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Dallas Designers Share Their Favorite Outdoor Dinner Party Recipes

’Tis the season for alfresco entertaining, be it a garden party or backyard barbecue. These six recipes will make it a breeze.
| |Nathan Schroder; Elizabeth Lavin
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Patio Seating: Designer Mary Beth Wagner hosts casual but elevated outdoor affairs at her Sea Island, Georgia, home away from home. “I love mixing pieces to create a unique experience for my guests,” she says.

Hosting friends for an alfresco event is arguably one of the best things about spring. But there’s an art to outdoor entertaining that separates the seasoned hosts from the rookies. Designer Mary Beth Wagner of Mary Beth Wagner Interiors—whose second home in Sea Island, Georgia, is pictured above—doesn’t believe in skimping on decor just because you’re in the elements. “The key to creating the perfect outdoor entertaining space is setting the mood,” says Wagner, who looks to curated table settings and layered lighting to create the right vibe. 

The most important element to get right is, no surprise, the food—leaning on dishes that are light, bright, and can be easily enjoyed in a relaxed setting. Need help determining your menu? Six of our 2024 Best Designers share their tried-and-true alfresco recipes.


Summer Garden Pasta Salad

“It goes with everything, and it’s so simple. It’s a great side, or you can add a protein like chicken or chickpeas to make it a main dish.” 

Richard Gordon, Richard Gordon Design 
Adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen
  • Ingredients for the Dressing
  • Ingredients for the Salad
  • Instructions
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, minced, or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 lb farfalle
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated over the large holes of a box grater
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • 8 oz feta, crumbled
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • 1 pt cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Salt

To make the dressing, pour all ingredients into a bowl, combine with a whisk, then set aside.

To prep the salad, boil four quarts of water in a large pot. Cook pasta with two tablespoons of salt until tender. Strain pasta while reserving one cup of pasta water. Place cooked pasta in a bowl.

Combine the pasta water with dressing. Add half of the dressing to pasta, stirring to combine. Mix in carrots, bell pepper, feta, olives, and parsley. Place tomatoes on top of the finished salad, without mixing in.

To store, cover the pasta salad with plastic wrap, making vent holes in the top. Remaining dressing can be stored in an airtight container. Refrigerate both. When serving refrigerated pasta salad, microwave briefly to remove the chill, shake reserved dressing, and pour half on top, tossing to combine. Remaining dressing can be added as desired.


Fresh Peruvian-Style Ceviche

“My husband is Peruvian-American, and this is my favorite thing to eat in the spring and summer, hands down. We visited Peru together after a year of dating, and I became pretty obsessed with this type of ceviche.”

—Kristen Fegale, Kristen Fegale Interiors 
  • Ingredients for the Ceviche
  • Ingredients for the Accompaniment
  • Instructions
  • 2 lb of fresh white fish, preferably halibut or sea bass, cut into small 1/2-inch-sized cubes
  • 14–16 limes, juiced
  • 1 medium habanero, or real Peruvian aji amarillo
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 small purple onion, quartered and very thinly sliced
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • Cilantro for garnishing
  • (Optional) plantain chips or cancha, or toasted Peruvian corn

Combine all ingredients for ceviche, except the purple onion, in a bowl and mix well.

Place purple onion on top and let the ceviche marinate in the refrigerator for at least two-to-three hours before serving. Mix halfway through marinating process to ensure all fish is thoroughly “cooked” by the lime juice’s citric acid.

While the fish marinates, prepare accompaniment. Wash the sweet potatoes with a brush, and place in steamer for about 30 minutes, until tender. When potatoes are soft, remove from steamer, let cool, and remove skin. Cut into slices, around 3/8-inch thick.

Before serving ceviche, remix. Taste, add more salt if desired, and remix. Place a 6–8-ounce portion in small serving bowls or on a bed of lettuce, and garnish with cilantro sprigs. Fan out sweet potato slices, with corn or plantain chips on the side. Enjoy!


Watermelon and Feta Salad

“We love cooking at home, and this watermelon salad is a favorite. Occasionally, if we have perfect avocados—not too hard or too soft—we add in diced pieces. We also like to substitute the simple dressing for a touch of a nice champagne vinaigrette.” 

—Bill Cates, Peters-Cates Design
Adapted from: Jamie Magazine
  • Ingredients
  • Instructions
  • 1 1/2 lb watermelon, cubed
  • 1 small red onion
  • 6 oz feta
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, stemmed
  • Extra virgin olive oil and fresh black pepper to taste

Cut up the watermelon, discarding the rind. Peel and cut onion into thin slices, and crumble feta. Then de-stem mint leaves, and tear leaves into pieces. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, finishing with a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper to taste.


Uncle Werner’s Cannellini Beans with Tuna

“My uncle worked as a chef, and he had one simple, healthy salad dish that I love. I often serve it just on a bed of greens!” 

—Michelle Kopfer Roberts, Michelle’s Interiors
  • Ingredients
  • Instructions
  • 1 20-oz can cannellini, or white kidney beans, drained, about 2 cups
  • 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon, about 1 tbsp
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • 2 7-oz cans tuna

Put kidney beans in a mixing bowl. Add green onions, garlic, oregano, parsley, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Drain the tuna and flake it. Add to bean mixture and toss gently. Serve garnished with tomatoes.


Grilled Peach and Burrata Salad

“I have made this or a similar recipe for a long time. I have used frozen peach slices if fresh peaches aren’t available or swapped mozzarella in place of the burrata. I love to serve this healthy and gluten-free salad in the summer when I am grilling meat.” 

—Carrie Barron, Carrie Barron Interiors 
Adapted from: Downshiftology 
  • Ingredients
  • Instructions
  • 8 oz burrata
  • 3 peaches
  • 1 tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Black pepper, to taste

Start grill, and bring to medium heat. Slice peaches into halves if using an outdoor grill or into fourths if using an indoor grill.

Prep the peaches by adding butter or ghee and coconut sugar to the open side. Cook peaches on the grill for two or three minutes on each side. The peaches should have grill marks, and the buttered and sugared sides should have caramelized.

On the stovetop, cook the balsamic vinegar on medium heat for five minutes. Leave to cool and thicken.

To make the salad, place a serving of arugula on a plate, adding a couple slices of a grilled peach and a few pieces of burrata. Finish with a handful of pine nuts, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar reduction, and black pepper to taste.


Tomato Tart

“To me, this dish is the true symbol of summer. It is always a crowd pleaser and one I look forward to making every year. My cookbook is definitely worn out because I have made this recipe so many times.” 

—Lisa Henderson, Lisa Henderson Interiors 
Adapted from: The Provençal Cookbook
  • Ingredients
  • Instructions
  • 1 9-in pie crust, unbaked
  • 6–8 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 lb onions, finely chopped
  • 5 oz lardon, diced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 14.5-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 oz Gruyère, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blind bake the pie crust according to package directions. Remove from oven and let cool.

Blanch tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for one minute or until skins begin to split. Remove tomatoes from water, peel, and slice. Place slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and leave to drain.

In a skillet over medium heat, add oil, onions, and lardon. Sauté for 15 minutes, or until onions are soft and translucent. Add sugar, garlic, and canned tomatoes. Break up tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened. Remove skillet from heat and let cool.

Set oven temperature to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. Add oregano or marjoram, and then fold eggs into tomato mixture. Pour filling into the pie crust, and arrange drained tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with thyme and Gruyère. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Lydia Brooks

Lydia Brooks

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