Magazine article Sunset

A Just-Picked Party: For a Relaxed Dinner Outdoors, Let Fresh Summer Ingredients Do the Work for You

Magazine article Sunset

A Just-Picked Party: For a Relaxed Dinner Outdoors, Let Fresh Summer Ingredients Do the Work for You

Article excerpt

WHEN CHEF ALEX SEIDEL hosts a party at his farm in Larkspur, Colorado, only one thing is rarefied: the location (7,200 feet above sea level, with views west to meadowlands and trees). Everything else is as lowkey as Seidel himself "No fuss, no muss--that's what I like," says the chef, who owns Denver restaurants Fruition and the new Mercantile Dining & Provision. "We'll scatter around hay bales to sit on. We might have a bonfire. It's gorgeous out here under the stars."

Seidel grows vegetables, raises sheep and pigs, and makes cheeses on the 10-acre farm he bought in 2009. "From the time I started cooking, the ingredients were what inspired me," Seidel says. That's his approach to parties too. "Every dish doesn't have to be a IS-step concoction," he says. "Get some fresh ingredients, highlight those, and what you'll get is deliciousness and fun."

Seidel's party tips

START WITH A BANG. "I like to set out a board with assorted cheeses-including our own--along with salumi, salmon rillettes, homemade mustard, jardiniere pickles, and 'bread and butta' pickles."

SAY IT WITH ONION TOPS. "We decorate the table with whatever happens to be growing around here: sunflowers, scabiosa, and larkspur, but also mustard flowers and onion tops."

THINK QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY. "My wife, Melissa, and I believe in portion control, because it's healthier. And I'd rather people hove room to try a bit of everything--meat, salad, vegetables, pasta."

OFFER A FUN SIP. "We like to do a seasonal cocktail in a mason jar with a lid [see drink for a butter-washed bourbon drink]. When guests arrive, you just pour the infused liquor over ice."

ADD A TWIST. "Every occasion should be different. If you have the some party over and over, it's no longer a party--it's just the some old thing."


SERVES 6 TO 8 / 1 1/2 HOURS

For this salad, Seidel uses a mix of tomato varieties-whichever are ripest at the moment in his greenhouse. The eggplant "croutons" are small cubes, breaded in seasoned panko and briskly fried. Fruition Farms also produces the burrata cheese, which is fresh mozzareUa filled with ricotta and cream.

1/2 small Japanese eggplant (about 2 oz.)
About 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
Black pepper
6 heirloom tomatoes (about 3 lbs.], in
  a mix of colors
2 tbsp. minced shallot
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for frying
1/4 cup flour
1 large egg, beaten
8 oz. burrata or fresh mozzorello
4 loosely packed cups arugula
12 basil leaves (optional)

1. Dice eggplant into 1/2-in. cubes and put
in a colander. Toss with 1/2 tsp. salt and
let drain 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, make seasoned bread
crumbs: Heat panko in a medium (not
nonstick) pan over medium heat, stirring
occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to

5 minutes; stir in thyme and a couple
of pinches each salt and black pepper.
Let cool.

3. Bring a medium pot of salted water to
a boil and fill a bowl with ice and cold
water. Using a sharp paring knife,
core tomatoes by cutting a cone around
stems. Score bottom of each tomato
with a small X.

4. Blanch tomatoes 20 seconds, immersing
two at a time. With a slotted spoon,
transfer to ice water. When cool, lift
tomatoes to a plate and peel them. Slice
tomatoes thickly and arrange over two-thirds
of a platter.

5. Make vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine
shallot, red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp.
salt, and 'A tsp. white pepper. Whisk in
1/4 cup oil.

6. Pour oil for frying into a small pot to
a depth of 1 1/2 in. Insert a deep-fry
thermometer and heat over medium-high
heat until oil registers 325[degrees].

7. While oil is heating, rinse eggplant and
pat dry with paper towels. Set a metal
cooling rack in a rimmed baking pan
and put next to stove.

8. Put flour in a shallow bowl, egg in another,
and seasoned panko in a third. … 
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