Summer is the best time to eat outdoors, and, when eating outside coincides with cooking outdoors, so much the better.
Still, there’s prep work to be done inside, and in some cases, as in this menu, you can do the prep, or a large part of it, a day in advance. Then, when you are gathered for the picnic — a meal outdoors is always a kind of picnic, whether eaten at a table or perched on a rock — all you have left to do is light the barbecue.
A salad is important, especially at an outdoor meal; you want something fresh. Though potato salad or fruit salad may come to mind, a crisp green salad never fails to satisfy. And, for this salad, all the fixings can be prepared well before the meal, then carried to the picnic in a cooler.
This one features Little Gem lettuce, a cross between romaine and butter lettuce that has become a popular salad choice — crunchy and bright green with small crinkly leaves. If that’s unavailable, look for similar small, sturdy lettuce heads or choose romaine hearts. Wash the leaves and dry them well, roll them in a damp kitchen towel and pop it all into the fridge. The tart, garlicky dressing that accompanies is made with crushed toasted almonds and sherry vinegar, and is best transported in a jar with a tightfitting lid. (You can mix the dressing in the jar as well.)
For our picnic, fat, fresh wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico (and the Atlantic coast off the Carolinas and Georgia) were the most exciting option at my fishmonger’s shop. She gets them in weekly, but wild shrimp are also available frozen. (They’re preferable to farmed shrimp from Asia and South America for a number of reasons.)
I like the larger ones for grilling, but any size is fine. I don’t peel them — I just thread them shells-on onto bamboo skewers and lay them on a hot grill for a few minutes per side. This method not only ensures that the shrimp stay juicy, but it also makes eating them more fun, letting you nibble on the crispy little legs before “undressing” them.
An assortment of grilled vegetables complements the shrimp nicely. For this menu, I chose red onions, cut into wedges and grilled slowly, and tiny potatoes, briefly boiled, then set on the grill to char. Other options could include scallions, zucchini or asparagus.
The shrimp and vegetables all benefit from a dip in a piquant red pepper sauce that takes cues from the Catalan romesco. It’s a thick, brick-colored affair, and tastes good with just about anything you can think of, including the chunk of crusty baguette you should use to clean your plate. The sauce comes together quickly in a food processor or blender: Just toss in roasted peppers, toasted almonds, garlic and olive oil. (Alternatively, hand-chop the ingredients for a rough-textured sauce, stirring in the oil at the end.)
Ice cream ends a summer meal on a happy note, and the homemade kind is a treat. I use the type of ice cream machine that, instead of ice, employs a metal cylinder you keep in the freezer, ever at the ready. It takes a mere half-hour to produce a delicious soft-frozen mixture, which then needs a few hours in the freezer to firm up. (Hint: Make it the day before you serve it.) Very popular a few years ago, goat cheese ice cream deserves revisiting. The cheese supplies a lovely tang, somewhat similar to the flavor of cheesecake, but use ricotta instead if you don’t care for goat cheese. Crushed fennel seed and lemon zest add interest, and earthy, amber-toned honey is swirled onto the ice cream mixture after it has churned.
Now I ask you, with a menu like this, what’s not to love?
Recipes: Grilled Shrimp Skewers With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce | Little Gems Salad With Garlicky Almond Dressing | Goat Cheese Ice Cream With Fennel, Lemon and Honey
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