Without a dining room table to our name, Andrew and I often take our summer meals to our building rooftop – inviting friends to join there for an evening of warming sunsets and peak produce finds. Making the most of the season and our social life without breaking the bank is a precarious balance, manifesting a memorable gathering within the confines of both monetary and time budgets. Always keeping it simple, below you’ll find the gathering rules we live by: our tips for hosting your next summer dinner party (for four), for under 25 dollars.
Let seasonal produce shine
Hosting late summer gatherings (or spring, autumn, or winter tables), we’re always sure to shop seasonally – creating a main course around available heirloom tomatoes, sweet yellow corn, fresh herbs, watermelon, and figs. Seasonal produce not only taste better, retaining their vibrancy, nutrition, and texture, but are also priced more economically than those out of season. Because fruits and vegetables are easier to grow in their proper seasons, they’re more abundant, less time-intensive, and more affordable for consumers. In the late summer, we lean on abundant and hydrating salads, those options that require practically no time in the kitchen and little time in the oven. We bulk these up with budget friendly grains – like quinoa, barely, farro, and brown rice – and favorite nuts and seeds – like hemp, sunflower, pepita, and walnuts.
Let your market work for you
Suppressing my ego in the name of practicality, I love filling a table with pre-prepared dips and spreads. Budget friendly, I purchase a favorite hummus or two, transfer it into a bowl or glass jar, then top it with lingering microgreens and seeds, for a homemade look without the homemade effort. A perfect accompaniment to my main course salad, these dips make the table feel more abundant and plates feel more filling with zero added hassle.
Don’t be afraid to proclaim potluck
Inviting friends into your home, ask them to bring something along (really, do it!) – whether that be a bottle of wine, a fresh loaf of sourdough or baguette, a favorite cheese, or additional dips. This not only relieves some financial burden, but also makes the table feel more interactive, allowing your guests to direct conversation around their plate and not come empty handed. Though always sure to provide the main course and have a bottle of wine handy, we’ve also found this practice relieves stress, easing our time spent in the kitchen, especially during a busier workweek.
Keep it simple
As stunning and delicious as you want your meal to be, there’s so much more to a table than food. There’s really no need to stress yourself with an extensive recipe or cumbersome grocery list. Keep it simple and enjoy the evening with your company. Below you’ll find a go-to recipe Andrew and I have been serving at our late summer tables – a roasted tomato and olive Mediterranean salad. Utilizing late summer’s abundance, packing an unctuousness and lightness, and only taking moments to come together, this impressive, yet wildly simple (and under 25$) salad is perfect on its own, served with crusty bread and your guest’s favorite wine.
Roasted Tomato and Olive Mediterranean Salad
makes 6 servings
4 cups small ripe tomatoes, halved
1 cup pitted black olives
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup fresh thyme, stems removed
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup uncooked pearled barley
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cannellini beans, from can or pre-simmered
2 cups fresh basil, thinly sliced
16 ounces marinated artichoke wedges, drained
1 large cucumber, seeded and cubed
juice of 2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine tomatoes, olives, feta, thyme, and olive oil on baking sheet, gently tossing until well mixed. Roast for 20 minutes, or until feta is just golden and tomatoes are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, bring barley and water to a boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, or until barley has absorbed all of the water and is tender. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool to room temperature.
To Assemble: Transfer the cooked barley to your serving bowl and toss with cannellini beans. Top with basil, artichoke, cucumber and prepared tomato/feta mixture (being sure to add all accumulated juices and oils to the bowl!). Squeeze in lemon juice, season to taste, serve and enjoy!
adapted from: The Kinfolk Table; Hearty Barley Salad with Broiled Feta and Tomatoes