Patio Party
By Rebecca Broida Gart

Celebrate with summer's peak flavors.

Summertime brings plenty of good excuses for outdoor entertaining—Memorial Day picnics, graduations and wedding parties, Fourth of July barbecues and Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. But if you're not entertaining for a holiday or special event, there may be an even better excuse for celebration—fresh herbs are at their peak, and farmer's markets are bursting with sweet and luscious produce. Or perhaps you're ready to showcase the fruits of labor from your own backyard garden. The following dishes are casual and simple to prepare—giving you more time out of the kitchen and outside on the patio with family and friends. So stoke the grill, invite the guests and enjoy the long, warm days of summer.

Menu
Gazpacho
Crudités with Buttermilk Dip
Baby Lettuce with Pears and Raspberries
Herbed Salmon
Grilled Asparagus
Fresh Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh Peach Bellinis

Gazpacho

Serves 6 / Serve in short glasses as an appetizer or in bowls as a first course. Place condiments in small serving dishes on the table, so guests can garnish as they desire.

2 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic
1 jalapeño, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
8 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cups tomato or vegetable juice
1/4 cup each finely chopped red pepper, green pepper, celery and cucumber
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Place tomatoes, garlic and jalapeño in a food processor and blend. Add oil, vinegar and lime juice. Purée until smooth.

2. In a large bowl, combine tomato mixture with remaining ingredients.

3. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

FOR GARNISH
Chopped avocado
Chopped scallions
Peeled shrimp
Tabasco sauce
Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 82 calories Fat: 5g % fat calories: 47% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 11g Protein: 2g

Crudités with Buttermilk Dip

Serves 12 / A colorful and tasty way to showcase summer's produce.

1 each red, orange and green bell peppers
4 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 English cucumber
6 radishes
1 medium zucchini
1 cup snow peas
1 cup sugar snap peas
1 cup yellow pear-shaped cherry tomatoes
1 bunch asparagus
1 bunch broccoli florets
1 cup French green beans

BUTTERMILK DIP
1 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons light sour cream
1 cup buttermilk
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon chives, minced
Dash of salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Wash and slice bell peppers, carrots, celery, English cucumber, radishes and zucchini into bite-size pieces. Wash and trim snow peas, sugar snap peas and yellow pear-shaped cherry tomatoes and leave whole.

2. For asparagus, broccoli florets and French green beans, immerse in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Submerge immediately in ice water; drain and chill.

3. For dip, whisk together all ingredients until well blended and chill.

4. Arrange vegetables on large platter. Place dip in bowl in center of platter and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 135 calories Fat: 7g % fat calories: 46% Cholesterol: 0.4mg Carbohydrate: 14g Protein: 5g

Herbed Salmon

Serves 4 / This recipe also works well with tarragon, thyme, sage or dill in place of rosemary.

4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each)
6 lemon wedges

1. In shallow glass baking dish, combine first five ingredients and mix well. Place salmon in baking dish skin up and turn to coat; cover and marinate in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

2. Preheat grill. Remove salmon from marinade and place fillets in center of grill. Cook 7-8 minutes each side, until fish is opaque throughout. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 347 calories Fat: 23g % fat calories: 59% Cholesterol: 100mg Carbohydrate: 2g Protein: 34g

Grilled Asparagus

Serves 6 / This side dish is easy to prepare. Grilling brings out the flavor of the asparagus.

2 bunches asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 lemon
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

1. Preheat grill. Discard tough ends of asparagus, or peel the bottoms of the spears.

2. Fill wide, shallow saucepan three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and cook 3-4 minutes, or until asparagus is just tender, but still crisp. Drain and submerge spears in a tub of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and dry.

3. Place asparagus on large platter and sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Grill asparagus for 2-3 minutes. Turn carefully with tongs and grill other side until brown grill marks appear.

4. Transfer back to platter and squeeze lemon juice on spears; toss with pine nuts and additional olive oil, if desired.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 128 calories Fat: 9g % fat calories: 60% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 7g Protein: 7g

Fresh Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4 / Although this combination may seem strange at first, it's simple to prepare and the result is sublime.

2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Dash of white pepper
3 cups halved, small, ripe strawberries
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
4 cups lemon sorbet

1. Place sugar, balsamic vinegar and pepper in a medium bowl. Mix well. Fold in strawberries and mix gently. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Spoon into small bowls over 1 cup lemon sorbet and garnish with fresh mint. If desired, serve with almond biscotti.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 222 calories Fat: 1g % fat calories: 6% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 53g Protein: 2g

Fresh Peach Bellinis

Serves 6 / A refreshing summertime drink to celebrate any occasion.

6-8 soft, ripe, white peaches, skinned and pitted
1 bottle sparkling wine

1. In a food processor or blender, purée peaches.

2. Pour 1/4 cup peach purée into a champagne flute and top off with sparkling wine.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 138 calories Fat: 0g % fat calories: 0% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 6g Protein: 1g

Baby Lettuce with Pears and Raspberries

Serves 4 / Use a mix of fresh-cut, young greens from your garden or farmer's market, and be sure to wash well. If time is tight, you can also buy packaged and prewashed organic mixed baby greens.

VINAIGRETTE
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon apple juice
1 tablespoon honey
Dash of salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

SALAD
4 cups mixed baby lettuce
1 cup sliced pears
1 cup raspberries
1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1. Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside.

2. Place baby lettuce in a large bowl; toss gently with dressing. Divide salad among 4 individual plates and top with pears, raspberries and toasted walnuts.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 166 calories Fat: 11g % fat calories: 56% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 17g Protein: 2g Rebecca Broida Gart is a freelance food writer based in Denver.