The Dreamiest Dinner Party Menu That Won't Overheat Your Home

Longer days call for endless festivities with friends. An expert entertainer shares his flavor-packed seasonal dinner party menu that keeps the kitchen—and the host—cool as an icy dessert.

serving grain salad onto a plate with chard salad and poached halibut
Photo: Adam Friedlander

In Supper Club, Jonah Reider taps into the joys of do-it-yourself hospitality, sharing his essential tips, tools, and no-stress recipes to become a more creative, improvisational, and confident host. Dine with Jonah at his supper club Pith, check out his wares at Pith Home Goods, or follow along his culinary adventures on Instagram.

Summer is the best time to host dinner parties. Sunsets stretch on for hours, the markets are spilling over with incredible produce, and friends are in a festive mood. The only problem? Many recipes call for high heat. Besides turning my apartment into a sauna, smoky and splattery recipes are likely to stress me out, and a stressed chef makes for a bad host.

Here is a perfect menu for a dreamy midsummer's night meal that keeps my home and disposition cool. It features cocktails, snacks, multiple dishes, and an icy dessert–none of which require you to blast the stove or oven while guests are over. Shut the oven off, dim the lights, rock some summer jams, and let this menu work its magic.

martini with olive and lemon twist
Adam Friedlander

Start with a cool dip and a light cocktail.

I always have a simple drink and snack laid out so that guests can nibble and socialize while I finish the meal. Lately, that means a platter of radishes of all shapes and colors. I like to use slender French breakfast radishes, gorgeous watermelon radishes, spicy green radishes, and perhaps even a few colorful carrots. Slice them into wedges, leaving a tiny bit of stem if you like, and store them in a container of ice water to maximize their crunch.

They're perfect for dipping: first into thick yogurt seasoned with lemon zest and olive oil, then into a coarse mixture of salty toasted almonds and zaatar. By keeping the creamy and crunchy components in separate bowls, guests have to put in just a bit of work for each perfectly textured bite.

To drink, I'm offering my ideal summer cocktail: light, lemony, and super-drinkable 50-50 martinis. If you think martinis are goblets of pure liquor with a scant drop of vermouth, think again: this iteration features a thrilling and simple formula of equal parts dry vermouth and gin. Although you can't go wrong with Dolin Dry, a craft vermouth like Lo-Fi brings unique and deeply herbaceous notes to the drink. I love 50-50s because they can be easily prepared in a big pitcher, poured over ice (no stirring and straining required), then garnished with briny olives or twists of lemon peel. For guests who don't want alcohol, I'll put out a big pitcher of barely-sweetened lemonade adorned with sprigs of rosemary or thyme.

tossing grain salad with vegetables
Adam Friedlander

A Stunning Spread: Poached Halibut; Fregola with Summer Beans; Raw Chard Salad

During the summer, poaching is the easiest way to prepare plenty of light and flaky fish with barely any heat and no smoke or splatters. I like to work with thicker filets of white fish like halibut or cod. Remember to take your fish out at least 30 minutes before cooking; cold fish seizes up, toughening and cooking unevenly.

Before cooking, I cut the filets into individual portions, then lay them gently into a large pot filled with a few inches of poaching liquid. This poaching liquid is uncomplicated: water, seasoned with salt and an onion or a couple of scallions. I might add a chili pepper for heat, or some dried seaweed for umami, but poaching is primarily about texture: let the portions of fish sit in hot (but never boiling) liquid for five or six minutes, just until they seem ready to flake into large, tender chunks on your plate. If you're new to cooking fish, use a thermometer and aim for an internal temperature of 135-140°F, but take note of how it looks and feels when it gets there and remember that it will continue to cook on the plate.

You can poach your fish at the last second to serve it warm, or, it can be prepared a bit in advance and served at room temperature. Either way, spoon something summery and bursting with flavor atop your fish once it hits the serving platter. I recommend whisking salted butter with with lots of lemon juice and ground white pepper in a pan over very low heat for a few minutes until it's creamy and emulsified. A fork will do the trick, but if you're having trouble making a smooth emulsion, add the tiniest pinch of corn starch. To garnish, I'll sprinkle the thinnest rings of chives that I can slice.

pouring butter sauce over poached halibut
Adam Friedlander
Poached halibut with butter sauce and thinly sliced chives
Adam Friedlander

To accompany my fish, I'll serve two simple room temperature salads. First off, a grain salad bursting with sweet sugar snap peas, fistfuls of bright basil, and thin slices of spicy green chilies. I like to use fregola, a semolina pasta hand-rolled into little balls that's deliciously chewy when boiled in abundantly salted water. Other pearled grains like maftoul, barley, or couscous will work. This salad can be made well before mealtime, left to soak in a bright vinaigrette, and served at room temperature with an extra flourish of torn fresh basil and flaky salt.

I'm also serving a salad of raw rainbow chard with the leaves rolled up and sliced thinly into ribbons; the sugary technicolor stalks chopped into little disks. I toss it all in a very lemony and peppery vinaigrette, mixing in toasted almonds for crunch and dried cranberries or raisins for chewy sweetness. It can be prepared ahead of time and served cool or at room temperature. At the last minute, transfer the salad to a serving bowl and finish it off with a theatrical shower of Microplaned Parmesan.

chopping chard stems
Adam Friedlander

End with an icy treat: watermelon and mint granita.

I am a famously bad baker, but that won't stop me from serving a memorable dessert at the end of every dinner party. I'm wrapping this summer dinner party up with something easy and frozen––specifically, watermelon granita. The fluffy, fruity ice requires only about two minutes of prep, with no steps on the stove or oven.

I blend chunks of watermelon with lemon juice, sugar, and water, tasting and adjusting until I have a light syrup that tastes like watermelon candy. Freezing mutes flavor, so add just a bit more lemon and sugar than you think you should.

Adam Friedlander

Some people like to constantly fluff their granita—scraping it into a light, crunchy ice—as it chills, but I just pour the syrup into a container and freeze until solid. Then, before my guests arrive, I rake the block of frozen watermelon syrup into the texture I desire using my most durable fork. The granita could be made days in advance but should be re-fluffed with a fork shortly before serving..

This fruity, pebbly granita is delicious on its own, but I love the contrast of serving it over very smooth and lightly salted whipped cream. Adding a few small mint leaves to each serving gives each spoonful color contrast and an alluring fresh aroma. And while I love the combination of watermelon and mint, you can work with any peak-season fruit. Just note that if you use fruits richer in pectin, like strawberries or peaches, you'll get a smoother and more sorbet-like result.

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