How to throw a perfect summer dinner party

Keep your cool, even when it's hot outside

Dinner party
(Image credit: (iStock))

I made a mistake today: I turned on my oven. For some reason, I thought I could get away with roasting an eggplant. I turned my window AC unit up to full blast and closed all of my windows to try to trap in as much cold air as possible, but it was no use. My top-floor apartment turned into a furnace, and I was so sweaty I couldn't even look at, much less eat, that eggplant.

The lesson here is that August eating should be as simple — and cool — as possible. With summertime produce at its peak, assemble is the operative word. When I have friends over on a hot evening, instead of cooking, I love to create a picnic-style spread of salads, tapenades, crusty breads with good olive oil and burrata, olives and maybe some crudités with homemade hummus. For dessert? Fresh fruit or store-bought sorbet.

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Here are a few tips to create a simple summer soiree, no cooking necessary.

Salads are your best friend. A crisp, raw salad is so easy to toss together at the last minute, and incredibly versatile, too. I like to use whatever I've found at the farmers market and all the odds and ends I need to use up in my refrigerator. Try serving some kind of green salad, a grain salad (cooked the day before and kept chilled) and a simple Caprese, made with tomatoes or peaches or both.

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Prep ahead, then chill. When it comes to a no-cook party, like any other dinner party, think about what you can make (or prep) ahead. Tapenades (either olive or sundried tomato), hummus, and other dips can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for several days. Prep vegetables for crudités the morning of (halved carrots, sliced yellow or red bell peppers or fennel, radishes, raw asparagus or snap peas) and keep them covered with moist paper towels in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bonus: They'll be extra cool and crisp for the party.

(Brandon Carl)

Blend everything. I use my blender all of the time in the summer to create chilled soups (gazpacho is my favorite), smoothies, frozen margaritas, or agua fuertes. It's also a great way to make hummus if you don't have a food processor.

Carnivores allowed. Just because you're not cooking doesn't mean you have to skip the protein. Create a board of different charcuteries, like saucissons, prosciutto, mortadella, and pâté. If you're craving seafood, serve a platter of chilled smoked salmon with capers, red onions, cucumbers, and lemons.

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Yes way, rosé. It goes without saying that the beverage to serve at a picnic-style party is rosé (the paler, the better). Rooftop rosé has become a tradition at our apartment in the summertime. Everyone brings their favorite bottle, and I have a big aluminum bucket of ice on the roof to keep them all chilled. We serve ourselves and try different varieties. (I add in some bottles of sparkling and still water, too, just to keep everyone hydrated!)

Stock up on picnic essentials. We eat on the roof all the time during the summer, but it's a pain to carry nice plates and glasses up and down the stairs. Instead, I've stocked up on some cute plastic plates and inexpensive wine tumblers that I don't have to worry about breaking, as well as a tote bag to carry it all. I also have a really great single-bottle wine chiller that's perfect for small gatherings.

Tasting Table is a culinary lifestyle brand that obsesses over what to eat and drink so you don't have to. It's like having a foodie best friend to distill the culinary world into must-do, must-eat, and must-know recommendations, on everything from the best Thai in the Village to the top tequila pours in Outer Mission. Hungry yet?

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