Dinner Plans #35
Did you miss us?
The sun is beating down on you pretty hard while you try to find your friends in the park. You’re sweating a lot more than you thought you would, and you just realized you don’t have a hair tie on your wrist. Somehow, every friend has sent a different pin location despite all sitting on the exact same blanket. You watch an 11-year-old hit a home run and wonder how likely it is that that baseball will hit you right in the skull. But that’s what picnic season is all about, baby! Yes, it’s finally that time again — time to stuff your totes with crunchy kettle chips and poorly constructed sandwiches, bake a container cake, and fill your Hydro Flask with a batch of negronis that will linger in every sip of water you take for the next four weeks. Whether you’re headed to the park or the beach, today’s newsletter is chock full of portable foods and potent potables.
Gracing our comeback edition of Dinner Plans is a man who might know more about hosting, snacking, and drinking than even us. A man who once (in this very newsletter) said: “There is no lunch or dinner. There is barely even breakfast. There is just aperitivo." Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Alex Delany to the Sifted stage. As his wise words suggest, instead of abiding by the app-entrée-dessert model, Delany’s menu is—quite literally—a spread of crunchy, oily, briny, fatty, peppery bites and bitter, bubbly sips that, when served together, are a meal in and of themselves. You can also take these things to the park or the beach, but we think they're best suited for an air-conditioned dinner party or breezy hang on our nonexistent rooftops.
(Us, en route to the function)
ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:
ALEX DELANY’S APERITIVO PLANS
Besides becoming sweatier and thirstier and more irritable, the one thing that I can always count on when the warmer months roll around is that my meal schedule goes to absolute shit. Running from coffee meetings to barbecues to park birthdays to rooftop happy hours to naps in front of the AC means that the social constructs that are “time” and “a schedule” and “meals” cease to exist. There is no lunch or dinner. Hardly even breakfast. There is just aperitivo, where snacks go to hang out with spritzes and make it big time.
A good aperitivo spread can take the place of any meal, and when it comes to the spread, it’s about having a mix of things you made and things you bought to complement those things you made. These are things I like to buy for my spreads:
A classic, circular, Italian cracker, with seeds, pepper, and spices rolled into the dough. Bello Rustico makes the best packaged ones, in my opinion.
They’re Corn Nuts’ final form. They’re salty. They’re crunchy. They’re great.
Gherkins rule. But these pickled string beans from Philly rule harder.
SEAFOOD IN A TIN
Persian cucumbers, breakfast radishes, and fennel are the big three for me. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt.
You only need one. You know what you like. Personally, I always go for firmer cheese in the summer. A hunk of Piave. A slice of clothbound cheddar. Whatever.
One soft meat (mortadella or prosciutto cotto) and one chewy, cured meat (soppressata, speck, prosciutto, etc.). Two different textures, for the sake of variety.
That in itself could do, but the stuff you make yourself is what takes it to the next level. Here are a few recipes for things I like to make for an aperitivo spread:
Having a little bowl of house marinated olives is always impressive. (Having “house” anything is, to be honest.) This is super simple. Basically, cook the spices and aromatics in olive oil, then pour it over a mix of olives. Let them sit. Eat them later. You can substitute spices and citrus into this mix if you’d like.
ROASTED RED PEPPERS
These are a classic. They make your apartment smell awesome all day and are super easy to pull off. I like letting my roasted peps sit in a quart container of olive oil with some sliced basil after they roast. Then after you eat them, you can use the pepper infused oil for salads, dips, whatever. The peppers themselves are also great with some tinned fish on toast.
No, no. Not that artichoke dip. This is the one with chopped canned artichokes and herbs and tons of olive oil. It’s bright and fresh and easy to whoop pup in about five minutes.
And like I said, the whole purpose of this snack spread is to sip something refreshing while you’re eating. For me, the classic Americano is the ultimate aperitivo drink. Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda. No need to get too fancy.
My favorite way to wrap this all up is by taking a walk to get some soft serve. Find a Mister Softee—or a newly opened oat milk soft serve spot—and order a cone. A summer snack spread meal, with a summer cocktail, can really only be properly capped off with a stroll, summer dessert in hand.
SO YOU’RE HAVING A PICNIC
Pasta Salad: A pasta salad has none of the annoying things great pasta does (vigorous stirring to achieve a glossy sauce, no rushing to get a hot, fresh bite) and all qualities of eating cold, leftover pasta straight from the fridge—which if you don’t love to do, please kindly X out of this page—does (cold, chewy, concentrated, unfussy). This one is a silky combo of fat, chewy rigatoni and everything that makes a pasta salad so special - meaty mortadella, salty olives, milky cheese, crunchy pistachios, and handfuls of herbs. I have also thought about this soft sautéed zucchini, briny, crunchy caper and crispy fried walnut pasta salad every hour of every day since I first laid eyes on it. Serve either one room temp, but if yours is still a little warm because you made it right before you left, that’s totally okay! Or maybe yours is very, very cold because it's been sitting in your fridge since last night and you live just one block from the park—that’s okay too (and lucky you). And that, sweet Sifters, is the beauty of pasta salad.
Fogatch’: I think there are few things better than breaking bread with friends in a park or a field. Literally. I love savagely tearing into a loaf, ripping off a large chunk, and passing it to the next person (right at night, of course.) Bread is easy to transport (as evidenced above), and I frequently grab a baguette or sourdough loaf on my way to a picnic. But if I have the time, I’ll turn on my oven (truly unheard of in the depths of summer) and bake up a loaf of oily, salty , springy focaccia. I’ve long been a devotee to the Saltie recipe, but recently ate this one made by Gab’s sweet roommate, Josie, and was tempted to convert. The salt brine goes a long way to flavor this loaf deeply, with a pleasantly crisp crust and light interior. A full half-sheet of focaccia a little more unwieldy to shove into a backpack or throw in your bike basket, so it may require pre-slicing. While I think it does taste best hand-torn, it’s still the exact food I want to be snacking on in the great outdoors.
Broccoli Slaw: I am not a coleslaw person. In fact, I hate the stuff. I think it’s— largely speaking— soupy, tasteless, and lacking in any of the acidity I seek in a side. This also explains why I’m not the biggest fan of most mayo-based salads, but leave it to Miss Deb of Smitten Kitchen to change my mind! Her broccoli slaw is a thing of beauty and balance, and a staple on my birthday picnic menus the last three years running. Raw broccoli (head and stem!) is food-processed into a rough chop then tossed with tart cranberries, red onion, and slivered almonds in a tangy, creamy buttermilk dressing. It sounds like something out of a 1950s cookbook but tastes like something you’d pay $19.50/pound for at Citarella in The Hamptons en route to the beach.
On the subject of picnics and spreads and picnic spreads, here are a few things we always grab from the bodega en route to the park:
Gab: My latest obsession is with super salty, intensely crunchy, dark russet potato chips. My local Key Food carries the classique Utz version, though Trader Joe’s and Cape Cod also make them. I’m also a bit of a brat about seltzer, and try to exclusively drink Hal’s or Topo Chico. Yes, I have been to Austin once, thank you for asking! And perhaps even more important than the bodega stop on the way to a picnic is the one on the way home. I always grab a cold pint of Ben & Jerry’s (Milk & Cookies is a forgotten favorite my deli always has in stock these days) for eating post-shower, on the couch, with the AC blasting.
Court: Absolutely no one is mad when I show up to the picnic, or beach, with spicy Bjorn Qorn. Every piece is perfectly cheesy and coated in just enough jalapeño powder to keep you snacking until the bag is gone. Every once in a while I’ll chose chaos and grab a bag of Star Mix too. My fickle little stomach is not a fan of beer, so I’ve been enjoying grabbing a few cans of hard kombucha like this and this and other canned spirits, especially any of these if I can find them.
And if you despise the idea of packing up your own picnic, Dinner Party — opening in Fort Greene next week — is a spot you should know about. Before opening as a full-scale restaurant in the fall, they’re spending all summer packing up baskets of salads and snacks perfect for a Prospect or Fort Greene Park picnic.