I love spending time with my family and our community of close friends. So far, we have been privileged to enjoy near-perfect weather this summer and even created a few wonderful “summer 2017” celebratory and cottage memories.
It’s always great to have the opportunity to welcome others into our cottage – it really is what the cottage is all about! At the same time, it’s sometimes difficult not to spend too much time in the kitchen, trying to prepare a perfect and yet easy summer meal while also trying to enjoy summer fun with guests and exploring what “the lake” and cottage country has to offer.
Through some trial and error, Michael and I have learned to keep things as simple as possible and to take advantage of the incredible local food, farmer’s markets, wine, and cooking studios that we’re so lucky to have close by. They help us perfect our food passions and make time with guests that much better. This week, I’m thrilled to welcome local culinary expert and entrepreneur Carla De Luca, to share tips on the best summer al fresco meals.
Carla is the Director of Events & Marketing for De Luca’s grocery store, cooking studio, and restaurant. De Luca’s has become a mainstay of local foodies and a favourite culinary stop before heading to the cottage. Now 12 years into her stead with De Luca’s, Carla has combined an interest in business with her passion for life and talent for culinary classics. Here, she shares her favourites (and some of her secrets) to hosting a classic, beautiful summer spread (as well as some tips for hosting cottage time with girlfriends!). Enjoy!
Carla De Luca. Photo: Pantel Photography
What’s your favourite summer food? When I think summer, I can’t help but think al fresco dining and picnics in the park. My favourite thing to do is pick up some great cheeses, cured salami, olives, fresh bread, and make a little meal out of these amazing ingredients. Simple and delicious, especially when paired with a beautiful outdoor view and a glass of crisp rosé!
Favourite dessert? I love love love fresh local berries in the summer! I’ll take as many ripe berries as I can find, pair them with a dollop of whipped mascarpone cream, and finish with a drizzle of aged balsamic. Just perfection!
What foods are best for hosting a dinner in hot weather? I’m a big fan of fresh salads and lighter fare in summer months, but it can be a struggle to keep them from wilting or losing fresh appeal. Instead, I’ll take hearty ingredients that hold up well, like chickpeas, quinoa, and kale, and incorporate them into a salad to give it body and substance. Dice up some peppers, shallots, cucumbers, green onions, or any of your favourite firm vegetables, and pair it with a light vinaigrette. If you like, add some grilled chicken done with a unique spice or rub, and it will add a ton of flavour. Focaccia is another great add-on and keeps well at room temperature. (D’s note: substitute grilled salmon or shrimp for lighter fare!)
What food should be avoided for serving in hot weather? Anything with creamy sauces or cheeses. Tender lettuces also tend to wilt quickly. Stick to vinaigrettes, firm cheeses, and hearty leaf lettuce like kale mixed with arugula to maintain a fresh crisp salad in the heat.
What are your grocery list must-haves for the cottage? I could name 20!
- For sure a good extra virgin olive oil, as that is what will be the base of most of your cooking,
- A few cheeses to snack on, and some fresh fruit,
- Of course, our (De Luca’s!) house-made Italian sausage to throw onto the grill,
- I love a good aged balsamic as it keeps well and can be added on to grilled meats, on fruit for dessert, or even with cheeses and bread, and
- Coffee. Good coffee!
If you were to host 4 girlfriends at the cottage for the summer, what would a Saturday night menu look like?
- A cheese and charcuterie board is a must to start of the night (and even snack on while we’re cooking): fresh calabrese bread, local Smak Dab Canadian Maple dijon mustard, and spiced almonds to pair with that as well.
- A beautiful salad full of local specialties in season: local lettuces, pea shoots, arugula, shaved carrots, radishes, and shallots all paired with simple lemon, red wine vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette (3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar, 1 part lemon, coarse salt, pepper, and fresh garlic).
- Pasta is a must but its nice to keep it light in the summer months: just a simple wild mushroom brown butter sauce on fresh pappardelle (wide noodle!) pasta topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. If we’re feeling lavish….maybe a wild mushroom and porcini risotto instead!
- Italian sausages grilled on the bbq.
- End with fresh berries drizzled with aged balsamic, and bring along some Cornell Cream Vanilla Bean Ice Cream to pair (because who doesn’t want ice cream in the summer!?).
Carla concluded by explaining it’s very easy to get carried away with hosting, but that some of the most beautiful meals of her life have been ones of great quality simple ingredients.
Al fresco dining isn’t complex, it’s just classic, beautiful food at its best. If it’s on your way, stop by De Luca’s grocery store (I dare you not to cave to their fresh prepared pastas!) and try your hand at a few of Carla’s beautiful meals. If you so desire, pop in to their neighbours at De Luca Fine Wines for a recommendation or two on wine to pair with dinner. For those of you who live in other geographic regions – I encourage you to seek out a local fresh market and wine store to do the same! The experience itself is a real joy.
Why? Because indulging on the simple things leads to the greatest happiness. Ciao!
Photos: Krysten Cathleen Photography + Carla De Luca
D by denise Journal is published bi-weekly. To subscribe and receive directly to your inbox click here.