Cooking for a Crowd: A Simple Summer Meal

Epicure / July 19th, 2010
Sunny yellow sunflowers make a bright summer floral arrangement.

I have to confess that there are times when my ambitions exceed my abilities—or at least the hours in a day I have available to achieve them. Such was the case, alas, with my plans to serve an Indian-inspired meal to my friends at a party I hosted with my husband, Anil, this past weekend. After entreating a talented Indian chef, Kuntal Kumar, to supply me with a menu for the gathering (see my 6/21/10 post Healthy Organic Gourmet Food), I put forth the effort to test drive the recipes during the previous week and found to my delight that they were all delicious. I also found that they were quite labor-intensive to prepare. Knowing this, my kind husband urged me to consider an alternative plan. He didn’t want to see me sweating all day in the kitchen, he told me, and I suspect he wanted to spare himself the perspiration, too, as I generally enlist him as sous chef and Number One vegetable chopper whenever I have a large meal to make.

Since it’s summertime and the livin’ is supposed to be easy, I heeded his advice and pulled together a

A card, picturing a watercolor of Sir John Soane's dog, accompanied a bottle of wine given to us by one of our guests.

simpler yet very satisfying meal of olive and prosciutto pizzetas, pasta with a Sicilian-style tomato and almond sauce and a mixed green salad with a pesto dressing all adapted from a Food & Wine cookbook I received as a gift several years ago. (Though I didn’t follow through on the meal I’d originally planned, I did manage to create a humbler version of the centerpiece of sunflowers suggested by floral designer Mark Rose in my 6/11/2010 post Artful Floral Arrangements). Our friends may have unwittingly outdone me with their generous gifts of lovely wines, two of them delivered in very chic wine bags and one accompanied by a charming card picturing a watercolor of the dog of Sir John Soane, the superb British architect known for the Neo-Classical buildings he designed in

Another guest brought a bottle of wine in this beautiful bag.

the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But from all reports, they enjoyed my simple summer fare, nonetheless, and were content to wait for another day to taste the exotic dishes Kuntal generously developed for me. I’ll share some of his recipes in later posts or in a book I’m beginning to write that’s scheduled to be released next year. In the meantime, if you need to cook a simple summer meal for a crowd yourself before the season is over, here is my adaptation of the pasta Food & Wine pasta recipe:

Penne with Tomato Pesto Sauce (serves 8-10)

1 cup almonds

7 cloves garlic

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

Fresh ground pepper

6 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

2½ cups fresh basil leaves, plus sprigs for garnish

1½ pounds dried whole wheat pasta

1. In a blender or food processor, pulse the almonds, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes and basil and puree.

2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the linguine until just done, about 9-10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the water, and return the pasta to the pot. Toss with the sauce, let stand for a minute and toss with the reserved water if necessary.

3. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and top with the basil sprigs. Serve with grated Parmesan, if desired.

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