Spring is prime entertaining season. There are fresh new vegetables to savor, friends emerging from hibernation, and the temperature is pleasantly warm instead of overbearingly hot. But hosting large gatherings can also be stressful, and spending hours in the kitchen can detract from actually enjoying good weather and good company. That's why I like to have some super-simple menus up my sleeve; the kind of meals I can pull off on my own, even after a long day's work.
This four-course meal looks fancy and tastes delicious, but that's just part of the good news: each of these dishes can be made in under an hour from start to finish, and all of them can be made simultaneously. In other words, with a little planning and prep work, you can have a full guest-worthy spread on the table without breaking a sweat.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes With Feta and Roasted Peppers
Want maximum flavor with minimal effort? Fresh tomatoes—firm ones are ideal—are hollowed out and filled with a roughly chopped mixture of sweet fire-roasted bell peppers, pickled banana peppers, feta cheese, and garlic. Seasoned with oregano and crushed red pepper, they bake in the oven for just under half an hour. The result is a tender, salty-tangy-sweet appetizer that takes just 10 minutes of active cooking.
Skirt Steak With Mushroom-Cream Pan Sauce
Not only is skirt steak an incredibly juicy, flavorful cut of beef, but it's also fast-cooking. So fast that pan-searing it only takes about seven minutes. Then, while the steak rests, we scrape up all those delicious browned bits from the pan and toss in some mushrooms, sautéing them until they're soft and tender (if you're really looking to save time, you can even buy them pre-sliced). They're joined by shallots, garlic, and thyme for some extra complexity before the pan is deglazed with wine and stock and finished with cream. Whip this up while the tomatoes are in the oven—they take almost the same amount of time.
Grilled Asparagus, Zucchini, and Bread Salad With Olive-Caper Dressing
Panzanella is a genius marriage of a satisfying starchy side and a light, refreshing salad. This twist on the Italian classic incorporates some of the season's finest ingredients—grilled asparagus and zucchini, along with tender and sweet charred onion. The bread itself is doused with olive oil and toasted before the it's tossed with the vegetables in a bold and punchy olive, caper, and parsley vinaigrette.
If you don't feel up to building a fire or cooking outdoors, you can pull the dish off on a stovetop grill—it won't deliver quite the same charred, smoky flavors, but we won't tell if you don't.
Light and Easy 5-Minute Fruit Mousse
If a five-minute dessert doesn't already sound easy enough, get this: it only calls for three ingredients. Frozen berries are puréed in the food processor and sweetened with some sugar. Then, you simply add an egg white and continue to process the mixture until it's smooth and fluffy. The resulting mousse is tart and sweet, creamy, and refreshingly light. Served chilled in glasses with a dollop of whipped cream and/or fresh berries and it makes a pretty stunning presentation, to boot.
For maximum ease, you can, of course, go with a great bottle of rosé or a six-pack of beer. But for the more cocktail-inclined, large pitcher drinks are definitely the simplest way to host. Consider a great big batch of minty-sweet Grilled Pineapple Mojitos or Bitter Salty Perros—a marriage of tart grapefruit juice, tonic, and tequila.