al Fresco
by John F. Carafoli
Photos by Mark Willard, styled by John Carafoli

MENUBagnat (Cooked Salsa Verde)
Mixed Green Salad, with a simple dressing of chopped fresh herbs with oil & vinegar
Escabeche Striped Bass with
Jasmine Rice
Summer Berry Pudding with
Rose Geranium Cream

Summer on Cape Cod is short. It’s our time to play, be outdoors and take advantage of the bounty our area offers us. One of the ways of doing this is through cooking as an extension of the way we live. It is creating a moment, a sensation, a memory through the senses.

Whether I’m cooking for friends or styling food for the camera, I feel a connection to my ingredients and techniques. I love experiencing the textures, smells and sounds that are so essential to cooking. Each aspect of preparation—from conceiving the menu to selecting ingredients and wines, to setting the table—can be a personal expression of your own style.

Having friends and family over for a festive outdoor gathering, sharing the day’s activities over a glass of wine or serving a meal on the deck are all part of the summer experience. I suggest starting with the fresh produce in our local farmers’ markets or farm stands. Purchase seasonal fish from your fishmonger. Joes’ Lobster & Fish Market on the canal is my favorite for striped bass and mussels, if I don’t gather them myself. Whenever possible, use the herbs, vegetables and fruits from your own garden.

Relaxed entertaining is all about planning and organizing. Setting the table, creating an environment and ambiance and, most of all, timing the meal, come next. For a stress-free menu, you want most of it to be prepared ahead of time. That way your party will flow easily, and everyone can enjoy the event, including you, the host.

Since it is summer, most of the dishes on this menu can be served at room temperature as is the tradition of Italy and most Mediterranean countries. The food can be made ahead of time and set out on a table or tablecloth—colorful or white, depending on the color of the plates and serving dishes. guests will be able to serve themselves.

The setting should be playful and festive. use your imagination. Mix glasses and dishes that have been stored away for years; they do not necessarily have to match. I sometimes use a table of assortedcolored Fiestaware.

As a food stylist, I am very conscious of how food looks on plates. For this menu, select serving plates of all different shapes and sizes. The appetizer works well with the toast points on a colorful platter (if the tablecloth is white) and the Bagnat itself in a white bowl, either placed off to the side or centered on the platter with a serving spoon. You want to make the food the hero, it should look as appetizing and appealing as possible.

For the salad, use a variety of different greens, nasturtiums and flowering herbs for color. A simple oil and vinegar dressing will bring out the flavors of the lettuces, but you can also use freshly chopped herbs like tarragon, thyme, parsley, and sprigs of cilantro or mint. Remember that the lettuces are the heroes.

Place the plates at one end of the serving table with silverware, napkins and glasses. Arrange the serving dishes in the order you want your guests to select the food.

Use a wood cutting board for the bread, a copper kettle or an unusual container filled with ice for the wine. For atmosphere, fill a clean terra cotta flower pot with sand, and place a small votive candle inside under a globe to protect the flame from the wind. (You can also do a similar thing with paper bags.) Place the pots or bags around the patio or deck and a few on the table. Creating a setting and feeling of abundance is important. Make it playful and fun.

Leslie and Kevin Plumb of Town Center Wine & Spirits in Eastham provide the wine paring for this menu. They specialize in small handcrafted and artisanal wines. When we tasted the wines with the food, we were amazed by how beautifully they complemented the dishes. You can sign up for Leslie and Kevin’s wine newsletter


John F. Carafoli is an internationally-known food stylist based in New York and Cape Cod. He wrote Food Photography and Styling, has presented papers at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, published in Gastronomica, is a contributor to The New York Times and was profiled on the Food Network.

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