Most of the time when I’m cooking for more than 2 people (or 3, as our friend Alexis is a frequent guest at our table), it’s when I’m throwing a dinner party for our food-loving Brooklyn friends. But for the past few days, Brad and I have had a house full of family – and teenagers! His cousin Kristi, her husband Matt, their 2 girls Tarah and Jolie and friend Nell have been in town. By day they headed out to tour NYC, and then night after night we all gathered together for a big family meal.
On Sunday, the crew followed Brad into the East Village for some Black Top Street Hockey action. I was pleased to learn later that my subtle suggestion that they head to Little Italy afterwards to pick up some cannoli was enthusiastically embraced. Since I had a few hours to myself, I offered to make dinner. I had some work to do that day as well, so I wanted to keep things simple and able to be pulled together without too much prep. I planned 2 of our stand-by dishes – a pasta and some grilled chicken – as well as some salads that I whipped up with produce I had grabbed at the previous day’s greenmarket.
In my mind it was the perfect menu for 7, but as I was cooking it suddenly seemed like a lot of food. Well, let me tell you something I learned this week: Teenage girls can eat! Especially athletic, growing ladies (Tarah and Nell brought the family to the east coast from Colorado for some lacrosse tournaments). I was also a bit worried that there may have been picky eaters among us, but no. First bites were met with sounds of contented approval around the table. And then, as the adults slowly ate and chatted, I watched the girls go back for seconds, and then thirds!
I just love cooking for enthusiastic eaters (which is why Alexis is always welcome for dinner). You could say my meal was a success (did I mention, easy?!), and there definitely weren’t any leftovers.
Here’s my menu for a Simple Summer Supper, Family Style:
- Penne with Summer Squash, Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto
- Grilled Citrus Chicken Thighs, with Chives!
- Corn Salad (with peppers, shallots and cilantro)
- Mesclun Salad with Cucumbers, Feta, Peaches and Prosciutto
I recommend you drink lemonade with dinner and serve some cannoli for dessert. This whole thing can be prepared in about an hour, and you can enjoy a cocktail while you call everyone to the table and toss the chicken on the grill. Makes about 8 servings in total, recipes below…
Penne with Summer Squash, Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto
This is seriously the easiest, most delicious, summer pasta. We eat it often throughout July and August.
- 1 lb. Penne or other short pasta (Farfalle works well here too)
- 4 medium zucchini or other summer squash, quartered lengthwise and then cut into 3/4″ pieces
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup Pesto (Make your own, it’s quick and easy. I usually have some frozen for last minute weeknight meals, or you could go store bought for ultra convenience)
- Salt, pepper and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the squash. Continue cooking for about 3-5 minutes more until the pasta is al dente and the squash is just tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain. Return the pasta and squash to the pot and add the cherry tomatoes, pesto, reserved water and toss to combine. Taste to see if it needs any salt and pepper, then transfer to a big serving bowl. Generously grate with cheese just before serving.
*This tastes great room temp, so feel free to prep and set aside.
Grilled Citrus Chicken Thighs, with Chives!
I love grilling whole chicken legs, but Brad and I often make these for big groups. Boneless skinless chicken thighs are inexpensive, cook up fast, and yield juicy, delicious results.
*Before you start cooking anything else. Prep the chicken to marinate and set aside:
- 3 lbs. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 lemons, juice and zest
- 2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
- Big pinch of cayenne
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of chives, chopped
In a large ziploc bag, toss the chicken thighs with the oil, lemon, garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper. Set the bag on a plate and allow to marinate for at least 45 minutes, turning once or twice, before grilling.
Grill the chicken thighs over a medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side. As soon as they’re cooked through, remove them to a platter, and toss with chives and serve.
*My other variation on this is to sub lime for lemon juice, add a few chopped jalapeños (seeds and all) instead of cayenne to the marinade, and toss with cilantro at the end. My brother loves this recipe.
- 3-4 ears of corn (depending on size)
- 1 bell pepper *or* 2 jalepeño peppers, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup shallots, minced
- Handful cilantro, chopped
- 1 lime, juice
- A few tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Grill or boil the ears of corn until just tender. When they’re cool enough to handle, cut the corn off the cob and add to your salad bowl. Add peppers, shallots, and cilantro.
Make a quick dressing of olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Toss everything to combine and set aside until you’re ready to eat.
Mesclun Salad with Cucumbers, Feta, Peaches and Prosciutto
- Mesclun or whatever kind of good leafy greens you’ve got on hand
- 1 Cucumber
- 4oz. Feta
- 2 Peaches
- 2 oz. Prosciutto, sliced
- Sherry Vinegar
- Olive Oil
- Agave Nectar
- Salt and pepper
Start with a big bowl of salad greens. Peel the cucumber and slice lengthwise, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds, then slice into 1/4″ slices. Next cut feta into 1/2″ cubes. Cut prosciutto lengthwise into 1″ strips, then cut crosswise into 1/4″ pieces (I had some, so I added it – delish, but definitely optional). Peal the peaches and cut into 1/2″ pieces. Toss them with some lemon juice, strain them and add them with the cucs, cheese and prosciutto to the salad.
I made a simple vinaigrette with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part sherry vinegar, a squirt of agave nectar, salt and pepper. When you’re ready to eat, gently toss just with just enough dressing to lightly coat everything, being careful not to overdress or overtoss.
After dinners we had some great movie nights. The ladies were pretty excited about our video projector, and get this, had never seen Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – OR – Sixteen Candles! But don’t worry, we fixed that. We also beat the heat by strolling together to good old Uncle Louie G’s for ice cream cones.
Kristi and Matt took on dinner the next 2 nights, firing up the grill for burgers and brats, along with salads and other good stuff. What a treat to come home from a long day in the studio to find dinner just about ready to eat! Thanks guys.
*Matt’s secret burger recipe called for chopped, fresh spinach mixed in with the ground meat. Don’t ask about the rest – it’s secret. But know that I’ll be trying the spinach trick soon.