Can summer truly be over? It was just weeks ago that swimming pools were open and half of Dallas’ population was in Colorado to escape the Texas heat. I know – we were there, too!
And yet, other than the children being back in school, it still feels like summer, which, in my book, is an excellent reason to extend the season and celebrate with a farewell-to-summer cocktail party that’s easy, breezy, and fun.
I enjoy inviting friends and neighbors over for a glass of wine any time of the year, but a summer-themed cocktail party in early-September, when everyone else is looking ahead to fall, creates an unanticipated element of fun for guests.
From themed e-invitations to a poolside setting, light menu, and breezy, casual attire, this gathering captures the essence of summertime’s freedom and relaxation.
Since hot temperatures usually dominate the early part of September, the menu for this gathering features late-summer produce and chilled appetizers. Markets still have a good supply of ripe, juicy peaches for fresh peach salsa, and avocados are plentiful for guacamole. Add a generous display of hard and soft cheeses, gourmet olives, charcuterie, lavosh, flatbread, and tortilla chips, and you have all the ingredients for an easy, tasty cocktail party buffet.
Fill a galvanized tub with ice, bottles of chilled rosé and pinot grigio, and my new favorite – slim cans of flavored sparkling water. Over the years, I’ve learned a signature cocktail is akin to live entertainment, so for an added dose of festivity, offer a custom-made raspberry cosmopolitan, margarita, or piña colada. If you’re the mixologist, you’ll be the most popular person at your party.
Instead of the usual tomato bruschetta, serve the unexpected. Raisin pecan bread bruschetta with fresh peach salsa offers a flavor-packed, textural feast of toasty bread, chewy, sun-ripened raisins, soft, sweet peaches, tangy lime, and spicy cilantro. Although the Texas peach season is over, California peaches are still being harvested. Select fruit that “gives” when lightly pressed with your thumb and ripen it on the kitchen counter for a day or two if needed.
For variety and a gluten-free alternative, offer cucumber “cups” filled with peach salsa. Rinse an English cucumber, peel the skin lengthwise at intervals to create a striped effect, and cut it crosswise into ¾ -inch thickness. To create edible cups, use a spoon to scoop out some of the centers, fill with peach salsa, and garnish with a cilantro leaf. A grapefruit spoon is especially effective. Chill until ready to serve.
Bruschetta with Fresh Peach Salsa
1 loaf good-quality raisin pecan bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large ripe peaches, about 1 ¾ pound total
2 tablespoons red onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
cilantro leaves, rinsed, for garnish
Slice the bread into ½-inch-thick slices, or ask the bakery to slice it for you. Cut the slices in half and transfer them to cookie sheets. Brush the tops with a little olive oil and toast under a preheated broiler just until brown. Turn them over, brush with remaining olive oil, and brown the other side. Remove the toasted bread slices from the cookie sheets and cool them on wire racks.
To peel the peaches, fill a large saucepan with water, bring it to a boil, and cook the peaches 45 seconds. Drain and transfer them immediately to a large bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking process. When they are cool, peel with a sharp knife. The skin will peel easily. Slice the fruit into wedges and cut into ¼-inch cubes. Place the fruit in a medium bowl and stir in onion, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Cover and chill until shortly before serving.
To serve, top each bruschetta with a spoonful of peach salsa and garnish with a leaf of fresh cilantro.
Yield: 42-48 bruschetta