Our First Al Fresco Dinner of the Season

Al Fresco Dinner

I really don’t like candid photos. Whenever people want to take a picture of me, I a.) make them sign a contract that gives me full PhotoShop approval–in perpetuity–over any image of me they publish, and b.) insist on spending an inordinate time on my hair and teeth. Once contractual obligations as well as buffing and fussing are out of the way, I give the go ahead to take that sparklingly spontaneous shot.

But when I saw this little moment of supper loveliness tonight, I grabbed my iPhone and just snapped. I didn’t even have enough sense to remove the Costco salt grinder or fluff the spaghetti. This was our supper table, unstyled. But to me, it sums up everything about outdoor dining: casual, simple, unpretentious, and, yes, bounteous. (It’s The One and me we’re talking about here. That man can polish off three-quarters of a pound of pasta in a single sitting.)

Dinner took as long to put together as it took the spaghetti rigati to cook. What–15 minutes, maybe? Meanwhile I sautéed tiger shrimp in a lake of brown butter and a bit of oil, then tossed in a big-ass handful of chopped garlic. I had about 1 1/2 cups of leftover homemade tomato sauce and spooned that in, too, for good measure. I dumped the drained spaghetti into the skillet and the sautéed it all together for another two to three minutes.

As I began plating, our frequent dinner companions, whom we haven’t seen since last October, dropped by for a visit. I mean, of course, the backyard bats and mosquitos. To prevent The One, a long-suffering chiroptophobe, from letting loose with his 12-year-old-girl shrieks that blow like a train whistle, I demanded he don a baseball cap and keep his eyes on his plate. Me, I’m just a great big flashing neon sign that sputters on and off “All You Can Eat Buffet!” We haven’t yet bought bug spray this season, so I wore thick wool socks with my pant legs tucked in and a dirty dish towel over my head. Lucky for us, the paparazzi didn’t know we were in town. Do you know how hard it is get them to agree to that PhotoShop contract?

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  1. Your dinner looks simply divine! I don’t think I could hold my husband back from that beautiful pan of deliciousness. :) It might not even make it to the back porch before he would be digging in.

  2. David,

    This post was simply perfect in so many ways. For starters, any food photo highlighting cast iron is a score in my book. Next, gourmet food stylishly presented and manicured is wonderful, eye-pleasing and a gastronomic treat. But, that’s not how people cook in their home kitchens on a Tuesday evening. The dishes prepared in home kitchens more closely resembled your casual supper than they do the fancy dishes that get published in magazines. And we served them right out of the cooking pot. No need to transfer to a serving dish. That’s not practical. The only thing that could have possibly made this picture perfect setting a lit bit more “perfecter” would have been shots of the both of you eating straight from the skillet! Now, that’s honest living right there! Having said all that about the wonderfulness of this occasion, I can’t get this image out of my head: “so I wore thick wool socks with my pant legs tucked in and a dirty dish towel over my head.” I may never stop laughing again.

    1. My darling Jackie, thanks for making my day. I’m so happy you like the picture. I really wasn’t going to publish it, or write the post, as it wasn’t “perfect.” But I’m so terribly behind on my Blahg posts, that I just tossed it up. It seems to have hit a nerve with people. I shall keep that in mind as I continue to crawl along as a newbie food photog. That’s for affirming what I believe: we all need more Honest Entertaining™.

      1. We entertain a good bit and never have the occasion catered nor do I hire servers or clean-up help. I cook most of the food, we serve and we clean up. It can certainly be a daunting task, especially the clean-up part. For our Southern Wine and Cheese party that we hosted this past Christmas for 30 guests, I used quality paper and plastic products instead of glass and crystal for the first time ever in my history as a host. *GASP* Yes, I said we used paper and plastic. People came in my house for a party and I served them on paper and plastic. I, Jackie Garvin, Southern Belle extraordinaire. I almost had to go to therapy prior to the party. It was just that difficult for me. Guess how things turned out? Enormously fantastic! People went on and on about how much they enjoyed the party, thanked us graciously for inviting them and never seemed to notice they weren’t served on glass and crystal. So, my point with all my ramblings, is to say I agree with you that we do need more Honest Entertaining. (I love that title, by the way.) The guests enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere and the hosts sho’ nuff can enjoy a more casual approach. I will continue to use glass, china and crystal when we host a more intimate gathering. But as for me and my house, we have been initiated into the world of Honest Entertaining! Go, casual living!

        1. Dearest Southern Belle, I certainly hope when I’m in Dixie I get an invite to one of your most casual dinners. It sounds lovely. I, too, have conniptions when it gets really informal–especially when it’s with new folks. But after a while, it’s just so damn tiring. I figure I’ve earned double reward points for every pound I’ve put cooking these damn dinners–and I redeem them in casualness.

  3. How did I miss this post? I think a big skillet of pasta & that special someone are all that are needed for the perfect dinner. Thanks for the vocabulary lesson – chiroptophobe. One of my dad’s favorite expressions was “Guano!” I saw Bat Food at the garden center today. People really feed them? I think generously sharing your mosquitoes is hospitable enough. They now sell OFF in a clip-on so you don’t have to spray it on your skin. You’re welcome!

    1. Martha, girl, you were probably admiring those big, open-skied views of yours. And, yes, people do feed bats. We had one get into our bedroom (don’t get me started on how The One screamed liked a playground full of 6-year-olds). The bat man (his real title) came and, according to the law, had to drown it to test for rabies. Well, I started crying and he asked me if I’d be okay with him keeping it with his other several dozen bats. I was thrilled. So he got a bat and I got a jar of his wife’s excellent jerk sauce as a thank you. All in all, we were both winners.

  4. David you are describing my favorite go-to dinner when I don’t know what to make and don’t want to fuss. Love the descriptions of your mosquito protection. I can well identify; it made me smile and brought back lots of memories. Mosquitos don’t bother me at all, but oh those black flies, vicious little devils they are, they draw blood, and they love the taste of me.

    Try the same dish sometime with bay scallops or leftover roast pork and mushrooms. The one thing that is always the same is the big-ass handful of chopped garlic. Your photo is gorgeous!

    1. Judy, you’re my new best friend. First, you like my photo (“You like me, you really like me!). Second, we share a hatred of black flies–true agents of the Lucifer. Third, you’re a big-ass garlic girl!

  5. David – having personally served as the main course for more mosquito banquets than I can count on all my fingers, I must tell you about a little device that has made my summer evenings so much more enjoyable. They’re little battery operated thingies that one attaches to his or her belt, belt loop or other convenient spot on the clothing, and magically the mosquitoes stay away. Completely away. They’re made by “Off” and are inexpensive. Give them a try. You are going to love me for telling you about them.

    1. Lana, I know the product, and I LOVE IT! I discovered it at the end of last season. I usually attached one to the back of my shirt collar, clipped one to my belt, and placed one on the ground under the table. The only thing is we used up all the packets of oils (I wonder why?) and didn’t get to the store in time. Once I buy new ones, I’ll be braver….

  6. David, did you ever think of having one really good photo of you and just PhotoShopping it into all the other photos you take when you are less than photo-worthy? Just a thought. Now I am rolling on the floor with laughter imagining you and the one sitting out eating this luscious romantic meal trying to battle the bugs. We always try to move to places where mosquitos don’t exist, but then we end up in places where bats come out at night. Gorgeous pasta dish!

    1. Jamie, good idea. I think instead of a hair and makeup team, I need a tech and PhotoShop team. The sad thing is the damn bats eat the mosquitos that eat me. As long as I’m around, we’ll have both.

  7. First, al fresco rocks. Minus the mosquitos of course–what the hell where the bats eating that night? Surely not the mosquitos.

    Second, unfussy meals don’t get better than this one. As a food blogger, sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the “show” only to forget that the meal is what’s at the heart of entertaining.

    Third, I saw your tweets/instagrams from the weekend and felt like jumping in my car to go looking for you (in the most un-stalker-ish way possible, of course). I’m in Southbury. :)

  8. I will never look at a tea towel the same way again. Oh my. And yes–I’m skeeter fodder too. Like father, like daughter.

      1. Ooooh! Sign me up for them if you do (well–the tea towels for sure)!! For the mossies, don’t know if you can get one of those ultraviolet bug enticer/annihilator contraptions? Quite dramatic when they get zapped…

  9. David, you always make me laugh! The vision of you with a dishtowel over your head, pants tucked into socks is absolutely priceless. And the pasta is lovely! I am the one in our family who always gets eaten alive by mosquitos. Thank you for making my day – more than once.

  10. I love your photo, it shows us even David Leite sometimes just wants to sit down and eat with his beloved. My daughter is allergic to seafood so I’m sitting here pondering what I can substitute for it. Looks like one of those meals worthy of having sauce all over your face and not giving a hoot. We were at the barn visiting horsey today and I got eaten alive by skeeters. My daughter remained untouched. I almost pushed her into the dirt I was so mad but I restrained myself.

    1. Thanks, Kim. And trust me, there are many times I just sit and eat with The One. No bells or whistles or sous vide machines.

      You can definitely substitute chicken for the shrimp.

      And, yes, some of us are skeeter fodder. Life is so unfair.

  11. I don’t see the dish towel. But I love the reflection of the sky and tree on the table top. Yes, it should be an Honest Entertaining recipe–it is honest and simple yet so inviting. I’m thinking of printing the pic and putting it on my bulletin board. Thank you.

    1. Donna, I’d be flattered for our table to grace your bulletin board. And if you’re ever out in western CT, perhaps you can join us at it. (Our table, not your bulletin board!)

  12. When people I have met through blogging or on Twitter wonder how I can “stand” living in Denver (you know the town with cows wandering the streets; cars haven’t been invented here yet); that life is so much more wonderful in New York, I would like to invite them here for a barbecue in the summer. No humidity and while not bug proof; we eat outdoors for almost every meal and I might get two mosquito bites every summer.

    You have reminded me that it’s been a good choice and now after a morning of pruning, weeding, and further reclaiming my backyard from two summers of dealing with an injury that kept me out of it…I think I might need this shrimp and a cocktail. Outside. Stat.

    1. Barbara, hear, hear. If I knew Denver was so bug-free, I would’ve forsaken New England ages ago. The sad results is that I’ve been known to take my dinner indoors and eat in front of the screen French doors, shouting my part of the conversation for The One and out guests to hear. True story.

      1. Come visit anytime. Especially in July when most folks are sweltering. Our low humidity and cool nights are one reason I love it so much. EVERY meal is eaten outdoors in the warm months. You might never leave. That would be OK with me. :)

  13. Sigh. That al fresco dinner sounds lovely, bats and mosquitos included. My husband is not a fan of the outdoor meal for the same insect-related reasons you mention – I’ll don a full beekeeper suit to brave a dinner like this with you anytime!

    1. I despise eating outside because of the bugs. Bats, I have no issue with. But it means so freaking much to The One, that I’ve long ago caved. But he’s good at releasing me from the table when he sees me slapping myself when there’s no visible sign of mental distress… I keep asking, “Why can’t we get a screened gazebo.” Haven’t gotten a response yet.

  14. I had to laugh at the description of the clothing you had to wear in order to dine outside. How romantic – Not! The table looks great, though! LOL!

  15. Hilarious! Sounds like my husband and I with a great impromptu dinner idea. The spaghetti looks delicious…like Sunday night supper. And I’m with you about the photos. No photos post-prep of the chef!

    1. Pam, mucho danke. Give the recipe–if you can call it that–a whirl. Easy-peasy. And, no, no post-cooking photos. I like to hand out headshots at dinner parties instead.

          1. Did the shrimp tonight for Number One son visiting who doesn’t get good FL shrimp too often. It was delicious, um but we ate indoors. I hate fighting the insects for my food! I used some lovely chives instead of parsley.

              1. Liked it immensely. Leftovers were eaten tonight. I forgot to mention I also added a package of tiny bay scallops provided by a friend. It was a veritable feast, if I do say so myself. Love your blahg too! Thanks for the great humor and recipes.

                1. Thes scallops are so tiny, that it’s difficult (not to mention labor intensive) to sear them. They’re only slightly larger than pencil erasers and had been frozen. I let them thaw most of the way and added them and their juices to the reduced sauce about two minutes after the shrimp. Then I turned off the heat. As you can imagine they cook very quickly. By the time I drained the pasta and poured wine, everything was done and glazed with the lovely sauce. The scallops added sweetness, and a little pop of texture with the shrimp.

  16. I love this for so many reasons. One, I newly acquired the same cast iron skillet, so seeing it filled with deliciousness makes me happy. Two, there’s something innately dissatisfying about how life is never “styled,” yet somehow you sometimes catch yourself in a moment of pure fabulousness, and it’s exhilarating. Nevertheless, the salt shaker and plates in the background just make you seem human.

    But the best bit by far was the image of you in wool socks covered in a towel. I am ALWAYS the one to be devoured by mosquitos. I would go to such lengths too. Not having repellant on hand? Amateurish :)

    1. Jacqui, why, thank you! With the exception of the hard drive implanted in my chest, I am entirely human ;)

      And I agree completely with you about living an “unstyled life. (Not to be confused with an unexamined life.) There is something wonderfully free about it when we realize it in the moment. That’s the concept behind our Honest Entertaining™ recipes. Unfussy, real, down-to-earth.

      Yes, a rank amateur! I never should have ventured out in the wilderness that is our patio without repellent.

  17. Great write up and methinks it’s better you didn’t have pictures of you and The One added. I would have been laughing too hard, and it would have taken my eyes away from the deliscrumptious skillet of heaven that you shared.

    Rigati you say, I’ll have to go looking for it and see what I can concoct from your vague ingredient list. Thanks for sharing the laughter as well as the picture.

    1. Yes, Anne, we were a sight! Spaghetti rigati has four ridges down the length of the noodle. Helps pick up a but more sauce. As far as ingredients (and I’m guessing amounts here):

      5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
      2 tablespoons olive oil
      1 1/2 pounds tiger shrimp
      5 garlic cloves, minced
      Salt and pepper
      1 pound spaghetti rigati
      1 to 1 1/2 cups homemade chunky tomato sauce

      Yeah, that’s about it.

  18. Wish I wasn’t allergic to shrimp. That does look nice and if my hubby hadn’t been ill today with a major headache (which he is rarely sick) I would have had us eat outside. The day was perfect for it. I thought the bright sunlight outside would have bugged him, so I didn’t even suggest it. Well, it’s suppose to be a great day again tomorrow, so maybe we’ll eat out then.

    1. My dearest Lauralee, I’m sorry to hear of your allergy. You can do the same with white meat chicken. So if it’s a nice day, get thee and thou husband outside.

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