A Last Minute Menu for a Crowd

The Summer for me is all about the impromptu gathering. I do this a ton. My life is pretty hectic so making plans in advance is usually a futile exercise since, inevitably something comes up and the best laid plans are thrown to the wind. This why I love the last minute thrown together dinner or weekend lunch. There is not enough time for the wheels to come off the wagon.

The key to the last minute gathering is having an arsenal of go to of recipes that do not require exotic ingredients or elaborate prep work. Focus on what is readily on hand. In the summer we are all blessed with an overwhelming amount fresh produce. These recipes highlights some of my favorite fresh veggies and the corn is raw so it is super simple to make. If you’ve spent anytime in East Hampton you’ve certainly eaten a version of this Pasta salad. I call it Ziti salad regardless of the type of pasta i use ( generally determined by what is available in my pantry) and it is always a crowd favorite.

Boneless cuts of meat are wonderful for the last minute meal since, they marinate quickly. I like to mix and match my proteins. Not everyone loves red meat and not everyone is a chicken fan- so offer a selection. Sausage is also, lovely and works well with the older and younger set and compliments chicken beautifully. I prefer to grill chicken thighs since they are a bit more forgiving to extra cooking and they have a lovely rich flavor.

For pre- dinner nibbles I like to put out large bowls of pistachio nuts and a cheese or two. There is no reason to be overly fussy since, the point of this menu is for the host to join the evening as much as his or her guests. For drinks I stick with Rose and Ice Cold beers . Round the whole thing out with a mixed green salad of your design and watermelon slices for dessert and you have the perfect evening that will be just as divine as if you had spent weeks planning!

I should also, add that a beautifully laid table will make even the mostly humble meal seem over the top. Pick one or two colors and just layer it on. I like using a runner down the middle of the table and I go from there. If you don’t have flowers in hand- herbs and even just bright foliage from the garden will do. I will also, pull pieces from around my house such as little knick knacks or shells to round out the look, add candles of any height and you are all set.

Chicken Thighs Marinated in Mustard, Lemon & Herbs

6 cloves garlic crushed

Juice 1 lemon and the lemon chopped into pieces

2 tablespoons salt

1 tspn black pepper

2 tablespoons rough chopped fresh Thyme & Rosemary

1/4 cup olive oil

2 packages boneless skinless thighs

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chicken thighs and coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins up to 3 hours. When ready to cook remove chicken 20 mins before (chicken will cook more evenly if you take the chill off of it). Heat grill to high and let heat up for about 10 mins. Place thighs on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes each side. Turn off one set of burners and reduce the other two (or one) to medium high . Place chicken on turned off side and cover for 15 minutes.  If using charcoal place your charcoal on one side of the grill when you are starting it. When ready cook chicken over charcoal for 3 mins per side, move thighs to there side and cover for 15 mins. You have now mastered the art of indirecting grilling!.  If you are doing a mixed grill ie steak or sausage you can use the charcoal or lite side of the grill to cook these pieces.

Summer Ziti Salad with Dill

3/4 box of Ziti ( or whatever shape you like)

1 shallot diced

1 red pepper cut into bite size pieces

1 large Tomato cut into bite size pieces

1/2 cup chopped Sweet Gherkin pickles ( this is a key ingredient)

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

3/4 cup mayo

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cook pasta according to the directions on the box. When cooked rinse with cold water . While the pasta is cooking chop the shallots, peppers, tomatoes, gherkins & dill and add to a large bowl. Add the mayo, sour cream, salt & pepper. When the pasta has been rinsed give one quick shake and add to the bowl ( the extra water on the pasta helps with the dressing). Mix well, taste for seasoning and serve.

Corn Salad

9 ears raw corn shucked

2 cups chopped cucumber( really your choice I prefer the curbs )

1 1/2 cups Cherry Tomatoes cut in Half

2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white balsamic

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut the corn of the cob into a large bowl. Add the chopped cucumber, basil, tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar & salt. Taste for seasoning and serve. This salad is best if made last minute and served right away.