Serious Entertaining »

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Spain...On The Roof Again

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

One of the perks of my apartment is that there is a shared roof on the building. It may be small with no actual view (except of the beautiful New York sky) but there are plants and a wooden table and this weekend I was thrilled to be back, eating in the open air.

Whether you have a roof, a deck, or simply a patch of your local park, Spanish food is perfect for al fresco dining. The flavors are earthy, the dishes are meant to be shared, and, in a pinch, a bottle of cold Verdejo and a hunk of nutty Mahon really makes its own meal.

Pisto Manchego with Toasted Bread

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I love any dish that falls into the category "Can Be Eaten on Toasted Bread." But the reason why this is one of my all-time favorite dishes is that, similar to French ratatouille, pisto manchego is comprised of my very favorite vegetables: red peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Though it originated in the area of La Mancha, pisto is now eaten all over Spain. And while zucchini, fried eggs, and chorizo can all find their way into the dish, I like it at its most simple. Dripping with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, the vegetables simply melt in your mouth.

Saffron Rice with Chorizo

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Using short grained bomba or arborio rice gives this dish a creamy consistency similar to that of a risotto. The rice gets a slight sweetness and beautiful golden color from threads of saffron, and peas add a pop of freshness. Use the best olive oil in your pantry to finish off the dish, and try not to hog all the deliciously spicy hunks of fried chorizo.

Spanish Cheese Plate

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The Spanish make great cheese and when putting together a cheese plate, it can be difficult to choose among the various types. Here are a few that I love and always get rave reviews from friends.

Mahón: Made on the island of Minorca, this cow's milk cheese is typically aged just a few months to keep its texture semi-firm rather than crumbly. Containing hints of butter and salt, this cheese is nuttier than the partiers on the nearby island of Ibiza.

Drunken Goat: It's my belief that anything which spends time in close proximity to Spanish red wine is probably going to be awesome. And, just as predicted, drunken goat is one fantastic cheese. A soft, creamy goats milk interior is left to cure for 48-72 hours in Doble Pasta red wine, giving the final product a fruity flavor and pretty purple rind.

Idiazabal: Made from the milk of Latxa and Carranzana sheep, this cheese is a Basque country specialty. It's a semi-firm cheese with an earthy flavor that just begs to be washed down with a glass of wine.

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