My husband and I are spending several weeks this summer living and working in Paris once again. A few days ago, we were invited to a small cocktail buffet given by American friends. The morning of the party, I telephoned the hostess, volunteering to bring a dish to her fete. She welcomed my offer to contribute dessert, but when I asked about the night's menu to coordinate my dish with hers, she said she hadn't yet decided what to serve. I marveled at her calm since I would have worried about the foods for such a soiree at least a week in advance,
When we arrived at our hosts' apartment, we found them completely relaxed. On their coffee table, they had set out a bowl of tapenade, a Provencal olive and anchovy paste that's delicious on baguette slices, and one of caponata, a cooked eggplant dip, garnished with crisp crackers. These appetizers, along with some tempting cheese straws, had been purchased earlier at a local food market. On a nearby table were bottles of white and red wine as well as bubbly and plain waters. For more than an hour our small group, which included a pair of Italians, a Frenchman and three American couples, nibbled on hors d'oeuvres while enjoying lively conversations.
Next, we were invited to help ourselves to a cold buffet arranged on the dining room table. There was a platter of cheeses, another with sliced ham and pate, a bowl mounded with a green bean and tomato salad, and a basket of bread. Later, my strawberry cake was sliced and served.
While savoring this delectable spread, I noticed that the hosts did not disappear into the kitchen as I so often do at parties. Then I realized why. The entire meal was served at room temperature. No last-minute cooking was necessary.
I left determined to duplicate this easy, casual style of entertaining while we are in France's capital. Looking through my files, I found a colorful chopped salad (cleverly named Forklift Salad by its creator, Emily Bell) made with a bounty of vegetables dressed in vinaigrette dressing and sprinkled with fresh herbs. It can be prepared several hours ahead and could accompany purchased roasted chickens served cold and some well-chosen cheeses. The same strawberry cake I bought at my local patisserie will also end my cold summer buffet.
Emily Bell's Forklift Salad
Makes 8 servings
2 cups peeled, seeded and diced cucumbers (2 medium cucumbers)
2 cups seeded and diced plum tomatoes (4 to 5 large plum tomatoes)
one 15 1/2 -ounce can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed, patted dry and coarsely chopped
2 cups seeded and chopped red bell peppers (about 2 medium peppers)
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 generous teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon coarse-grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
In attractive, nonreactive serving bowl, place cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, red peppers, celery and red onion.
In another bowl, whisk together vinegar, garlic, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss well. Let rest 45 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature.
At serving time, sprinkle vegetables with mint, basil and parsley and mix well. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve salad with slotted spoon.