Summer Al Fresco Dining

Simple recipes to enjoy in the great outdoors

By Amanda Garrigus

Ah summer. We love your languid, long days. The sun, the heat, the al fresco dining. Eating outdoors is a staple of the season, so get your picnic blanket, whip up a few of these simple dishes, and find a lovely spot to throw down and kick back.

French Potato Salad

Here’s a throwback that fell out of favor for a few years, mainly thanks to the abundance of mayo employed in the classic, American recipe. This version, from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, borrows from the French and is flavorful and filling without being saturated in the eggy condiment.

Serves 4 to 6
1-pound small white boiling potatoes
1-pound small red boiling potatoes
2 tablespoons good dry white wine
2 tablespoons chicken stock
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
10 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

Drop the white and red potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in half (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Perfect Herbed Grilled Chicken

This recipe, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s second cookbook, It’s All Good, is simple and delicious, and never better than when grilled outdoors.

Serves 4

1 teaspoon very, very finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon very, very finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon very, very finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon very, very finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon very, very finely chopped fresh basil
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to barely 1/4 inch thick

Combine the herbs, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the chicken breasts to the bowl and rub the herb mixture all over each piece, being sure to get it on both sides. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour, or overnight.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium heat. Grill the chicken until just cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side.

Kachumbari Salad

A fresh, simple tomato salad is a staple of the summer table. This one comes courtesy of Craig Kielburger, human rights activist and co-founder of the WE movement. He shared this Kenyan recipe in one of our all-time favorite cookbooks, Share: The cookbook that celebrates our common humanity.

Serves 4

1-pound firm and ripe tomatoes sliced and diced
1 – 1 1/2 red onions very thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 chile, sliced (optional)
1 – 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place tomatoes into a medium salad bowl with the onions. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir in the chile, if using. Season and gradually add the lemon or lime juice to taste.
Cook’s tip: If you prefer a mild onion flavor, rinse the onion slices in hot salty water before putting them in the salad. This will ensure the onion is less harsh on the palate. Squeeze the lemon or lime juice into the salad just before serving to avoid sogginess. If the tomato and onion are chopped more finely, this recipe also works well as a homemade salsa.

Garden Lettuce Salad

To call this salad simple would be an overstatement. It is so ridiculously basic, it’s almost embarrassing. But it’s also delicious and perfect. Alice Waters, the queen of simple cooking, shows us how it’s done in her seminal work The Art of Simple Food.

Serves 4

Carefully wash and dry 4 generous handfuls of lettuce. Mix together 1 garlic clove, pounded to a fine puree, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, salt, fresh-ground black pepper. Stir to dissolve the salt, taste, and adjust if needed. Whisk in 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil. Use a lettuce leaf to taste the vinaigrette as you add the oil. Put the lettuce in a large bowl, add about three quarters of the vinaigrette, toss, and taste. Add more dressing as needed. Serve immediately.

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