It's a simple truth that we really enjoy having friends come to dinner. Winter nights are definitely cozier sharing a piece of chocolate in front of the fireplace. Summer evenings in our neighborhood are balm for the soul. Kids playing, biking, laughing hard. Food improvised and shared when conversations carry on well after sunset. Cookouts, fishing, sipping wine on the back decks. All that's missing is a good game of pétanque!
Neighbors have come and gone in the years that we have been on this street but by some random and kind act of life, we have always had great people moving in around here. Not everyone was familiar with Southern hospitality but withing a few short weeks, you can tell they warmed up to it. We all take turns keeping up with the common areas duties. We all share crab traps and fishing rods. We all find ourselves in a storm tightening boats to the dock.
Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Well, it is... And sometimes it hides the obvious from right under your nose. Take our neighbors and friends Pam and Steve for instance. They moved in a couple of years ago and we have spent many times chatting, comparing garden work, exchanging dog stories, etc.. However, after two years of cookouts and barbecues in the neighborhood, we had not had them over for dinner yet!
So on one of the hottest days of this week, they walked to fifteen steps from their front door to our back porch and came for dinner. We knew we already liked them but we did not know why and how much. Now we know. Air force, cancer, moving, traveling, Europe...all these words came and went several times in the course of the evening. Lots of anecdotes and experiences rang familiar to Bill and myself. And we listened and talked for hours. With pleasure.
We had bubbly chilling in the fridge, plenty to eat and the grill all set to go. The heat and humidity were overwhelming so I kept the menu fresh and simple and made a commitment not to turn the oven on!
We put some shrimp on the grill, made a huge field pea salad with avocado, onions, red bell pepper, a mozzarella and heirloom tomato salad. The highlights of the meal were the cantaloupe and speck ham with arugula plate I served as appetizer and the rhubarb and berry consommé we had for dessert along with some freshly made financiers cakes. Super fresh and simple.
Out of the many foods and dishes we enjoy during the summer, we clearly have our favorites such as apricots, peaches, berries and cantaloupes. In the winter my mother would always start our meal with a soup. In the summer, it was a slice of cantaloupe with some prosciutto or speck ham (and a drizzle of port for the adult!). Years later, miles away, I do what my mother did then. With produce this seasonal and this good here at the market, there is no excuse not to!
The cantaloupe and speck plate is inspired and adapted from all the various versions I have had since I was a kid while the rhubarb and berry consommé is adapted from a recipe in the summer issue of Elle A Table that my mother brought me when they came to visit. Once a year I get a suitcase full of French food magazine and yes, it does get me an entire year to read through them all!
We had a wonderful dinner with our neighbors and we stayed at the dinner table chatting way passed a reasonable hour. But it's summer. And there were stories to share and memories to make. And good food to eat...
Have a wonderful weekend!
Cantaloupe, Speck and Arugula:
There is really no cookie cutter recipe for this just make sure you have enough of the following for 4 to 6 people
Cantaloupe: I count 3 thin to medium slices per person
Speck or prosciutto: I count 2 to 3 slices per person
Arugula Salad: a small handful per plat
pine nuts: a little or a lot depending on your taste
Celery root: I cut it in little batons and I like the crunch it provides the salad, but you can omit it or use jicama if you prefer.
Rhubarb & Berry Consommé, adapted from Elle A Table:
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup rhubarb, cleaned and cut into 1 inch sticks
1/4 cup chopped fresh lemon verbena
1 cup strawberries, cut in half
1/2 cup blueberries
In a large saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a simmer. Add the rhubarb sticks and cook over medium heat two to three minutes. Remove from the heat and throw in the lemon verbena. Let cool completely. Add the strawberries and blueberries and refrigerate until cold.
To plate: divide the fruits among glasses or ramekins and top with some of the poaching syrup. Serve really cold and within the same day as you make it (or the strawberry will turn mushy and soft)