Once the warm weather strikes, and I feel comfortable standing outside in the evening, hardly a week ever passes when I haven’t had a barbecue at least once or twice. It’s hard for me to even consider preparing food inside when the barbecue is beckoning. There’s so much added flavor, it almost feels like I’m cheating. If guests are coming to visit, it’s guaranteed the menu will be a barbecue - easier for me, and more flavorful for my guests!
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I cook the same recipes - that would really be cheating! I like to play with different recipes and cuisines. But there are certain cuisines that seem more suited to a barbecue than others, such as Mediterranean cuisine and particularly Spanish cuisine. With sunny days and a relatively dry climate, many Spaniards will prepare barbecue meals and dine al fresco year round.
But if you don’t live in a warm and sunny climate all year, you need to take advantage of those long summer days and nights while you can. Plan an al fresco, Spanish barbecue to savor the season before it vanishes into the chilly autumn nights.
Setting the Stage
When we entertain during the balmy summer evenings, it often reminds me of the dreamy mood found in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. After a few cocktails and a hearty sampling of food, everyone feels very relaxed, and ready to settle into late night conversations. Without the crazy schedules we endure the rest of the year, we can sink into a reverie while watching the fireflies (or was it the fairies?) dancing among the trees. So let’s decorate for this party in a style inspired by Shakespeare’s dreamy comedy.
Give your decor an earthy, woodland feel by covering your tables in brown or dark green lengths of cloth.
Wrap sheer gossamer fabric around the backs of your chairs. Use a variety of colors such as lavenders, greens, pinks, yellows, and blues to create a magical effect.
Place pots of ivy plants down the center of your table. It’s all the better if the ivy trails out of the pots.
Include small garden figures as part of your decorations, such as garden gnomes, fairies and elves. If clean, you can include them with the ivy pots down the center of your table. Or have them peeking out of the ground along walkways or in potted plants around your party.
Create a whimsical floral centerpiece or ground decorations using single stem flowers with colored lights shining on them.
The proper lighting will add the finishing touches to the magic of your party. Hang lantern lights between trees above your table. Candles placed in safe locations will also add to the mood. Strings of twinkling white lights add to the sparkle created by the fireflies.
This menu allows you to prepare the appetizers, first course, and dessert in advance so you’re not fussing in the kitchen and leaving your guests to party without you. The main course can be cooked in the company of your guests, turning it into an activity for those so inclined.
Serve a few Spanish small plate dishes, tapas, as your appetizers.
Melon with Serrano Ham - This is an ideal summer tapa for when melons are local and in-season.
Roasted Red Pepper in Oil, Vinegar, and Garlic - This is another perfect summer tapa when peppers have reached their peak of ripeness on the vine.
Grilled Eggplant in Tomato Vinaigrette - Here’s a delicious seasonal way to serve a great summer vegetable as a tapa.
Gazpacho Andaluz - Some people believe soup shouldn’t be served in the summer unless it’s a cold soup. This recipe is for them. We wouldn’t want controversy at your barbecue!
Spanish Summer Pasta Salad - I love pasta salads because they can be made in advance and they combine several side dishes into one.
Easy Grilled Lamb Chops - Grilling lamb is my favorite kind of preparation, especially when there’s a simple garlic rub. You can rub the garlic into the lamb before your party, but the chops need to be cooked and served immediately to your eagerly waiting guests.
Vanilla Flan with Caramel Sauce - This classic, light dessert makes a great finish to a summer meal and, best of all, it can be made ahead and simply unmolded when you’re ready to serve.