9 Summer dinner party recipes to rely on

Setting the table outside (doesn't happen every year unfortunately)

You've invited people over.  You're excited to see them.  Then you realise you have to cook for them.

Don't get me wrong, I love cooking.  I have many many cookbooks and will quite happily choose an untried recipe when people come over.  But there are some recipes that I rely on - they're delicious, reliable, they're reasonably impressive, you can prepare them in advance so you're not sweating over a hot stove when people arrive and people often ask for the recipes.

The most important thing of course with any dinner party though is that you actually enjoy yourself so that everyone else can relax.  So pour a glass of wine or two and off you go.

And of course for cocktails check out our WIP Cocktail Club for reliable suggestions!


Pan con tomate - don't be shy with the olive oil or the salt on this...

Pan con tomate - don't be shy with the olive oil or the salt on this...

Prawn cocktail

Retro?  Ubiquitous?  Yes, but personally I don't think you can go too far wrong with a good prawn cocktail.  My tip to snazzify is to serve in half a papaya (or pawpaw?) and a bit of chopped coriander.  It tastes delicious and elevates it to something different.  My recipe is learned from watching my mum over the years.  

Pan con tomate

This is a recipe from the Barrafina cookbook, which is full of easy but excellent recipes.  The recipe is incredibly simple - toast some sourdough bread, rub the toasted bread with the cut side of half a garlic clove.  Top with good quality tomatoes chopped and squeezed slightly (include the juice and seeds as you put onto the bread).  Finish with a good slug of extra virgin olive oil, pepper and a good pinch of salt.  Some parsley if you have it.  A big plate of these and you'll feel like Jamie Oliver.   You can even branch into tapas if you serve alongside some fried chorizo and padron peppers.

Tuna sashimi

Now sashimi isn't something you'd necessarily associate with simplicity and ease.  But it really is.  Tuna with yuzu and jalapeños is made up of just four ingredients, all easily available.  You can make the dressing in advance, slice the tuna and jalapeños in advance and keep them in the fridge.  Then assemble just before service.  Also makes a nice lunch.   

Main courses

Paella for 20 or so very hungry people 

Paella for 20 or so very hungry people 


I don't want to get into a Jamie Oliver sized debate about what should and shouldn't go into a Paella.  I just know that this version, which they've tactfully called a 'British version of the Spanish Classic', by Brindisa is delicious.  It can be scaled up to serve a big group (we've done it for 26 before), and you can prepare all the various bits in advance.  It's a showstopper.   We have a paella pan and gas kit, but you can of course do this on the hob. 

Fish Tacos

There's something incredibly nice about putting lots of dishes on the table and letting everyone help themselves in some way.  This recipe by Stevie Parle is just brilliant, a great mid-week dinner but also a wonderful informal dinner party dish - and the roasted chilli mayonnaise is completely addictive.  And informal dinner parties really are the best kind. 

Steak with peanut relish and sweet potato rösti

I've been asked for this recipe by people more than once.  And if you've been to dinner at our house the chances are high that I've served it.  It's a winner.  Looks great, can be prepared in advance and all you have to do is reheat the rösti and cook the meat when people arrive.   Can be scaled up or down to serve two or ten (just adjust the size of your beef fillet).


Strawberry and Rose eton mess (or at least my attempt at it)

Strawberry and Rose eton mess (or at least my attempt at it)

Strawberry and Rose mess

Thanks to my friend Zoe for introducing me to this, a version of an Eton mess by the always innovative and delicious Yotam Ottolenghi.  This is the perfect prepare-ahead dessert.  I have actually made the strawberry sorbet in the recipe because I enjoy cooking but you really don't have to - buying some strawberry sorbet or ice-cream really will do the trick.   

Passion Fruit Pavlova

A Nigella special, and boy is it special.  Prepare your meringue the day before if you need to.  Scoop out the seeds from the passion fruit so that bit's all done.  Then all you need for a dessert which serves at least 8 is to whip some cream and assemble.  Tastes amazing.  I make this a lot

Summer Pudding

Another retro classic, but these things are classic for a reason.  You can make this the day before - or even the day before that, and all you then have to do is turn it out and serve with some double cream.  Delicious and I'm sure in some way one of your five a day...


I'd love to know your summer dinner party go-to recipes - is there one thing you do every time?