Our First Al Fresco Dinner of the Season

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?

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. There’s such honesty in a photo like this. It’s as if the image is beckoning us to come, sit and enjoy.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I think we need to categorize this under our Honest Entertaining™ recipes. What to you think?

  2. 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.

          2. First, Pam, I applaud you for using chives. Second, I applaud you for having the good sense to eat indoors. So glad you liked the dish.

          3. 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.

          4. 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.

          5. Pam, your variation sounds superb. I’ll have to toss in a handful next time.

          6. David, thanks for the idea! And also for all the other thoughts, recipes and photos.

  3. 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.