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Versatile dishes can make weekend dining the best of times 7/8

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The would-be world champions of summer are training and dreaming again. Duffers imagine Arnold Palmer as they practice teeing off in the back yard. Softball sluggers oil their gloves and imagine the playoffs: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded -- it's a grand slam, and the fans go wild.

Summer refuels childhood dreams. And not unlike would-be sports stars, hosts flex their conviviality muscles when days get longer. Flawless summer entertaining is, for the host, the ultimate playhouse fantasy. One part technique, 99 parts strategy, it requires a "mental game plan," says Michael McLaughlin, author of "Cooking for the Weekend: Foods for the Best of Times" (Simon & Schuster, 1993).

The cooks of summer, preparing for weekend house guests, need to be sensitive to warm-weather appetites, to the siren call of fresh air and leisure. Simple grilling, and food that can be made ahead, make a certain kind of seasonal sense. But the tie-breaker of summer entertaining, like that of a well-matched doubles game, is strategy.

"With a good plan," Mr. McLaughlin said, "the bulk of a weekend's cooking can be done leisurely on Saturday morning." If the cook prepares large quantities of each recipe, there will be leftovers, all fair game for imaginative recycling for a weekend's entertaining.

Planning a menu that can be made in large quantities is essential for weekend entertaining. A host expecting weekend guests should shop ahead and, well before guests arrive, prepare the recipes that will keep, saving the most perishable for the last minute.

Begin with baking, since most cakes remain fresh for several days. Choose a confection that can play dessert as well as breakfast, like blueberry crumb cake. As a dessert, slices of the cake can be garnished with whipped cream, a compote of fresh berries or ice cream. For breakfast, slices can be toasted and served with butter, fresh ricotta or mascarpone.

The accompanying cake recipe is easily doubled or tripled, depending on the number of guests.

A cold soup, like Mr. McLaughlin's yellow tomato soup, can be served as a first course for lunch or dinner. It can also be used as a sauce for couscous or rice salad, with the addition of minced fresh vegetables and herbs. Warmed and with the addition of seafood, the soup makes a pleasing pasta sauce as well.

Farfalle, arugula and tomato salad keep well for up to three days in the refrigerator and can become part of a dinner buffet or serve as a main course for lunch.

Braised salmon can make a main course for dinner or, flaked with either mayonnaise or olive oil, a noble sandwich. Tossed with fresh-cooked pasta and additional minced dill in a lemon vinaigrette, the salmon can also become the backbone of lunch or Sunday dinner. Or it can be flaked into the yellow tomato soup to make a pasta sauce.

Summer grants the leisure for such cooking. The season also issues a challenge of balancing kitchen work with the charms of an endless afternoon. Summer weekends are a rare opportunity to have it all, if, at the outset,

there is a plan.

Chilled tomato soup with black-olive cream

Serves eight.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large leeks (white part only), well-cleaned and chopped

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 bay leaves

2 pounds plum tomatoes, preferably yellow, trimmed and cut in chunks

3 1/2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olivada (black olive puree) or 1/2 cup pitted imported black olives pureed with 1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 red plum tomatoes, trimmed and diced, for garnish

To make the soup, melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the leeks, thyme and bay leaves. Cover, and cook 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes are soft and the soup has thickened, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Cool slightly, remove the bay leaves, and puree in a food $H processor. Place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours. The soup can be prepared to this point up to 2 days ahead.

To make the olive cream, put the olivada in a small bowl and whisk in the cream. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning if needed. Ladle into chilled bowls, and drizzle with the black olive cream. Sprinkle with diced red tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Total time: 1 hour, plus at least 5 hours for chilling.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 235 milligrams sodium, 25 grams protein, 70 grams carbohydrate.

(Adapted from "Cooking for the Weekend" by Michael McLaughlin)

Farfalle, arugula and tomato salad

Serves eight.

1/2 pound farfalle, cooked, drained and rinsed

3 cups stemmed and torn arugula

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

2 large tomatoes, cut in 1/2 -inch pieces

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the farfalle in a large bowl. Add the arugula, basil, tomatoes, lemon rind, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss until well combined.

Total time: 25 minutes

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 175 calories, 6 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 550 milligrams sodium, 5 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrate.

Oven-braised salmon with fennel

Serves eight.

2 2 1/2 -pound whole salmon fillets

2 1/2 cups white wine

2 tablespoons Pernod

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced very thin (reserve feathery greens)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

12 cups stemmed watercress, blanched briefly, refreshed in cold water and drained

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Run fingers down each salmon fillet to locate the pin bones and pull them out with tweezers. Put the fillets in 2 large roasting pans. Pour half the wine and half the Pernod around the salmon in each pan. Scatter half the sliced fennel over each fillet. Roast until salmon is just cooked through, about 30 minutes, basting from time to time.

Using 2 long spatulas, carefully transfer the fillets to platters. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the watercress with the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the watercress around the salmon. Chop the fennel greens, and sprinkle them over the top.

Total time: 1 hour.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 505 calories, 25 grams fat, 175 milligrams cholesterol, 180 milligrams sodium (before salting), 60 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrate.

Blueberry crumb cake

Serves eight to 10.

TOPPING:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

CAKE:

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, plus additional for greasing pan

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups blueberries

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the topping, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Add the butter, and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

To make the cake, butter a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add the vanilla to the milk.

Sift 2 cups of the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until combined. Toss the blueberries with the remaining 3 tablespoons flour, and stir into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the topping. Bake until cake springs back when touched in the center, about 1 hour. Put on a rack to cool for a few minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen, and remove the sides of the pan. Let cool.

Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 440 calories, 15 grams fat, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 335 milligrams sodium, 6 grams protein, 65 grams carbohydrate.

Almond shortbread rounds

Makes about 120 cookies.

1 cup slivered almonds

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4 teaspoons grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon almond extract

Put the almonds in a food processor with 1/4 cup of the flour. Process until almonds are coarsely ground. Add the remaining flour, sugar and salt. Process until well combined. Add the butter, lemon rind and almond extract. Process until mixture begins to come together.

Divide the dough into 4 portions. Shape each portion into a log hTC about 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until cold, about an hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Working in batches or as needed, cut the dough into 1/4 -inch slices. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake until cookies just begin to brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Put on a rack to cool.

Total time: 20 minutes, plus an hour for cooling.

Approximate nutritional analysis per cookie: 50 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 20 milligrams sodium, 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrate.

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