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

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has 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. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. Nick, it certianly would have, but considering the meal took all of 20 minutes to make, I didn’t have time for pastéis. If you’re looking for recipes, we have one: Pastéis de Nata.