Have you been thinking about having a few friends over for a nice mid-summer evening dinner?
There is still time to enjoy the lingering daylight and hear the cicada’s humming in the trees. Light some candles on your porch, gather some fresh flowers into a pretty vase and mix up some cold cocktails to start the evening.
But you’re not thinking of serving hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad, are you? July is a perfect time to savor the many culinary gifts of summer. But there is no need to need to spend long hours in the kitchen or plan elaborate dishes for a little summer dinner party. I’d like to share a very easy but elegant menu that your guests will love. But you must use the very best ingredients that will shine in their simplicity. Here are a few notes on the menu.
Flank Steak (London Broil) on the Grill
Why use flank steak? Rib eyes are wonderful and so are New York strip steaks. But flank steak has marvelous flavor, is a bit leaner, and has the advantage of being less expensive. Flank steak is carved thinly across the grain of the meat and each person is served a few slices. It “goes farther,” as they say. Have your butcher slash the tip of the steak in a crosshatch pattern to better absorb your marinade. Or you can easily do this at home. A 2-pound piece of meat is perfect.
Caprese Salad (Tomato, Mozzarella and Fresh Basil
You likely have had this traditional summer salad that originated from Italy’s Isle of Capri. Make sure you use the ripest, most beautiful tomatoes you can find to make it. For a really striking presentation, I like to use tomatoes of different colors: red, yellow, orange or striped “zebra” heirloom varieties. You can even include some large cherry tomatoes. You need fresh mozzarella for this salad, which is now easily found at your local grocery store or farm market. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a type of fresh mozzarella called burrata. It is fresh mozzarella with a center of fresh cream curds. It is a soft and rich cheese that will elevate your Caprese beyond the ordinary.
Roast Potatoes with Rosemary
This one is easy: Use beautiful yellow gold potatoes, chopped fresh rosemary, good olive oil and sea salt.
A Special Cocktail: The Negroni
The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail that could give your gin and tonic a run for its money. All you need is Campari (Italian aperitif), gin and sweet vermouth.
Ingredients for the London broil
- 1 flank streak, about 2 pounds, hatch-scored (XXX) across the top
- Low sodium soy sauce (about 2 cups), ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and ½ cup red wine vinegar, whisked together for your marinade
Ingredients for the roasted potatoes
- 4 or 5 large yellow/gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges (either peel them or leave the skin on according to how you like them)
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Olive oil
Ingredients for the Caprese salad
- 2 or 3 large, ripe tomatoes
- 2 “balls” of burrata or fresh mozzarella cheese (drained well if packed in brine)
- A bunch of fresh basil, stems removed
- Olive oil
- Vinegar (balsamic, white wine or red wine)
Ingredients for the Negroni cocktail
- 1 ounce gin (I like Tanqueray or Bombay)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1 ounce Campari
- A fresh orange
Game Plan for Dinner
- The morning of the dinner, place the flank steak in a foil or glass pan. Wisk the marinade ingredients together and pour over the steak. Cover the pan with foil and place in the refrigerator. After several hours, turn the steak in the marinade.
- A few hours before dinner, slice the tomatoes and place on a serving platter. I usually peel tomatoes, but again, this is your preference.
- Drain the burrata or mozzarella on paper towels, slice into rounds, and tuck the slices among the tomatoes. Drizzle with good olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.
- About an hour before you are ready to roast the potatoes, scrub and peel them and cut into wedges. Place in a large bowl and toss with enough olive oil to coat them. Place on an oiled baking sheet and sprinkle chopped, fresh rosemary over them. Do not salt until you are ready to pop them into the oven. The potatoes will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes to roast at 400 degrees. You can keep them in a warm oven until the steak is finished, if needed.
- 30 minutes before dinnertime, remove the Caprese salad from the refrigerator and place several large basil leaves over and around the tomatoes and mozzarella (I like a lot of basil).
- Remove the steak from the marinade, dry it with paper towels, and grill it until your desired degree of doneness: 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium (about 6 to 8 minutes on each side).
- Let the steak rest for about 5 minutes on a cutting board. Then slice it thinly across the grain and place the slices on a pretty platter. Garnish with fresh parsley, rosemary or watercress.
- Remove the potatoes from the oven and place in a serving bowl. You can garnish them with additional sprigs of fresh rosemary.
When your guests arrive, greet them with a frosty Negroni. Mix all the ingredients listed above in a tall glass, fill the glass with ice cubes, and garnish with a slice of fresh orange.
I’m learning that entertaining can be easy. Just use simple, good and fresh ingredients.
Place a vase of sunflowers on your table along with a few white votive candles. Maybe your guests will think they are in Tuscany (I can hear my editor laughing!).