Monday, August 8, 2011

the no-cook dinner party

Other than a pan of brownies that we absolutely could not go on living without, I have hardly turned on the oven all summer. It's been limiting, but also kind of nice not producing workout-levels of sweat while cooking. Instead, we've been eating a lot of salads, pastas, and the usual tacos. And then I invited some friends over for dinner on a typical 90 degree day and wondered what the heck I was going to do.

I thought about breaking my no-oven rule, but then I looked at it as a fun challenge. What could I make without heat that would be dinner party-worthy?

Readers, I did it. And it was good.

I decided to make a few small courses, and do as much ahead in advance. I hate spending most of the party in and out of the kitchen, and the surprising bonus of a no-cook menu is that it frees you up to hang out with everyone. And the whole menu, six dishes in total, only took about three hours to cook and prep.

When figuring out a dinner party menu, I usually start with the main course and then work my way out to starters and dessert. In this case, I knew I wanted to buy a rotisserie chicken and make a nice salad with shredded chicken, vegetables, and a pesto-yogurt dressing. Light and fresh, not to mention so easy to toss together and throw in the fridge. Also, have you noticed that rotisserie chickens cost almost the same price (or less!) than uncooked whole birds? We live in a weird world.

On the side, I served a salad that's been in heavy rotation at our house (in fact, I am pretty sure Dan is sick of it): peaches, mozzarella, and arugula. It's kind of like a sweet version of a Caprese salad and so delicious when peaches are in season.
You might be wondering if I made gazpacho, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about cold food. And yeah, of course I made gazpacho. Cliche, I know. But it's summer, it's tomato season, so what better time to break out your blender and make tomato soup? To cut the acidity of the tomatoes, I topped the cold little glasses of gazpacho with spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt (the ingredient I put in everything these days), some crunchy fresh corn kernels, and a few slices of avocado. It's amazing how garnishes can make something typical seem fresh.

Sometimes I overthink these meals--is chicken salad too boring? Is gazpacho too expected? But when your ingredients are good, why not keep things simple and save yourself the stress? And make things ahead, and turn off the stove more often. Maybe all of the things that prevent people from entertaining at home aren't even important after all.

No-Cook Summer Dinner
Boozy watermelon
Avocado-yogurt dip
Gazpacho with corn and avocado
Arugula with peaches and mozzarella
Chicken salad with pesto, artichokes and tomatoes
Fizzy sorbet

Tomato gazpacho
(Serves 6 to 8)

6 tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 small garlic clove
4 oz. blanched almonds, toasted
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup diced avocado
1/3 fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Puree the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, almonds, tomato paste, vinegar, oil and pepper (to taste) in a blender until very smooth. Pour the mixture into a sealable container and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Just before serving, add salt to taste. Pour it into small bowls or glasses and top with the diced avocado, corn kernels and a spoonful of yogurt. Drizzle with olive oil.

Arugula, peach and mozzarella salad
To make this salad a main dish, add grilled chicken or slices of prosciutto.
(Serves 6 to 8)

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
6 cups arugula
3 peaches, thinly sliced
3 oz. fresh mozzarella balls, quartered

In a large bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, vinegar and honey until combined. Slowly stream in the olive oil, whisking until it is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the arugula, sliced peaches and mozzarella to the bowl, and toss gently so they are coated with the vinaigrette. Serve, dividing the salad into equal portions.

Pesto chicken salad with tomatoes, artichokes and olivesA store-bought rotisserie chicken makes this a snap to assemble. I've added marinated artichoke hearts and halved cherry tomatoes, but you could also toss in roasted potatoes, or any other vegetable you like.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

3 handfuls of basil leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 3 to 3 1/2 lb. rotisserie chicken, shredded into bite-sized pieces
12 oz. jarred marinated artichoke hearts, halved
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes), halved
1/2 cup sliced Kalamata olives

In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts and basil. Pulse until pureed. Pour in the olive oil gradually, pulsing with each addition until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the pesto into a small bowl and stir in the Greek yogurt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the shredded chicken, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and olives. Pour on the pesto-yogurt dressing and toss gently until combined. Store in the refrigerator before serving, for up to three days.


Unknown said...

I've got a ton of mozzarella hanging in my fridge right now, that salad sounds enticing.

Daniel said...

Sick of mozz-and-peaches salad? Hardly! I think we can all agree, it all depends on the peaches.

Lisa said...

Tender Branson: Do it! So good.

Daniel: Okay, then--we're having it again tonight! (But yes, you need perfect peaches for it to be really awesome)

Nikki said...

The peach salad sounds amazing. I'm trying to make as many summer dishes as I can in these last days of the season. This is going on the list.


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