Photograph of a summer sunset By Jessie Eastland

Al Fresco Dinner Ideas and Inspiration

We’re not really blessed with long, hot summers in the UK, which makes us even more determined to make the most of them. Sitting outside admiring the darkening sunset skies and sipping a glass of wine with a plate of deliciousness is one of the best things about summer. Here are our favourite meals to enjoy ‘al fresco’.

Simple Salad Dressing for Hot or Cold Salads

Salads are top of our list for summer foods. The key to a great salad is the dressing – our favourite versatile dressing goes like this:

Simple Salad Dressing Recipe

  1. Combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, pinch of salt/pepper/sugar, Dijon mustard.
  2. Add lemon zest/juice to taste, and whisk.
  3. Finally add a big handful of finely chopped soft summer herbs to give an intensely herby zingy flavour.

This kind of dressing will complement all the seasonal veggies and salady things you can lay your hands on. So far this summer we’re loving these combinations:

  • Fresh peas, fennel and herbs (we top this recipe with feta and mint)
  • Steamed runner beans and crispy bacon (it’s a hot salad – it still counts!)
  • Cold steamed salmon, olives, capers, tomatoes and new potatoes with tarragon and dill
  • Cold brown noodles with peanuts, sesame seeds, raw spinach, cabbage and herbs. (This recipe is truly yum – even though it sounds a bit weird).

Picnic Must Haves

Recipes for the perfect picnic? Who has time for that!? When a last minute picnic is on the agenda, we grab the nearest picnic hamper and throw in things from the fridge or quickly make a simple potato and cheese omelette: Let it cool and slice it up for perfect finger food. A crusty roll with salty butter and ham, or cheddar and chutney is so much more delicious eaten outdoors, preferably on a bench with a view.

Mason jars or jam jars make great portable glasses with a gin and tonic ready mixed within. Want wine? Invest in a wine sleeve – very handy as a cooler for your sarnies AND chills a bottle of white in no time at all.

BBQ Tandoori Chicken

Barbecued chicken drumsticks and thighs really are easy, just cook ‘em slowly and thoroughly. We love the lemony taste of tandoori-spiced chicken, and to us, the juicy chicken and tart marinade is miles better than a boring old burger or sausage.

Tandoori Chicken Marinade Recipe

  1. Simply combine plain yoghurt, lots of lemon juice, garlic and Indian spices in a freezer bag
  2. Throw in the slashed up, de-skinned chicken.
  3. Smoosh it around in the bag to cover it all, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Barbecue slowly and serve with a brown rice salad and a dollop of yoghurt. There’s a proper recipe here.

Posh Ploughman’s for Supper

Cheese, crackers, pickle, a few slices of cucumber, a grated carrot and courgette salad, some cold meats and a dish of olives and some crusty bread – just make it up as you go along. There’s nothing lovelier than simple ingredients coming together as a mini-feast…Especially when there’s no need for any cooking. Check out our luxury cheese hampers for posh ploughman’s inspiration

Celebrating Fish and Summer Veggies

Our memories of visiting the Basque region of Spain last summer are dominated by the sight, sound and smell of enormous chunks of hake sizzling on the charcoal grills lining the harbourside streets of Getaria.

Summer veggies, steamed then tossed with a herby dressing, and a piece of grilled fish on top is so pleasing to look at, virtuous to eat (according to the sustainable UK fish list), and arguably the most delicious and special meal to eat on a summer’s evening.

What are your ideas for a perfect summer meal to eat outside?