Summer celebrations call for cool, refreshing and versatile wine cocktails and punches.
Any excuse for a party is a good excuse—a national holiday, a personal holiday, a snowstorm, fall foliage, friends in from out of town, or anything else that comes to mind. But summer provides more party opportunities than other seasons because the great outdoors is on your doorstep, and space for guests to mingle is multiplied. Whether you choose daytime, dusk or evening, a fête for a dozen good friends, a massive "bash" for a hundred, or something in between, wise party hosts will limit the food and beverage menus to choices that allow them time and energy to enjoy their guests' company.
Experience has taught us that presenting a variety of wine mixers, in addition to sodas, juices and water, rather than offering a full bar, can easily please everyone in any group. Wine-based drinks enhance most any menu's flavors and suit any palate. Further, serve-yourself punches or pour-it-yourself premade mixers can make doling out the drinks a low-maintenance job. Indeed, the do-ahead factor is key to easy entertaining.
Here we offer two different options for summertime parties. The menu for the first one is sophisticated, and the theme no more involved than to relax and enjoy. The theme and menu for the second—Christmas in July—may strike you as a wee bit silly (to which we say, bah, humbug!). Both are suited for groups of any size and can be dressed up or down, depending on the time of day and occasion. Both can be fine-tuned for a supercasual day-long-and-into-the-night bacchanal for scores of friends, or for more intimate occasions. What both menus have in common are zingy, summery, wine-based drinks and easy-to-eat (and prepare) finger foods that allow your guests to nosh and nibble without being too full to jump in the pool.
Sophisticated & Casual Entertaining is in the Sutter sisters' blood: Lesley Sutter is a private chef, and Deberah Sutter consults with restaurateurs and caters. Lesley, who works in the mid-Hudson Valley, and Deberah, who toils in trendy Bellport, Long Island, both credit their mother, and the cuisine-centric San Francisco Bay area where they grew up, for their talents with food. The Sutters' party menu is geared to a summertime casual affair, but it can easily be dressed up for a more formal occasion.
La Provençale, Berry Wine Spritzers
10 ripe apricots, stoned
2 cups ice cubes
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup simple syrup
4 to 5 bottles Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
Combine the apricots, ice cubes, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a blender. Puree. Pour the mixture into a bowl; cover and refrigerate until needed.
To serve, spoon some of the apricot puree into each Champagne flute or wineglass, filling it about one-third full. Top with the wine and stir briefly, just to blend. Serves 20.
Berry Wine Spritzers
1 quart ripe strawberries or raspberries, stemmed, if necessary
1/3 to 1/2 cup strawberry (fraise) or raspberry (framboise) eau-de-vie or brandy
3 750-milliliter bottles chilled dry white wine
Place the berries in a nonreactive bowl and pour the eau-de-vie or brandy over them. Mash some or all of the berries with the back of a spoon. Cover and refrigerate until chilled or for up to 2 days.
To serve, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the berry mixture into each glass. Add wine to reach about 1 inch from the top. Pour in club soda and stir. Serves 30.
The menu Pine Nut-Crusted Bucheron with Warm Cherry Tomato Salad on Shallot Toasts Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Maple-Butter-Ginger Glaze Grilled Peppered Tuna on Wonton Skins with Shiitake Salsa Vegetarian Spring Rolls with Red Pepper Jam Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche
Deberah's Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Maple-Butter-Ginger Glaze
16 fresh sea scallops
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
4 ounces prosciutto, very thinly sliced, divided into 16 portions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Set a large sauté pan over high heat until hot. Add the scallops and sear on both sides until cooked to taste, about 1 minute for medium-rare. Remove to a plate.
Using the same sauté pan, melt the butter and add maple syrup and ginger. Simmer until reduced by half. Meanwhile, wrap each scallop in a portion of the prosciutto; hold closed with a skewer.
When the glaze is reduced, dip each prosciutto-wrapped scallop in the glaze and then sprinkle with some of the mint. Serves 8.
Deberah's Pine Nut-Crusted Bucheron with Warm Yellow Cherry Tomato Salad on Shallot Toasts
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1/2 sourdough baguette, sliced 1Â¼8 inch thick
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, slivered
1 pint yellow or red cherry tomatoes, quartered
7 ounces Bucheron or other goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
12 large fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a skillet, melt the butter with the shallot over moderately low heat. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to flavor the butter and soften the shallot. Brush the shallot butter on one side of each slice of baguette. Arrange the baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, using the same skillet, warm the olive oil over moderately high heat. Add the slivered garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add the quartered tomatoes and salt; toss to coat well. Set aside.
Coarsely chop the toasted pine nuts. Add the cracked pepper and stir to mix thoroughly.
Form the goat cheese into 16 small cakes, sized to fit onto the toasts. Coat each cake with some of the chopped pine nut and pepper mixture.
To assemble, place a goat cheese cake on each shallot toast. Toast in a 350F oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and arrange on a serving platter. Spoon the warm tomato salad on top, and drizzle with the juices from the tomatoes. Sprinkle the basil chiffonnade on top. Serves 8.
Lesley's Grilled Peppered Tuna on Wonton Skins with Shiitake Salsa
The salsa and wontons can be prepared ahead of time. Grill the tuna at the last minute, while you're assembling the dish.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and diced
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
Warm the olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce and remove from the heat. Stir in the tomatoes, cilantro and sesame oil. Let cool. Set aside.
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
24 wonton skins
In a deep saucepan or sauté pan, heat one inch of peanut or vegetable oil to 350F. Add the wonton skins and fry until crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Tuna and final assembly:
12 ounces fresh tuna filet
Cracked black pepper
Brush the tuna with the olive oil; sprinkle with the pepper. Grill or broil until medium-rare, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Slice the tuna against the grain into 1Â¼4-inch slabs.
Place a slab of tuna on each wonton and top with a dollop of the salsa. Serve at room temperature. Serves 8.
Lesley's Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche
Any smoked fish works beautifully in this recipe. And these potato pancakes are great even with only the crème fraîche on top. Make them ahead and reheat until crispy.
Combine the onion and egg in a blender. Process until liquefied. Add two-thirds of the potatoes and blend again, until smooth. Add the remaining potatoes, the salt and the pepper and blend or pulse just until chunky. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Add the flour and mix thoroughly.
In a large skillet or sauté pan, heat 1Â¼4 inch of vegetable oil over moderately high heat. Drop the pancake batter by tablespoonfuls into oil when the oil begins to simmer. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. (If making the pancakes ahead of time, reheat in a 400-degree oven until crispy, 6 to 8 minutes.)
Top each pancake with a piece of salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche. Garnish with chives and serve. Serves 8.
Christmas in July This year we plan to be away for the Christmas holidays—as an experiment, we're heading for the sun. Doing so puts our annual Christmas cocktail party in jeopardy. Do we really want to decorate the whole house inside and out if we're not going to be here to water the tree and keep the cats from climbing its trunk? And what's the point if none of our friends will be stopping by to marvel at our decorative dexterity? That's when the idea of a summertime Christmas party came to our warped little minds.
We determined that, if possible, the fête should fall on the 24th or 25th of a summer month. However, there was a downside: Every invitee to our December Christmas party knows that it is strictly and only a cocktail party—no food other than cashews, chips and pretzels are served. We've always said: If we have to cook for it, we won't have any fun and that's a no-no.
For this party, we made an exception: We will serve lots of food—but it will all be served either chilled or room temperature. For extra summer yuletide fun, we also decided that all of the food (if not the beverages) should follow a red-and-green theme. For the red buffalo wings, use tabasco sauce; for the green, use green tabasco sauce with melted butter and cilantro. Serve the following dishes with watermelon and honeydew wedges, strawberry sorbet and peppermint ice cream.
Merry Christmas and pass the sangria: Bobby Flay's pomegranate sangria, penne, crudites, buffalo wings and fruit wedges.
The menu Christmas Crudités: Grape Tomatoes, Celery, Broccoli Florets, Red Bell Pepper Strips, Green Bell Pepper Strips, Scallions, Roasted Red Peppers—anything red or green—with Gorgonzola Dip Red & Green Buffalo Wings Penne for Your Thoughts Inspiraling Pesto (recipe included)
2 pounds fusilli pasta
3 ounces (3/4 cup) pine nuts, toasted
10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups loosely packed basil leaves
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the fusilli according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil; blend until smooth. Add the basil and blend until smooth. Add both cheeses and blend for 8 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Scrape the pesto into a very large bowl; if it is too thick, add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve the correct consistency.
Drain the pasta and pour it into the bowl. Toss with the pesto. Check for seasonings. Cover and set aside. Serve at room temperature.
For more food and beverage recipes, pick up a copy of our August 2001 issue at your newsstand.