Alfresco Dinner

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Alfresco Dinner

There is always something special about having summer dinner under open skies especially when there is that special warm, radiant Hamptons light right in your backyard. This summer after having a baby we decided to rent a house in the Hamptons. We have been going there for years to attend various charity soirees, clambakes or just for a quick weekend getaways. But living here is a different and superbly better way of experiencing the magic of the Hamptons. Spending leisurely Sunday afternoons by the pool or at the beach take on a whole new flavor when there is no need to rush back to the city. This summer I was lucky enough to experience  the full mystic charm of a perfect summer in the Hamptons.

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Our cedar-shingled house artfully decorated with carefully and patiently collected antiques had a really warm and relaxingly chic ambience that inspired me to create a delicious alfresco dinner menu and country-style tablescape.

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When dining alfresco in the summer the food doesn’t have to be served hot which allows the hosts to be more relaxed and enables them to actually spend time with guests.

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Based on the source of my inspiration for this alfresco dinner, I created a menu of  simple summer food made with locally grown ingredients and freshest fish that I new my family and friends would enjoy.

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To start our evening I put together a beautiful cheese board enhanced by addition of succulent figs, nuts and organic grapes and accompanied by chilled champagne. It's an excellent dish which can be enjoyed while lounging and chatting - in my opinion a perfect way to  break the ice and set a convivial warm atmosphere for diner!

alfresco-dinner-clean-apricots

For this delicious Apricot Crostini with Goat Cheese & Prosciutto, pick the apricots which have not yet fully ripened. Split them in half and drizzle them lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Grill apricot halves for few minutes on each side until softened and grill marks are seen.

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Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the the bread while it's till hot; top it with a salty meat and grilled apricots. Finish off with drizzle of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, garnish with tiny basil leaves or basil chiffonade.

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My parents traveled from Ukraine to spend two months with us in the Hamptons.

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My daughter Vivian and her friend Allison.

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My husband Gary arrived from the City in time for dinner and Vivian immediately monopolized him.

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The starter for our dinner was the classic gazpacho but with my twist, a kick of spiciness and avocado-corn relish.

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Heirloom and vine tomatoes are in peak of the season now and they make a wonderful low calorie treat in many forms of preparation or just raw with large grain salt. For gazpacho, blanch them quickly in boiling water to peel off the skins.

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Add some chopped country bread to the mix to change soup’s texture. Bread will give it more body and depth of flavor. Your gazpacho will vary from mine, depending on the tomatoes and the amount of chopped bread you used. Freshly grated horseradish and mild red Aleppo peppers add a nice piquant taste. I used my Vitamix on puree setting to blend the soup to a smooth, silky mixture. But you can experiment with the texture and can make it chunkier just by reducing the blending time to a minute or two.

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Garnish each plate with spoonful of avocado-corn relish and finish off with a light drizzle of olive oil. Serve cold!

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I love making octopus and always use the same preparation. I simmer it slowly for an hour or so (depending on it's size) in a large pot together with herbs, vegetables, red wine vinegar and plenty sea salt. One simple but effective trick I learned while experimenting during the early stages of my cooking is to dunk the octopus quickly 6-8 times into a rapidly boiling water which will wash out any residual sand and also result in beautifully curled tentacles.

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Once octopus is cooked you can serve it the way it is or change the recipe and grill it.  It is also delicious when marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and with finely chopped parsley.

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Serve it on top of traditional store-bought hummus.

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No one can ever resist a nicely cooked, soft and flavorful octopus!

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During the summer we all tend to eat lighter, after the heat of the day we all just want to cool down a bit.

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Mediterranean Branzino, or Sea Bass, is an excellent fish to make in the summer. While it is light and mild in flavor it has supple flash and somewhat firm texture which helps to keep it’s shape and consistency regardless of whether you pan sear or roast it in the oven.

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This fish will quickly become your guests’ favorite dish. My Branzino stuffed with Fennel makes a really delightful main course. Ask your fishmonger to clean the fish and give you just the fillets. Although sometimes I also take the bones. They make an aromatic court bouillon for seafood soup such as French bouillabaisse or Russian “uha” a fish-stock based light summer soup which is one of the signature dishes of traditional Russian cuisine.

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For the stuffing, sauté thinly sliced fennel in butter and then braise for ten minutes in chicken stock that will result in a most amazing sweet flavor. Use kitchen twine to hold the wrapped fillets and stuffing together then place these pretty looking individual parcels of Branzino and fennel in the oven and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The final result will be an exquisite, delicate dish that looks like a creation of a private chef made especially for you. And no one needs to know how actually easy it was to make them!

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As a side dish I served Couscous with Corn & Radish. I like to toast my couscous slightly in a dry hot pan which adds a flavorful smokiness to its taste.

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As an alternative you can always find pre-toasted couscous. It goes so well with robust olive oil, chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic. I simply mixed it with sautéed corn and paper-thin slices of radish.

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Poached pears are wonderful on its own with vanilla ice-cream but once baked with frangipane in a tart shell, pears become even softer and juicier.

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Frangipane is the easiest filling for summer tarts. All you have to do is mix almond flour, butter, eggs and sugar.

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Place pears onto the frangipane and bake! To make it even more beautiful, smear the tart with apricot jam or reduced poaching liquid and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

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alfresco-dinner-blogger-svitlana-flom

I hope you had a wonderful summer! Cheers, Everyone!

Bon Appétit!
Svitlana
Photographed by Gary Flom.

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