Last week we had people over for dinner three nights in a row. By the third evening I was feeling exhausted and I noticed my mind veering far away from joy as I set the table once again. A little whisper set me back on course: “This is what you always wanted.”
“I want our house to be the party house.” I told Gabe with kids still in diapers. Already anticipating sleepovers and high school hangouts. I envisioned a neighborhood teeming with kids and all feeling free to come into our house as they please. I always wanted our home to be a place where people felt welcome and are encouraged to just stop by. Our door would always be open.
No one wants to sit at a table set by someone filled with resentment. The whisper spoke again, “listen, three nights in a row may be a bit much but no one’s asking you to wear yourself out. They just want you.” So I tucked away the plates that require washing and replaced them with paper ones. I divided the tasks and asked our guests to bring a few things. We grilled burgers on store bought buns and besides the bacon I baked for the burgers there was very little more added to the table that I didn’t already have lingering in my fridge. In today’s terms; there was nothing Instagram-able about that spread. Except that it was perfect.
I didn’t even put out chairs. We sat on blankets in the back yard letting the kids wander in and out as they please. The evening turned to night as we started a fire and didn’t roast s’mores because I forgot to buy the stuff from the store. No one cared. The kids entertained us with improvised skits until we finally had to pull ourselves away well after bedtime.
Summer is especially made for that sort of entertaining. I appreciate so much those reminders that little is needed in order for people to gather. If my own ideas of what a “dinner party” looks like keeps me from actually having one then I know something has to change. The important thing is to gather, it’s not about what’s on the table. That’s always a hard one for me to remember. Sometimes I give myself permission to flood the table with food that has taken me hours to prepare because I love that but again, not needed.
For regular entertaining this is what I’ve learned:
- Ask for help. Your guests enjoy bringing something to the party, it makes them feel a part of it. So let them.
- Use paper plates. It makes perfect kindling for the after dinner bonfire.
- Eat outside as often as possible. No sweeping or vacuuming needed.
- Keep the food simple. Seriously simple. (This is one is the hardest for me).
- Don’t aim for three nights in a row – that’s too much for us – BUT set a day a week or a month, find what works best for your family, and send out the invite (a text works). Fill your table with people. That’s what it’s there for.
Before summer is over here’s what you do: Invite a few friends and ask them to bring the drinks and maybe a bag of chips or two. You’re going to be grilling grilled cheese and making a bean salad – but not grandma’s bean salad. This one is loaded with fresh herbs and a piquant shallot vinaigrette. And yes, you can seriously serve grilled cheese to your guests. Again, it’s not just any grilled cheese – there’s bacon, grilled zucchini and nutty gruyere cheese. It’s best served outside on a simple table filled with people.
*This post is sponsored by Bertolli Olive oil. I spun the bottle and landed on two summer classics; grilled cheese and bean salad. My task was to remix these favorites then enjoy them with friends dining al fresco. Bertolli Olive oil is the star here as I used their pure olive oil to grill the zucchini and the sandwiches. It’s high smoke point makes high heat cooking possible without getting any burnt or off flavors. For the bean salad I used the Extra-virgin olive oil. Because it’s made from the first pressing the flavors are more refined; grassy, peppery and clean. It’s perfect for dressings and for finishing.
Grilled Cheese with Zucchini, Bacon, Basil and Gruyere
12 strips bacon
2 zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch thick strips
12 -18 Basil leaves
8 ounces Gruyere (or sharp cheddar) grated
12 thick slices artisan bread
1/4 cup Bertolli Pure Olive oil
Cook the bacon until crisp.
Brush the zucchini strips with Bertolli Pure olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill until char marks appear, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the zucchini from the grill then set aside.
Brush or carefully drizzle the Bertolli Pure olive oil on the bread.
Add about 1/4 cup of grated cheese to one piece of bread then top with 2 to 3 pieces of zucchini, 2 strips of bacon and a few basil leaves. Add a bit more cheese to then top with another piece of bread.
Grill until char marks appear and the cheese is melted.
Serve while warm.
Three Bean Salad with Fennel, Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs
1 can white (Cannellini) beans
1 can garbanzo beans
1/2 pound green beans, blanched and cut into rough 1-inch pieces
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks thinly sliced
2 cup fresh assorted herbs, roughly chopped (mint, basil, parsley, tarragon, dill, cilantro)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 small shallot
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup Bertolli Extra-Virgin Olive oil
In a large bowl combine the beans (white, garbanzo, and green beans), fennel, celery, and herbs,
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, shallot, mustard, honey and Bertolli Extra Virgin olive oil. Add the dressing to the beans and stir to combine. Finish with a couple hefty pinches of salt and a drizzle of Bertolli Extra-Virgin Olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.