Garden Party | Dine Al Fresco on Flavors of Spring

The warm days and evenings of spring make it perfect for outdoor entertaining. One secret to gatherings al fresco is to serve mostly room-temperature or chilled foods that allow for prepping in advance. This menu is simple yet elegant and uses a bounty of seasonal produce. With recipes this easy, you can put a little extra effort into your ambiance. Just because you’re dining outside doesn’t mean you can’t set a beautiful table with your best china and linens. Tea lights scattered down the center of the table with flowers from your garden or sprigs of greenery complete the garden party theme. 

CHERRY TOMATO AND MOZZARELLA BRUSCHETTA (serves 8)
A family favorite, the fresh herbs and tomatoes combine with creamy, melty mozzarella for a bright, fresh start to any spring or summer menu. Unlike other tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are usually high quality in all seasons, but feel free to substitute chopped tomatoes if you happen to have juicy, vine-ripened ones.

  • 1 loaf ciabatta bread
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 green onions, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 8-10 ounces bocconcini mozzarella 
  • Salt and pepper
  • Balsamic glaze for drizzle, if desired
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice bread into ½-inch slices and place on a baking sheet. Brush tops of each slice generously with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss tomatoes, green onions, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and bocconcini until evenly coated.

Once bread slices are warmed, top each with bocconcini mixture. Return bread to the oven for 6-8 minutes to warm and soften the mozzarella.

Remove from oven and drizzle each slice with a little olive oil and balsamic glaze. Sprinkle with chopped basil, salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

ROASTED ARTICHOKES WITH CAESAR DIP (serves 6)
March through May is the season to roast, steam, stuff and enjoy artichokes. This is the easiest method I’ve tried, and the sauce will make your tastebuds sing. You can make the sauce a few days ahead and roast the artichokes the morning of your party. They can then be refrigerated and reheated in a 350-degree oven, covered with foil, for about 15 minutes, until warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  • 3 globe artichokes
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Heat oven to 425 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Rinse artichokes and dry with a paper towel. Trim stems and cut 1/4 inch off each top. Use kitchen shears to cut off the tip of each leaf. Use hands to loosen leaves to open up artichokes. Slice artichokes in half vertically and use a small knife to cut out fuzzy centers and purple leaves. Place artichoke halves on a baking sheet, squeeze the juice of half of 1 lemon on cut sides and rub lemon half over each to prevent excessive browning. Drizzle artichoke halves with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Flip artichokes and repeat with the other lemon half, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange artichokes cut sides down, cover with foil, and roast until golden brown and tender, 35 to 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt over garlic, and using a large knife, rub and scrape salt into garlic to make a paste. Transfer to a bowl. Finely grate the zest of remaining lemon into a bowl, then squeeze in juice (you should have at least 3 tablespoons). Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Stir in Parmesan. Serve with artichokes for dipping.

GRILLED SALMON SALAD (serves 4)
This is a wonderful, light and healthy salad. The salmon is delicious on its own as an entree and would be lovely paired with wild rice pilaf and roasted fresh asparagus. 

FOR THE SALMON 

  • 4 (4 ounces) salmon fillets 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

FOR THE SALAD 

  • 16 ounces mixed salad greens 
  • 12 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill weed 
  • 1/2 cup store-bought or homemade balsamic vinaigrette 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced 
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves 
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced 
  • TO GARNISH 
  • 4 lemon wedges 
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed 

For the salmon, place fillets in a shallow dish. Mix garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Season both sides of fillets with this mixture and brush evenly with the olive oil. Let stand for 30 minutes. 

Preheat a gas grill or charcoal grill until it reaches medium heat (350-375 degrees). Spray both sides of the salmon with nonstick cooking spray. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side or just until cooked through and beginning to flake. You can also grill the salmon a little before your guests arrive and keep warm in a 200-degree oven in a tightly covered dish until ready to serve. Alternatively, you can saute the salmon rather than grilling if you prefer. 

For the salad, combine mixed greens, Parmesan cheese and dill weed in a large bowl. Add balsamic vinaigrette and toss lightly to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon evenly onto four serving plates. 

Arrange onion, cherry tomatoes and cucumber over and around the salads and place 1 salmon fillet on each salad. Garnish salmon with a lemon wedge and additional chopped dill. 

STRAWBERRIES ROMANOFF (serves 8)
This is a luxurious dessert that will make your guests feel special, but is deceptively easy to prepare. The strawberry mixture can be made up to two days ahead, which makes it perfect for entertaining. Whip the cream a couple of hours before your guests arrive and it will keep until you fold in the sour cream and serve. Grand Marnier can be pricey if you buy a large bottle, so purchase a small airline-size bottle to save money if you don’t regularly use it. 

  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered 
  • 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier 
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar 
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 cup sour cream 
  • Fresh mint for garnish, if desired 

In a blender on high speed, puree about 1/4 of the strawberries with the Grand Marnier and granulated sugar, until smooth. 

In a medium bowl, combine cut strawberries and strawberry puree mixture, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, stirring once or twice. 

Before serving, in a large mixing bowl, combine cold whipping cream and confectioners’ sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. With a spatula, fold in sour cream just until well blended. 

To serve, stir strawberries and divide between 8 serving glasses or bowls. Spoon cream over strawberries, dividing evenly. Garnish with fresh mint. Enjoy right away or chill and serve within 2 hours of assembly.


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