When Katie Lee describes her idea of summer entertaining, she conjures up long, languid days in the Hamptons and simple but elegant dinner parties that turn peaches into table centerpieces and humble ingredients into stars.
It’s a charmed life she leads.
Lee, 33, co-host of The Food Network’s “The Kitchen,” lives in the Hamptons, the idyllic, seaside place of exodus for affluent New Yorkers in the summer.
But the area is also home to what Lee calls some of “the greatest farmer’s markets in the world.” Inspired by fresh, seasonal produce and local artisans, every summer Lee’s home becomes an open house for friends and family who look forward to her elegant soirees and breezy menus.
The sum of these sunset dinner parties has been turned into the “Endless Summer Cookbook" released this year, a compilation of 100 heat-proof recipes that have made recurring appearances at her Hamptons soirees.
“I love to have dinner parties for no reason. The key is to keep it casual,” she says in a phone interview from her home. “This isn’t the time to pull out the fine china.”
When describing one of her favorite summer menus, for instance, the list of ingredients is short, simple, and everything pronounceable.
It involves baking or grilling a whole fish like trout or halibut and topping it with a simple salsa of chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and lemon zest. Present a side of pesto pasta and, voilà, dinner is served.
Which brings us to her other source of culinary inspiration. Lee is a certifiable Francophile. A lover of all things French, be it food, esthetic or style. For the last few months, she’s been taking French lessons in a bid to tick off one of her bucket list goals: to speak French fluently.
And though one of her favorite summer apéritif nibbles may sound strange to American palates, it’s a classic French snack: fuschia pink radishes smeared with cold, sweet, good quality butter, salt and pepper.
“I love that everything is simple,” she said.
For hosts who are always on the lookout for emerging food trends, Lee says this summer is the season of watermelon salads, vegetable tops, and rum.
“There’s something very laid back about the rum buzz, that mellows you out and calms you down," she said.
Likewise, Lee noted that savory watermelon salads -- often made with feta cheese and olives -- have become increasingly popular at American barbecues, while vegetables are also being feted this summer as a main ingredient.
Of particular note: Instead of being tossed into the garbage as an afterthought, the tops of carrots, beets and fennel are being used as an ingredient, she said.
Here are a few other tips and thoughts from a young doyenne of summer entertaining:
-Stretch a bottle of white wine by making a summer punch made with fresh fruit, soda water, white wine and frozen cartons of juice.
-Use muffin tins for hamburger and hot dog condiments like ketchup, mustard, onions and pickles.
-Skewer fruit, freeze and use it to replace cocktail umbrellas in summer drinks.
-Insert a wooden stick into a single-serve pot of yogurt and freeze for homemade froyo pops.
-Keep bugs out of drinks by using cupcake liners as makeshift lids. Secure with rubber band and insert a straw into the top.
“Endless Summer Cookbook” retails for $29.95.