Outdoor-Dining Tips Let You Take it Outside

Lifestyle expert James Farmer offers cool ideas for warm weather dining from his book "Dinner on the Grounds."

Goat cheese coated with honey gives this basil blackberry salad a nice creamy bite.  

Photo by: Photographs by Emily Followill and Maggie Yelton / Gibbs Smith.

Photographs by Emily Followill and Maggie Yelton / Gibbs Smith.

Goat cheese coated with honey gives this basil blackberry salad a nice creamy bite.  

Whenever I weigh the pros and cons of entertaining outdoors versus indoors, I always hear lifestyle expert James Farmer's voice in my head. "The best dish anyone can serve is a confident host," he told me once. That's when I stopped worrying about my mediocre landscaping and started obsessing over my menu. 

Now I don't even have to do that, thanks to Farmer's book, Dinner on the Grounds: Southern Suppers and Soirees (Gibbs Smith). The quintessential Southern gentleman pairs recipes for dining al fresco—everything from church potlucks and weddings to intimate gatherings—with seasonal ingredients straight from his garden and the local farmers' markets. Start planning your summer suppers now with recipes below for Basil Blackberry Salad, Cashiers Farmers' Market Pasta and Amaretto Peach Bake garnished with fresh mint. 

While you're at it, use these tips from our favorite Farmer for a cool party, even when they weather's warm: 

  • Plant citronella or mint in pots to provide a cool scent for guests.
  • Include a water feature: The sound of moving water is a cooling element.
  • Freeze herbal leaves in ice cubes for extra flavor in water or cocktails.

Basil Blackberry Salad

"This is one of my standby summer salads," Farmer writes in Dinner on the Grounds. "Since the cheese provides protein, I can eat this salad alone as a meal or with a simple piece of fish or chicken."

Serves 4-6

  • ½ log (about 4 ounces) goat cheese
  • 1 heaping teaspoon honey
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups microgreens
  • 12 basil leaves, julienned
  • ¾ cup blackberries
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, drizzle the goat cheese with honey and mix the two together. In a medium-size mixing bowl, toss together the microgreens and basil leaves. Add in the blackberries and cheese. Squeeze the juice of both lemon halves over the salad mixture, and then add olive oil. Toss lightly, top with dabs of goat cheese and serve.

Cashiers Farmers' Market Pasta

"I prepare this dish for a crowd or to feast on by myself for days." Farmer says. "It get better and better with each day, especially if you toast it in the over to reheat. I really like the crunch factor of toasted pasta and cheese." 

Serves 6-8

  • 1 pound fusilli pasta
  • ½ cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for pasta
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • ½ red onion or shallot, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 medium yellow squash, sliced
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 heirloom tomato, chopped
  • 1 yellow tomato, chopped
  • 2 banana peppers, sliced
  • 2 ears white corn, shaved from the cob
  • 2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
  • ½ cup chopped green onion

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) to prevent sticking.

In a large frying skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Brown the onion or shallot. Add in garlic and wine and reduce by one-fourth. Add in squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and banana peppers. Toss and cook until vegetables are tender.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Transfer cooked pasta to a large baking dish. Add the vegetable sauce and corn and toss with the pasta. Top with grated cheese and bake until cheese and pasta are slightly brown and melted. Garnish with a green onion.

Amaretto Peach Bake

"This dish is a nod back to my grandmother's generation," Farmer says. "You can make it with pears, plums and apples, but I adore this peach version." Farmer suggests keeping the skin on the peaches because it helps hold them together during the baking process. 

Serves 8

  • 4 peaches, halved and pitted (peeled, if desired)
  • 1 ½ cups amaretto liqueur
  • 2 dozen small amaretto cookies, crushed
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • Whipped cream, optional
  • Mint or basil for garnish

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Place peaches in baking dish, pit side up. Fill each pit with a heaping tablespoon of cookies and top with 1 tablespoon butter.

Pour amaretto around peaches, making a vat of liqueur.

Cover loosely with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until peaches are completely soft.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Garnish with mint or basil. I love the essence the basil gives off with the warm peaches.

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