host's favorite season: A more easygoing attitude toward entertaining accompanies the barefoot, balmy days of summer, allowing party planners to toss aside notions of Martha Stewart-like perfectionism for more relaxed spontaneity.Skip to next paragraph
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In other words, during the summer months, it's OK to keep it simple, real simple – and this year, especially, with a struggling economy, a pared-down approach is perhaps more acceptable than ever.
Grilling is hot, as everything from peaches to oysters are being put to the flames; hosts are serving more appetizer-only or tapas-style (Spanish for "small plates") menus; and potluck-style gatherings have morphed into what New York food consultant Clark Wolf calls "plotluck," where anything growing in one's own backyard is fair game for a shared dish.
"In high economic times, we feel guilty if we're not putting on the Ritz," says Mr. Wolf, "but when things are down, we feel all right about getting more earthy, more comfy, and, in a sense, rediscovering our culinary roots.
"At the same time," he adds, "we're not slumming it."
On Martha's Vineyard, where Cathy Walthers has catered parties for the past nine summers, her clients are definitely not "slumming it," but they are relishing the more relaxed tone that pervades summer parties. What she calls "easy appetizers" are perhaps more in demand than ever, as hosts want to stay out of the kitchen and mingle with their guests. Over the years, Ms. Walthers, also a cookbook author, has amassed a huge collection of recipes for this darling of the summer-party circuit.
Some of her most popular appetizers are fruit skewers made by threading together strawberries, blueberries, melon, and feta cheese. She also likes to roast figs with extra-virgin olive oil and then serve them warm with a drizzling of balsamic vinegar or maple syrup. Or she might drench rounds of goat cheese in a mixture of olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, basil, and salt and pepper.
Summer is also prime time for shortcuts, and even Walthers is not averse to buying takeout now and then. "These days, cheese departments include much more than cheese," she says. "If I find a good spread or an artichoke dip, for example, I'll serve that instead of making my own."
One of her most-requested recipes is a variation on guacamole that's made with edamame instead of avocados. Walthers stumbled upon "Hip Dip" in Didi Emmons's cookbook "Entertaining for a Veggie Planet," which Walthers also heeds for its tips – both philosophical and practical – about casual entertaining.
Eat this stylish, guacamole-like dip with sturdy tortilla chips or dense whole-grain bread sliced into triangles.
16 ounces frozen, shelled (podless) edamame
3/4 cup fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 small, skinny chile peppers, minced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (juice of 2 limes)
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons water
Lime slices for garnish (optional)
Place the frozen edamame in a colander and rinse under hot running water until they are mostly thawed, about 30 seconds.
In a food processor, coarsely purée the edamame and the remaining ingredients with 2 tablespoons water, leaving some chunks. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and, if you like, place lime slices on the sides of the bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within a few hours.
Makes 3-1/2 cups.
Source: ‘Entertaining for a Veggie Planet,’ by Didi Emmons