When I plan a party I can’t help but create a theme. Nothing too kitchy, just something to help me focus on creating a cohesive, well thought-out menu. With Italian roots, I am often drawn to preparing my Grandma’s recipes when entertaining. I like to “clean them up” by replacing any heavy ingredients high in fat or calories with lighter ones. As summer approaches I also enjoy putting my spin on the classic American cookout. Today I’ve combined both in this mediterranean inspired summer cookout menu.
No matter what I’m serving, my approach to cooking is always about eating “real” foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, with little to no processing and few ingredients. My husband and I are both vegetarians, so you’ll find a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and meat free protein on our plates.
Let your kids help you in the kitchen when possible. While it does take extra time and patience, it teaches them so much about what goes into healthy meals. And they’re more likely to try new meals if they had a hand in creating them. They don’t seem so scary when served if the kids already tasted the ingredients going into the dish. Plus it creates an opportunity for fun memories between the two of you.
Here are a few of my tried and true, original recipes to help you put a healthier spin on some traditional summer time party favorites. I’ll call it “American Cookout meets Italian Bistro.” Whether you serve them at a party or simply to your own family, we think you’ll find these dishes to be crowd pleasers.
MEDITERRANEAN VEGGIE BURGER
Most summer cookouts include burgers. As a vegetarian I have attended many where I’ve been stuck eating just a bun with a squirt of mustard. Why not serve an inspired meat-free option that will please the herbivores and surprise the carnivores all at once? I have tried many store-bought veggie burgers and experimented with various combinations of foods to create my own. I am confident this is one of the best I have tasted. They’re easy to make ahead, freeze and grill up when entertaining. Serve alone or alongside traditional burgers. The sliders are so cute that the kiddos might even give them a try.
What You Need:
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chopped portobello mushrooms
1 can chickpeas
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup whole wheat flour or whole wheat bread crumbs
1 bunch fresh basil
6 to 12 sprouted wheat hamburger buns or dinner rolls (for sliders). I use Alvarado or Angelic brands.
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
1 package fresh mozzarella, sliced
Sundried Tomato Pesto (Visit www.runningwithskissors.com for my pesto recipe)
Makes 6 burgers or 12 sliders.
Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic and mushrooms until softened, for about 5 minutes.
Transfer half of the skillet mixture along with half the can of chickpeas and half the olives to a food processor. Set aside the other half of the skillet mixture, chickpeas and olives. Add vinegar, marinara, basil, oregano and salt to the food processor. Pulse mixture until combined but still chunky. Pulse in the whole wheat flour until well combined. Add in remaining half of skillet mixture, chickpeas, olives and fresh basil. Pulse a couple of times to chop up chunks, still leaving some olives and chickpeas visible. Transfer to a bowl. Form into golf sized balls for sliders or larger for patties and flatten into burger shape.
Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium high heat. Saute the patties in batches for 2 to 3 minutes per side until browned and heated through.
Toast sprouted wheat buns. Spread sundried tomato pesto on bun (I use half to make an open faced, knife and fork burger). Stack burger, one or two leaves of fresh basil, one slice of fresh mozzarella and one or two slices of tomato. Enjoy.
ROASTED VEGETABLE PASTA SALAD
Pasta salad; another common summer cookout dish. But this is not your grandma’s, mayonnaise laden pasta salad. Here’s my colorful and clean go-to recipe. It’s simple enough for a backyard cook out, yet pretty enough for a nice dinner party.
What You Need:
1 lb. whole wheat fusilli
1 eggplant, cut in 1” circles then quartered
1/2 red onion, 1” diced
1 red bell pepper, 1” diced
1 zucchini, cut in half moons
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pinenuts, toasted
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
Preheat oven to 425. Chop vegetables and garlic and place on a large sheet pan. Toss with two tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tsp. salt. Roast in oven for 40 minutes, flipping half way. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Combine dressing ingredients and mix with whisk. Toast pine nuts over medium heat on dry skillet. Watch them closely as they burn easily.
Add the roasted vegetables and the dressing to the pasta along with most of the pine nuts and 3/4 of the goat cheese and basil. Stir well to combine. Sprinkle remaining pine nuts, goat cheese and basil on top. Serve at room temperature.
PERSONAL PIZZAS AND SALAD
Set up a pizza bar including a variety of nutritious toppings and let the kiddos play chef. I use store-bought, whole wheat pitas for the crust. They’re the perfect size for personal pizzas.
Serve it all up with a big salad. I included pomegranate seeds, pistachios and feta in mine.
BERRY “CHEESECAKE” PARFAIT
My kids often say that fruit is better than candy. (Granted their Mom & Dad sell fruits and vegetables for a living.) But, I like to think of fruit as nature’s dessert. It really doesn’t need anything extra added, but it’s fun to dress it up a bit for special occasions. Here’s a recipe that looks and tastes decadent, but is full of only real, simple, clean ingredients and no added sugar. It’s so yummy that the kids will even love it. Seriously, my six-year-old actually put down her spoon and licked the bowl clean.
What You Need
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup reduced fat cream cheese (leave out of fridge for an hour to soften)
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
rind of one lemon
1 cup fresh strawberries, chopped
1 cup fresh blueberries
Leave cream cheese out of the fridge for one hour to soften. Combine yogurt, cream cheese, honey, vanilla, lemon juice and half of lemon rind in bowl. Mix well with hand mixer or stand mixer. Place in refrigerator for thirty minutes.
Wash and drain berries. Using five serving dishes of your choice, begin by placing a layer of blueberries on the bottom of each. If you have a cupcake decorating kit with icing tips, you can use those to pipe the yogurt mixture on top of the blueberries. Otherwise just use a spoon to spread on a dollop. Top with strawberries, another layer of yogurt mixture and place one blueberry on top. Finish by sprinkling remaining lemon rind over top of each.
I hope you’ll enjoy serving up my recipes at your next get together.
Ashley Weingart is the Director of Communications & Community Outreach for The Forest City - Weingart Produce Company in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the mother of three and a marathoner and lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Visit www.forestcityweingart.com and Ashley’s blog www.runningwithskissors.com for more of her recipes.
All recipes are property of Ashley Weingart. (c) Ashley Weingart 2016.