Jul 2011: Let's pretend that it is the middle of summer and you would like to entertain guests in a casual manner outdoors on a warm summer evening! This is exactly what I did in the south of France for the week of June twenty-fifth for my 70th birthday. I am very fortunate that after almost 40 years of teaching cooking, I have lots of friends who want to help me celebrate my big birthdays in some romantic place. The truth is that I am very good at letting everyone else do the work. There are always people who are great at setting the table, organizing the cooking, and doing all the clean-up. And, I am really good at sitting around drinking rosè. Thank you everyone for a fabulous time!
The first thing to do when renting a house in California, France, Italy or anywhere else is to find out when and where the local outdoor (or farmers) market is. And, make sure to get there relatively early. There was always so much to see, buy, and learn about. In Puyricard, our local village, there were vendors selling already prepared paella, couscous with braised lamb and root vegetables, and a variety of pastries, such as macaroons, not to mention amaazing fresh fish, fresh vegetables and fruits. The people were very friendly and helpful. You too can get others to help with your casual dinner outdoors. To start with, when your guests ask “What can I bring?”, tell them to bring wine. Then, make sure you have a clean grill and charcoal. You will also need a Provencal-like tablecloth, a vase of field flowers, and candles — and a few bottles of Bandol rosè to start off with. I also like to put out little bowls of roasted almonds and marinated olives. Here, for you, is my suggested menu for le diner a la Provencal.
And, be sure to serve plenty of wine. First of all, here for you are recipes for the three starters. You can chose to do one or two but all three look great on a plate together. If the tapenade looks like it has too many ingredients in it, remember it is all be blended in the food processor, and as Cindy Pawlcyn says, “This is the best Tapenade ever!” After all, it is her recipe!
What you want to do is buy the best possible responsibly grown beef steaks you can find – they will always taste better if cooked on the bone. Grill them to give them flavor, let them rest 5 minutes, to settle the juices, and slice them to be more attractive to eat. The grilled peppers, tomatoes, and salad are all things that can be made by whoever wants to help. Let people sit where they want – and have fun. (My goal in entertaining is to always try to mix people up, which is why I always suggest that longtime married couples don’t sit together, and I absolutely hate it when all the women get up to clear the table, which I always forbid – it really ruins the flow of conversation.) Another thing that would be fun is to play French music. So, Bon Appetit! Have fun cooking with your friends outdoors in the manner of Provence!