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Let’s Talk Summer Entertaining: Q&A with Iron Chef America Donatella Arpaia

Summer is in FULL swing, and nothing celebrates the bliss and magic of this season quite like an outdoor dinner party. The best thing about this type of entertaining? It’s super casual and focused on light, simple fare, which spells less time in the kitchen and more time with loved ones. We caught up recently with Donatella Arpaia, a regular judge on The Food Network's Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef and an NYC restaurant owner, for the rundown on all things summer entertaining, including warmer weather cooking hacks, time-saving prep tips and recipe inspiration.

Can you describe a recent summer entertaining memory? What made it extra special? 

My July 4th party at my lake house. The weather was perfect and my parents who have been married for over 53 years were dancing as the fireworks went off in the background. It was magical.

In your opinion, what is unique about summer entertaining compared to entertaining other times of the year? 

The weather drives entertaining in the summer—it’s all about eating outside, light fare and a more casual approach to entertaining.

When temperatures rise, the last place many of us want to be is the kitchen. What tips do you have for keeping things cool while cooking?

I like to create meals that are conducive to some prep in the morning and also require minimal time at the stove. Summertime is all about grilling so try marinating your meat and fish in the morning so all the flavors have time to infuse, then turn on the grill when you’re ready to begin. Choose one or two healthy sides to go along with it. I love to use my rice cooker and have a simple dish of rice with Libby’s® Mixed Vegetables. Top it off with a little extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper and you’re all set!

What would you say are the three most important components for a hosting a successful summer dinner party?

  1. Help yourself out the night before so you don’t feel the stress on the day you’re hosting! Take out the trash so you don’t have to lug it out in front of your guests. Preparing the day before can really reduce stress levels!
  2. Keep things light, when it’s hot outside your guests will want dishes that aren’t too heavy, grilled foods served alongside fresh salads followed by fruit are ideal.  
  3. Make a big summer fruit punch! This is great especially if you are on a budget, as alcohol can be expense. Create a signature cocktail for the evening, give it a special name and make it ahead of time. Your guests won’t realize you used a less expensive gin or vodka, I promise. :)

Much of summer entertaining revolves around the BBQ. Thinking beyond the obvious hamburgers and hotdogs, what are your favorite veggies and fruits to grill up?

I love grilling watermelon and peaches in the summer. One of my favorite recipes is grilled peaches with mozzarella and a drizzle of honey. This is super easy because I always have my kitchen stocked with Libby’s® Peach Slices, which are great for grilling and can be stored in your pantry. This recipe is quick, easy and deliciously refreshing on a steamy summer day.

Any tips for keeping food fresh and safe from the heat/insects while dining al fresco?

I really like covered casseroles—they keep heat in and bugs out. These are also great for serving larger dishes for your outdoor dinner parties, like salads or corn!

I always buy food tents from the dollar store. They’re so easy to use and at only a dollar, you can use them a few times and then throw them out!

What’s your favorite warmer weather beverage to serve alongside a summer feast?

I love to serve sparkling water garnished with pomegranate seeds for a summery twist because it’s refreshing and looks beautiful on the table.

When it gets hotter, everyone wants something light and fruity instead of a heavy dessert.  That’s when I make my Boozy Fruit Cocktail Ice Pops – guests LOVE these.

Here is the recipe: (Don’t worry, it’s so quick and simple, anyone can do it!)

For these I like to use Libby’s® Canned Fruit Cocktail – you don’t need any additional syrup! 

  • Fill a popsicle mould with the contents of the can – both fruit and juices.
  • Add bourbon or vodka to make it boozy. (You could also skip the alcohol to make a kid friendly batch too!)
  • Freeze; then serve! 
Summer Entertaining
Donatella Arpaia