Summer Cooking (and Eating), Alex Guarnaschelli Style
The beauty of summertime eats and drinks is that it all comes down to simple, fresh fare, which just so happens to pair well with long days outside and the warm temperatures of the season. Recently FN Dish caught up with Alex Guarnaschelli at one such alfresco feast, where she was celebrating the launch of her partnership with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi to create a line of cookout-ready wine-infused barbecue sauces (you can buy them here). From her picks for seasonal entertaining to the secret to make-ahead appetizers, she shared her top ideas for summertime cooking, plus dished on what she piles on top of her ultimate burger. Read on below to hear what she had to say in an exclusive interview.
What's your favorite way to entertain during the summer?
Alex Guarnaschelli: For a barbecue or a cookout — from Memorial Day through Labor Day and maybe even into October — I’m really big into the outdoor stuff. Because chefs are always locked indoors, we really appreciate those spring and summer months. I like to go nuts, and I think the best way to do that is to prepare a lot of stuff in advance. I definitely load my fridge door with a few salad dressings, vinaigrettes, sauces, the Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue sauce. I might take that Woodbridge Wine ‘Cue sauce and take it in a direction — I’ll add a big dose of fresh ginger, put it on shrimp. I’ll take that barbecue sauce and I’ll add a huge hit of chili powder and I’ll put it on a pork shoulder. You know, I might just take the personality of it and pull it. Because it’s got that wine flavor, those tannins. It’s almost like a dry barbecue sauce, like in the good sense, like a dry wine. I think that having all that stuff done in advance, for me, is huge. So when you talk about how charming it is, the butterflies and the unicorns and the rainbows, for me, it’s great when I have company over and I’m outdoors and I’ve lit the little tiki lamps and the food is out and people are drinking and we’re laughing and I’m not going back in the kitchen.
Any tricks for preparing cookout recipes in advance without sacrificing their flavor?
AG: If you are not working with other people and you are the host and you’re your whole staff, which is often the case for people, I would say go for a bowl of dip and a big basket of chips. I may be cooking inside for the hour or two before the guests come, but I’ll have made a basket of chips and I’ll keep it over the stove so it’s kind of warm. So when you put it out with the dip, it’s got that, like, yeah-I-just-fried-those effect. No, you didn’t. You bought them.
AG: First of all, a grilled potato bun. There’s just no other way about it. Now, when you said “burger,” I have to go with beef. I do. I’m going to be blasphemous for a minute here: It’s got to have American cheese on it. It’s often got to be in an American cheese direction, with pickles and a stack of onion rings this high, and the bun’s sitting on top, and there’s no way it can fit in my mouth until I press it down and you get that wonderful textural moment … where you squeeze the whole thing.