They say every summer has a story. If food stylist Susan Spungen were narrating, her summer story would be told in galettes, rosés and hydrangeas. The Hamptons-based author and famed “Julie & Julia” consultant recently shared her warm weather entertaining wisdom and favorite go-to recipes with Previews® Inside Out.
Susan Spungen Well, if you mean actually at the beach, that is usually a very relaxed affair, with potluck dinner, a bonfire and just the sound of the waves. But when I entertain near the beach, where I live in East Hampton, I usually just cook a big dinner full of all of the amazing local produce that grows around here. I’m a member at Quail Hill Farm, where we pick our own vegetables every Saturday, and this year we are also members of Dock to Dish, which is a community-supported fishery program, and we get a beautiful package of impeccably fresh fish every week, caught by Montauk fishermen. The food practically cooks itself. My husband and I do like to collect beautiful serving pieces, and he usually does “front of the house” while I finish up the cooking. He sets a mean table. We like to cut flowers from our property, which include a steady stream of different kinds of hydrangeas that go all summer long.
Susan Spungen Like a lot of people, I’m enjoying a lot of Middle Eastern flavors and spices. Ottolenghi has really gotten under our skin, even though I have always loved this kind of food. I’m using more tahini, sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, yogurt, grains, etc. than I ever have before. It’s a new vocabulary for the home cook.
Previews Inside Out What would be your ideal meal to serve guests for Fourth of July?
Susan Spungen We used to have a big Fourth of July party at our old house, and it consisted of homemade barbecue and lots of delicious typical side dishes like cole slaw and mac ‘n’ cheese, but also some fresher, lighter salads than you would typically serve with BBQ. Lots of desserts, including pies and crisps. I used to have the kids churn vanilla ice cream to go with the desserts.
Previews Inside Out What’s the secret to an excellent summer dessert?
Susan Spungen One word: fruit. We have such amazingly luscious fruit all summer long, it’s a shame not to make it the highlight. Galettes, crisps and pies are all great ways to show off the fruit. One of my favorites to make is Apricot Pavlova.
Previews Inside Out For summer, what is the perfect beverage to complement the warm weather?
Susan Spungen Well, we all know everyone loves rosé, and I’m no exception, but I also really love an Aperol Spritz that’s made right.
Previews Inside Out The Aperol Spritz sounds divine. Finally, can you leave us with your best advice for outdoor entertaining?
Susan Spungen Have a backup plan. Make sure you have a Plan B in case of bad weather. I find I almost never need it, but it’s way less stressful than worrying about what will happen if it rains. This leads me to my second answer: relax and have fun!
Susan Spungen’s Summer Tasting Menu
Roasted Vegetable Tart
This portable make-ahead treat (which we now like to call a tart) can be a main course or a hors d’oeuvre or part of a buffet—it never fails to satisfy. Full recipe here.
Spungen likes to brighten her gray winter days with this colorful tangy citrus dish, but it’s also the perfect antidote to a hot summer day. Full recipe here.
Did you know that the Santa Clara Valley, where Silicon Valley now resides, was once the largest apricot producer in the world? Sadly, those lost orchards have made it more difficult to find tasty apricots—but Spungen manages to bring out their flavor and texture in this smart (and sweet) concoction. Full recipe here.