Can’t get away for the summer? Celebrate the coming of the
season with a mini-vacation of your own: a Tuscan feast in your own
Light music, fine wine and good friends are all you need to make the most of summer’s bounty, with light salads, tasty grilled vegetables and airy pastas perfect for beating the heat.
Best of all, the light tastes of the season call for fresh vegetables, cheeses and fruits. Translation: You won’t have to spend all day bent over a stove.
Instead, throw a spice-colored cloth on the outdoor table, light a few candles and pop open a bottle of pinot grigio. It’s time to head for Tuscany with Chef Tony Garcia, owner of Giancarlo’s Italian restaurant in Morgan Hill. He’s planned out an incredible feast for eight, recipes that can be divided or multiplied as needed.
But before friends arrive, be sure to set the scene, said Majid Bahriny, owner of Mama Mia’s in Gilroy and Morgan Hill.
“In Tuscany, they use a lot of brickwork in their patios, so try a rust color or some rich, earthy tones on the table,” said Bahriny. “Set out some candles and some colorful flowers, and you can also set the scene with a basket of breads and vegetables.”
Bahriny recommends serving light, fruity cocktails and equally airy appetizers – mini Caprese salads, grilled eggplant and toasted bread rubbed with roast garlic – as guests arrive.
If you have the space, consider making a festive statement by picking up a few barrels at the hardware store to serve appetizers from. Each can be decorated with a small tablecloth – really an unfolded cloth napkin – and a vase filled with olive branches and sunflowers, said Linda Estill, owner of Feelin’ Festive party planning in Gilroy. Best of all, these small stations will encourage mingling and keep you from running around serving guests.
Lemon drops (see recipe) are high on Bahriny’s list for pre-party drinks, but he recommends wine with dinner.
“Stay with light wines versus the heavier wines that are popular in winter,” said Bahriny. “A light pinot noir or a buttery chardonnay is good.”
If you’d rather let someone else do the dishes, make a reservation. Giancarlo’s, located at 16180 Monterey Street in Morgan Hill can be reached at (408) 776-2995. Mama Mia’s is located at 275 E. Dunne Ave. in Morgan Hill, (408) 776-8111, and 1360 First Street in Gilroy, (408) 847-8808.
(By Linda Stradley, author of “What’s Cooking America?” and proprietor of its companion Web site www.WhatsCookingAmerica.net)
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Super-fine sugar for dipping
Twisted peel of lemon
Step 1: Mix the vodka, Triple Sec, sugar and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice; shake well. (Supposedly, the cocktail is to be shaken 40 times to make sure the sugar is well blended.)
Step 2: Pour strained liquor into sugar-rimmed martini glass and garnish with a twisted peel of lemon.
Note: To create a sugar-rimmed glass, take a lemon wedge and rub the drinking surface of the glass so it is barely moist. Dip the edge of the glass into sugar.
Makes 1 serving.
1 loaf good Italian bread
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, minced
1/8 to 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
salt, pepper and basil to taste
Step 1: Slice bread 3/4-inch thick and toast. While the bread is still hot, rub each side with cut garlic cloves. Drizzle oil over toast.
Step 2: Combine tomatoes, onion, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt, pepper and basil to taste.
Step 3: Spoon tomato mixture over