You can be one of those people for whom summer entertaining seems effortless. You know the type: They just “toss things together.” They don’t sweat the tablescape. They plunk down a few bottles of vino, light up some votives and enjoy their company until it’s time to clear the plates.
Here’s a way to do it. Compose a no-cook menu, most of which can be made in advance. Consider this new three-course plan: a pale-green, creamy and refreshing blender soup to start; a trendy poke salad with unexpected crunch; and a coffee-kissed icebox torte made with chocolate-sided whole-wheat digestive biscuits. All are doable in an hour, provided you start with the dessert so it can chill while you make the rest.
Fresh peas give body and sweetness to pea, ricotta and mint gazpacho, while cucumber keeps it light, and avocado lends richness. You can refrigerate it hours ahead and dress it up any which way you please. For the tuna poke with kohlrabi, spring for the freshest-looking tuna fillet you can find, and you will be rewarded with jewel-toned cubes of marinated fish that have a bit of a bite. Then just heap them on a bed of scallions and kohlrabi — the latter a vegetable that is consistently overlooked and underappreciated in high seasons of tomato and corn.
The torte turns out to look like more of a mess, really — hence, the name McVities icebox mess — by the time you have scooped it into cups. No matter. It’s a minimal-ingredient wonder, with lightly sweetened whipped cream, whipped cream cheese or tiramisu-flavored mascarpone, brewed espresso, pomegranate molasses and those addictive euro cookies from a tidy, one-sleeve box. Line a small loaf pan with plastic wrap, fill it in, seal it up. Given a 30-minute rest in the refrigerator, the biscuits sink and soften ever so slightly into the filling around them. It’s a dessert that can be done ahead of time, too.
And there you have it, without stress or heat or large sighs heaved.
Pea, ricotta and mint gazpacho
This first-course soup is beautiful, refreshing and slightly grassy on the finish — your guests will never be able to tell that it takes no more than 15 minutes to assemble.
Make ahead: The soup can be refrigerated a day in advance. You may wish to re-blend just before serving.
You can still find fresh peas in the produce department at this time of year, but if they aren’t available at your market, use frozen/defrosted green peas.
1 large or 2 seedless cucumbers, peeled and cut into cubes (14 ounces total)
Flesh of 1 ripe avocado, cut into chunks
1 cup shelled fresh green peas, plus more for garnish (or thawed from frozen)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 clove garlic
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, plus a few small leaves for garnish
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
Combine the cucumber, avocado, peas, ricotta, garlic, water, lemon juice, chopped parsley, mint and scallion greens in a high-powered blender (preferably a Vitamix); puree until smooth. Season lightly with salt and pepper; blend again, just to incorporate. Taste, and add more lemon juice, as needed.
Divide among individual small bowls. Garnish each portion with a few peas, parsley leaves and a drizzle of oil.
— Adapted from Leo Volner, a private chef in New York
Makes 6 to 8 servings (makes 4 cups). Nutrition per serving (based on 8): 110 calories, 5 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 65 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams sugar.
Tuna poke with kohlrabi
This just happens to be a doubly special recipe, in that it may introduce you to a vegetable that many folks don’t often use and will take about 20 minutes to prepare. It’s kind of pretty on the plate, too.
Make ahead: The tuna, once dressed, is best the same day it is prepared. But it can be refrigerated overnight for leftovers the next day, having become only a bit mushier.
Kohlrabi may come in shades of pale green or bright purple; once you peel it, the vegetable is the same on the inside. It may come with stalks and leaves attached; the latter are fine to eat. The vegetable has the crunch of radish but is mild in flavor. Used raw, as it is here, it holds up well to dressings.
2 small or 1 large kohlrabi, peeled and cut into thin strips (julienne; about 1 pound total before trimming)
6 or 7 scallions (1 bunch; white and green parts), cut lengthwise into julienne
1-2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Fine sea salt
18-21 ounces good-quality tuna fillets
2 teaspoons pure sesame oil (not toasted)
1½-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, grated (about 1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 small red chile pepper, such as bird’s-eye, seeded and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon toasted/roasted sesame seeds
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, for garnish
Combine the kohlrabi and scallions in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with the grapeseed oil, as needed, and season lightly with salt, tossing lightly to coat.
Cut the fish into ¾-inch chunks, getting rid of any stringy bits and fat.
Whisk together the sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce or tamari, chile pepper and toasted/roasted sesame seeds in a mixing bowl. Just before serving, add the tuna and toss to coat evenly.
Divide the kohlrabi mixture among individual plates. Top each portion with equal amounts of the tuna. Garnish with the cilantro leaves and black sesame seeds.
— Adapted from “Leon Fast & Free: Free-From Recipes for People Who Really Like Food” by Jane Baxter and John Vincent (Conran/Octopus, 2017)
Makes 6 to 8 servings. Nutrition per serving: 110 calories, 17 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat, no saturated fat, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 150 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 1 gram sugar.
McVities icebox mess
Milk-chocolate digestive biscuits give this dessert a soft texture contrast and bring chocolaty flavor. They will soften somewhat when allowed to sit in the whipped cream/cheese mixture for a few hours.
If you choose to use cream cheese rather than the tiramisu-flavored mascarpone, be sure the cream cheese is the whipped kind, because it is not as dense as the regular brick variety of cream cheese. If you use the mascarpone, you can omit the espresso.
We fancied this up with white chocolate curls on top, but they are optional. To make them easily, see the note below. You’ll need an 8½-by-4 ½-inch loaf pan.
Make ahead: The dessert needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, and up to overnight.
We found tiramisu-flavored mascarpone at Whole Foods Market.
1 cup chilled heavy cream
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces whipped cream cheese or tiramisu-flavored mascarpone, at a cool room temperature
2 to 3 tablespoons strongly brewed espresso
10 cookies from one 10.5-ounce package McVities brand milk-chocolate-covered biscuits
White chocolate curls, for garnish (optional; see note)
Red currants, for garnish (optional)
Combine the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar in the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for a few minutes, to form soft peaks.
Stop to add the whipped cream cheese and espresso (to taste) or the tiramisu-flavored mascarpone; beat on low speed just until incorporated. The mixture should be firm enough so that a tableware spoon inserted into it can stand upright on its own.
Line the loaf pan with plastic wrap, making sure there is enough wrap hanging over the sides (so you will be able to close it over the top).
Spread half the whipped cream mixture in the pan. Then, insert the biscuits (cookies) about ¼ inch apart, standing them upright so their top halves are exposed.
Drizzle the pomegranate molasses evenly over the surface of the whipped cream mixture (with the cookies standing in a row in it). Then fill the pan with the remaining mixture, doing it gently enough so the biscuits stay in place. You should have enough of the mixture to cover the cookies; they will start to sink in after a few minutes, which will make the covering easier. Fold over the plastic wrap so the loaf is sealed. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up and chill through.
When ready to serve, open the plastic wrap at the top. Invert a serving platter over the torte; holding both together tightly, invert so the torte is positioned upside down on the platter. Discard the plastic wrap.
Decorate with the white chocolate curls and/or red currants, if desired. Serve chilled.
Note: To make the white chocolate curls, let a thin, 3- or 4-ounce bar of white chocolate come to room temperature. Pull a vegetable peeler along one of the bar’s thin sides using steady pressure; this will create curls. Repeat as needed. (If some of them shred, that’s OK, too.)
— From Washington Post deputy Food editor/recipes editor Bonnie S. Benwick
Makes 8 servings. Nutrition per serving: 330 calories, 3 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 220 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 15 grams sugar.