Summer recipes – perfect for al fresco dinners with friends and family

Now is the ideal time of year for summer recipes you can enjoy al fresco with family and friends. Alice Hart’s delicious mix of simple, seasonal dishes is easy to prepare and designed to be enjoyed in the great outdoors

Summer recipes
(Image credit: Emma Lee)

These summer recipes – a real family feast – work best with dishes made for sharing, without the formality of fixed courses. This menu serves eight hungry adults, but the starters and salads should serve six as part of a more humble spread. The salmon and layered meringue will be enough for many more, and leftovers will make wonderful second helpings or sandwiches. 

The recipes are suitable for cooking over a fire pit, barbecue or conventional oven; pick whichever is most convenient – then enjoy al fresco.

Serve these dishes in the evening – or as summer lunch recipes.

The menu

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

To start

The smoothest mung bean hummus

Main course

Whole salmon stuffed with dill and served with a preserved lemon relish

Toasted couscous and charred vegetable salad with basil dressing

Black quinoa and bean salad with roast baby beets

Dessert

Meringue stack with summer berries and vanilla cream

To drink

Gin and rosemary fizz

The nutty richness of an oaky chardonnay is a great match for the salmon. 

For a red alternative, try a bottle of fresh, cherryish pinot noir or Beaujolais that won’t overpower its subtle flavors. 

With the meringue, a bottle of inexpensive Moscatel de Valencia or a sparkling rosé will bring this indulgent feast to a delicious finale.

Style your table

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Gather chairs and benches from around the house, and fill baskets with tableware and utensils for cooking al fresco. With such colorful food, neutral crockery looks best. Glass tumblers work equally for water and wine, and can be stacked for transportation. An outdoor lunch like this is likely to run on into the evening, so have a couple of lanterns close to hand for when it starts to get dark.

Mung bean hummus

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 8 generously

Homemade chickpea hummus is never completely smooth, unless the cook peels each pea. Mung beans, on the other hand, make a fine-textured hummus that requires very little effort.

Ingredients:

  • 300g mung beans
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp light tahini, well-stirred 
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus extra to taste
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Handful mung bean sprouts
  • ½ tsp paprika

Method:

1. The day before your meal, cover the mung beans with plenty of cold water and soak for at least 8 hours or overnight in a cool, dark place. 

2. Drain, rinse well and cover with fresh, cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the beans are completely tender but still holding their shape, then drain well. (The cooking time can vary slightly depending on the age of the mung beans.) 

3. Blend the beans with the garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice until completely smooth. Season well with salt and pepper, adding more lemon juice if you like. 

4. Serve the hummus drizzled with olive oil and scattered with mung bean sprouts and paprika (or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days). Warm flatbreads make the perfect accompaniment.

Firepit salmon with preserved lemon relish

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 8 generously

A whole salmon always makes an impressive centrepiece; even more so when cooked (enclosed in paper) over a fire pit or barbecue. To check that the salmon is ready without unwrapping it too much, insert a sharp skewer into the thickest part, just behind the head. Leave it for a few seconds, then remove and touch to your lip. If it’s hot, the fish is cooked.

Ingredients:

For the lemon relish:

  • 3 preserved lemons, drained and quartered
  • Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 70g green olives, stoned and chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the salmon:

  • 1 lemon, sliced into rounds
  • 1 bunch dill, chopped
  • 2.4kg whole salmon, gutted
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

1. To make the relish, combine all the ingredients in a small dish. (The quantities are small as the powerful flavour of the relish means you only need a little.) Set aside. 

2. Stuff the lemon slices and dill into the salmon cavity, seasoning well. Lay out a large sheet of baking paper and put the salmon on top. Wrap up tightly, twisting the ends like a Christmas cracker. 

3. Prepare your fire or barbecue. At this point, it’s sensible to work outdoors. Take 12 sheets of brown paper or 12 double broadsheet newspaper pages, arrange them into layers of 2-3 sheets/pages and thoroughly soak with water. Wrap each damp layer around the salmon, finishing with a further slosh of water, then wrap the whole lot in a piece of wet hessian and tie into a neat parcel. 

4. The fire or barbecue embers should be ashen, with no hint of flame remaining. Carefully place one small, wet log on the coals and cover with the metal grate. Lay the salmon parcel on top and cover with the barbecue lid or a metal dustbin lid for a fire pit. 

5. Leave to cook for 50-60 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, until the salmon flesh is just cooked. Alternatively, wrap the stuffed fish in one layer of non-stick baking paper and one layer of foil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C, gas mark 4, for 50 minutes, or until the fish just flakes when pressed. 

6. Unwrap carefully and transfer to a platter. Serve with the relish.

Toasted couscous and charred vegetables

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 8 as a side

With robust charred vegetables and a fragrant basil dressing, this salad is bursting with Mediterranean flavours.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g wholewheat giant couscous
  • 3 red Romano or bell peppers, deseeded, sliced into thick strips
  • 2 courgettes, sliced or pared lengthwise into very thin strips
  • 6 baby aubergines, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

For the basil dressing:

  • 3 large handfuls of basil leaves
  • 120ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

1. If using an oven, pre-heat it to 220°C, gas mark 8. Heat ½ tablespoon of the olive oil in a frying pan with a lid. Add the couscous and toast over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until golden brown and fragrant, then pour in enough water to just cover. Add a large pinch of salt, bring to the boil, partially cover with the lid and simmer for 6 minutes or so, until just tender but not mushy. Set aside to cool. 

2. Toss the peppers, courgettes and aubergines with the remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for about 35 minutes, stirring halfway through, until soft and beginning to char. Alternatively, cook the oiled vegetables straight on the finely spaced bars of a barbecue or fire pit, turning often for 10-15 minutes, until charred in places. 

3. To make the dressing, blitz 2 handfuls of the basil with the oil and lemon juice in a blender or small food processor with a good pinch of salt and pepper. The dressing should retain a bit of texture, so stop before it is completely smooth. 

4. In a large bowl, combine the vegetables, couscous, remaining basil leaves and pine nuts with a few tablespoons of the basil dressing, serving the rest alongside.

Herb salad with pumpkin seeds

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 8 as a side

Feeding a crowd demands a few simple dishes that don’t require much preparation and this salad couldn’t be easier.

Ingredients:

  • 120g wild rocket leaves
  • Handful of mixed soft summer herbs, such as fennel tops, parsley, chives and basil
  • 5 fat asparagus stalks, trimmed and shaved into long strips
  • Handful edible flowers, such as viola or chive flowers (optional)
  • 50g pumpkin seeds, toasted

For the buttermilk dressing: 

  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped chives
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

1. Toss all the salad ingredients together. To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together with a tablespoon of water and season to taste. Spoon the dressing over the salad to serve.

Black quinoa and bean salad with roast baby beets

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 8

The quinoa doesn’t have to be black, but I’ve used it because black food always looks so dramatic and this variety of quinoa is particularly crunchy.

Ingredients:

  • 20 baby beetroots, scrubbed, trimmed and halved, or quartered if on the large side
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 sprigs thyme, plus extra leaves to serve
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 30g butter
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 175g black quinoa
  • 250g runner beans, trimmed
  • 200g podded broad beans
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, gas mark 5. Put the beetroots in a roasting tin with the olive oil, thyme and plenty of seasoning. Cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes, until the beetroots are almost tender. Remove the foil, stir in the butter and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to brown. 

2. Meanwhile, put the quinoa in a saucepan with 500ml water. Bring to the boil, bubble briskly for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender but crunchy. 

3. Slice the runner beans on the diagonal very finely. Blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain, refresh under cool water and drain again. Blanch the broad beans for 2 minutes then refresh and slip each bean out of its pale green outer skin. 

4. Fold all the ingredients together (including any liquid in the beet tin), adding a pinch of thyme leaves, the remaining balsamic vinegar and the extra virgin olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Meringue stack with summer berries and vanilla cream

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Serves 16

For a decadent finish this gooey-centred, crisp-edged meringue with soft vanilla cream, vibrant berries, grated chocolate and pistachios tastes as wonderful as it looks.

Ingredients:

For the meringue layers:

  • 10 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 120g light brown sugar
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 275g icing sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds only, or 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar

To assemble:

  • 900ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds only or 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 700g mixed summer berries, hulled or halved as needed
  • 50g nibbed or chopped pistachios
  • 30g dark chocolate

Method:

1. Start with the meringue. Pre-heat the oven to 140°C (fan 120°C), gas mark 1, and line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. Whip the egg whites, salt, brown sugar and caster sugar together until holding stiff peaks. 

2. Sift the icing sugar and cornflour over and continue whisking for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is very stiff and has a shine. Whisk in the vanilla and vinegar to finish. 

3. Spoon a third of the meringue mixture onto one lined baking tray to make a swirled 5-6cm-high disc about 25cm in diameter. Use the remaining mixture to make two 20cm diameter discs and one 12-15cm diameter disc. Spoon tiny meringues around the discs with any remaining mixture. 

4. Bake for about 1 hour until the meringues are set and crisp on the outside, but hardly coloured. 

5. Switch off the oven, prop the door ajar and leave the meringues to cool for 30 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Store until needed for up to 48 hours in airtight containers. 

6. To assemble the stack, lightly whip the cream with the icing sugar and the vanilla. Be careful not to over-whip – the consistency should be billowy and soft. 

7. Put the largest meringue disc on a serving platter (don’t worry about cracks or crumbles). Top with a layer of cream and a single layer of summer berries. Put a medium-sized meringue disc on top and repeat the cream and berry layers. Top with the second medium-sized disc, layer in the cream and berries as before, then repeat with the smallest meringue disc, piling up the berries and cream more generously. 

8. Shower the entire stack with pistachios and finish by finely grating the dark chocolate over the top. Serve any baby meringues alongside.

Gin and rosemary fizz

Summer recipes

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Makes 400ml of syrup

Rosemary works so well with the botanicals in gin, but simply omit the alcohol to make a refreshing rosemary lemonade for the children. The base syrup can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks.

  • 300g caster sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 sprigs rosemary, plus extra to serve
  • 150ml lemon juice

For each serving:

  • 25ml gin
  • Ice
  • Lemon and lime slices or wedges
  • Sparkling water

1. Put the caster sugar in a saucepan with the lemon zest, rosemary sprigs and 300ml water. Gently heat through, stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside to cool then strain and stir in the lemon juice. 

2. To make each drink, pour gin and 20ml of the rosemary and lemon syrup into a tall glass with plenty of ice, citrus wedges and a couple of rosemary sprigs. Top up with sparkling water.

Photography/ Emma Lee