7 Tips for Late Summer Dinner Parties at Home

grilled peaches

Hot time, late summer in the city!

Except for those dreaded Friday nights when all that’s on your buff arm is your reusable canvas shopping bag.

Lumbering home from your hood’s green grocer, you pass that trendy Indian bistro and spy handsome couples in the window on double dates. They’re nursing ginormous chalices of red wine and laughing up a storm, eyes tearing from the tandoori and terribly clever banter. You feel resentful. You like red wine, too.


Take heart, neo nester. It’s commendable to eat in and save money. But hey, don’t do it alone, silly! Invite your cheap friends over Saturday night and play frugal gourmet as a unit.

For seven tips, I went to the source, Executive Chef Annie Somerville of the celebrated Greens Restaurant of San Francisco.

Greens is owned by the San Francisco Zen Center and Somerville teaches classes throughout the year at its Green Gulch organic farm. She has earned an international reputation for her imaginative approach to elegantly composed and simple vegetarian cooking, and is the author Everyday Greens (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

Here’s her greenprint for wearing your own chef’s hat and becoming the coolest home-buddy in town.


Annie’s Guide to Planning and Entertaining at Home in August:

1. Sustain your energy.

Don’t overextend yourself. You are having friends over so make sure it is fun for you, too.

2.The shopping is part of the deal.

It should begin at the farmers’ market and you should enjoy the entire experience as you plan your evening.

3. Shop at your local farmers’ market.

There is so much great seasonal produce right now at the farmers’ market, so cook up some great dishes using these fresh choices. I know it sounds cliche, but the most fun thing to do is grilling, which is great when you are running behind.

Appetizers: Stone fruit is good now, like peaches and nectarines. We are brushing a little olive oil on them and grilling them lightly, then drizzling lightly with local honey and serving on watercress, or any greens. Add a nice cheese like fromage blanc or a fresh white goat cheese. You can also shave cheese over the fruit. For figs, which are coming in now and will last quite late into the season, I use a big, aged balsamic or golden vinegar to create a reduction, and serve with goat cheese.

Entree: You could make a rustic, savory tartlet filled with eggplant, peppers and  grilled onions. You can grill those ingredients or roast them. You could also do corn which is so good now, making a tart filled with corn, chilies, onions, cheddar and cilantro. A simple dish is rounds of eggplants with big slices of peppers, onions and summer squash, all roasted separately. Make a gratin, layering in a baking dish with some cheese and big, torn up leaves of basil. Sprinkle Parmesan and crunchy delicious bread crumbs over the top. Put it in the oven, bake and serve. Delicious! The best of summer.

Side dish: Another thing we are doing as a side dish is using rosemary skewers, leaving a few sprigs on the tops, and grilling fingerling potatoes, wedges of squash and torpedo onions. You can put a big cherry tomato on them. The sprigs are fun and taste good.

Salad: Make a big green salad adding quinoa, parsley, tomatoes, olive oil and lemon. This is always a refreshing salad people dig into.

3. Invite your guests to help cook.

If things aren’t coming together as quickly as you like, ask friends to step in. They love to get involved and it actually puts them at ease, socially. Hand  someone a pair of tongs and say, “Hey, can you flip these onions?” I taught an outdoor cooking workshop at Tassajara and got everyone involved. It gets people engaged in a real way.

4. Make it informal and family style.

Anytime I can eat outdoors I do, and the more relaxed the better, and that is my rule for restaurants, too. I don’t feel like I’m a captive inside. I like the idea of everyone sitting down to a long, informal picnic table with big platters of food and good wine. Maybe you can set up a second table for a buffet if you need to. The more informality the better to make people feel at ease. These days everything is so structured and people need to relax and have a good time.

5. Opt for light, refreshing drinks.

A fresh iced mint tea is always good or  lemon verbena spritzer with lemonade and mineral water and sprigs of  verbena from the garden. On a warm night, a beautiful rose is ideal. I also like Spanish wines and Sauvignon Blancs on a warm summer night.

6. Use beeswax candles for ambiance.

Candles for sure, they are fun. Sometimes I resort to any ones I have. I have just been given beautiful beeswax candles from the farmers’ market people who produce honey for us, Snyder’s Farm. They are at the Tuesday farmers’ market at the SF Ferry Building.

7. Extend the simplicity to the dessert.

It’s always nice to offer coffee and tea and can be great to have a wonderful dessert wine, really simple. I love fruit crisps and cobblers. Short cakes also are easy to do. But if you can’t bake, just make a simple sundae with delicious vanilla ice cream and an assortment of berries. You can mash them and make a sauce. Or serve some good cookies and berries. A cluster of grapes is even good or melons and a cheese plate (light fresh goat, a cow’s milk cheese and  a sheep milk cheese, with toasted walnuts and almonds). Add a pretty platter with toasted bread.

* These days, Annie is “keeping her nose to the grindstone at Greens” but come the start of the year, you can visit her at the Chef’s Holiday Series at the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite.

Images: mccun934, Marilynn Taylor

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.