Al Fresco Lunch/Dinner
Al Fresco dining conjures up scenes of long lingering lunches in olive groves, trestle tables set to accommodate several generations of family and friends basking in the sun.
The first thing to consider when planning an al fresco Lunch or Dinner in Britain is the chance it may not be al fresco at all but consumed indoors watching the rain bucketing down outside.
Therefore you need a contingency plan up your sleeve.
Where to set up the drinks? Where will everyone sit? The trick is to have everything ready until you are sure the heavens will not open. If the weather is doubtful, I suggest serving the drinks indoors. Then, if the sky suddenly clears, the guests will only be too happy to help with the exodus.
If the weather is on your side, what can be nicer than an al fresco party?
setting the scene
Tablecloths bring an old-world elegance to a table, but you can also use white or soft coloured sheets. Top up with a piece of lacy fabric or a lacy shawl and you have the basis for a romantic setting. Jugs of pastel coloured flowers add to the romance. They also look pretty in jam jars, as well as old tea and coffee pots. I have a mismatched collection bought over the years from car boot sales and brocantes.
old world elegance
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
For a more casual look, I would create a beautiful table setting using a bright coloured tablecloth, old baskets and terracotta pots overflowing with wild flowers, plants and scented herbs, and for a touch of daring, a few small garden tools scattered around.
colourful plastic buckets create imaginative lighting
As well as ribbons, branches and foliage look great tied up at the back of chairs
And don’t forget to tell your guests it is an al fresco do, so they will bring a wrap or a sweater.
The alternative is to have small wraps folded on the backs of the chairs.
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
All you want is uncomplicated recipe ideas that look and taste good and require minimal effort. Interesting flavours and best ingredients served in a simple way.
But, as with all simple ideas, presentation is key.
I always start by offering a glass of chilled white or rose wine or Kir (white wine with a drop of cassis liquor). Pass around a bowl of good olives, crudites and sea salt for dipping. Serve a main dish of chicken (see my Chicken Provencal recipe) or fish with seasonal vegetables, or a large mixed salad (see list below). For dessert, a delicious French tart of course, followed by good coffee.
Here are some of my all-time favourites:
First, the kind of food you keep on picking at: plates of charcuterie, bowls of black and green olives, crunchy radishes (with green tufts intact), baby tomatoes…
Salads with imaginative dressings, so good your guests will be mopping up the juices with country bread.
Also, flavoursome grain and pasta salads tossed with roasted vegetables.
Strawberries and cucumber, the prettiest summer starter (see recipe)
Warm or cold fish cooked the simplest way. A whole salmon, monkfish or sea bass look impressive.
(Put the fish in a fish kettle. Cover with cold water. Add Court-Bouillon, sea salt and pepper corns. Cover and bring slowly to the boil. Turn off the heat and let it rest until serving- minimum one hour). Serve with mayonnaise or a salad of cucumber, natural yoghourt, a spoonful of dijon mustard, a spoon of olive oil, dill and chives. Yummy!
Seafood Stir Fry. King prawns with chilli dressing served with orange slices and black olives (see recipe). Or with Mango Relish (inspired by a trip to Myanmar) – mango and cucumber cubes, red onions, finely chopped dates, coriander and lime juice.
Potato and Ham – New potatoes, ham, saucisson, cornichons, olives, mixed herbs, French dressing
Pasta and Green Pesto with spinach and pine nuts
Moroccan salad – couscous, chickpeas, raisins, dried apricots, roasted peppers and a spicy dressing
Mixed Beans and tinned Tuna, red onions, olives, mixed herbs, French dressing
Avocado, bacon and watercress (see recipe)
Lentils and onions
Smoked mackerel with new potatoes and dill (see recipe)
Fergus tuna salad – 3 Fresh tuna steak cut into small cubes, juice of 3 limes, 1 avocado, 1 mango, 2 tomatoes, coriander, salt and pepper
Nothing quite matches a large Cheese Board Selection, served with a generous choice of breads. Guests can never resist freely baked bread.
Then follow with an arrangement of summer fruits, presented in simple glass bowls or on serving platters, summer fruit Tarts, Sorbets and Ice Creams.
Fruit Punch (see recipe)
Rose wine is the fashionable drink at the moment. It brings back memories of holidays in the Méditerranée and goes well with cold food. Don’t ignore the non-alcoholic drinkers, the one designated to drive home. As well as a few bottles of water, a couple of fruit juices shows you thought about them.