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Add Summer to Dinner

If getting outside during the week isn’t an option for you, do the next best thing and bring summer, in. With more blue sky and warmer weather this time of year, there is little better than looking outside your window and seeing what you can bring indoors to enhance the taste and feel of your meals. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Shop your local farmers market

June marks the typical start of the farmers market season, when growers bring their goods to a designated spot to sell fresh produce, flowers and herbs (and sometimes even meats, baked goods and cheeses) to the masses. The USDA’s website lists market locations across the country: A quick Google search will tell you what’s available near you so you can enjoy this seasonable treat.

Serve meals family style, for fun

Summer entertaining is as casual as it will be all year; so whether feeding a small group or a crowd, serve meals family style rather than making up individual plates. Setting out platters of brightly colored antipasti like meats, cheeses, and vegetables raw or grilled, or even main-dish items like sausages and steaks, keeps the formality low.

Incorporate herbs in unexpected places

Whether from your own garden, the grocery store or a farmers market, bunches of fresh herbs like dill, parsley, basil and mint make a quick centerpiece when grouped on your table in glasses or vases. When the meal is over, use them in the next day’s recipes. Add chopped mint to a salad of fresh pineapple chunks and blueberries. Dill, mint, parsley and tarragon enliven any tossed salad. And Italy’s essential summer salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes--the Caprese--wouldn’t be complete without large leaves of basil.

Make salads sing with sorrel

Some greens are a seasonal treat, and sorrel is one of them. This bright leafy green has a lemony flavor that pairs well with spinach or regular salad greens. Or, sauté it as a side or look for recipes for making light summer soups.

Try a nautical theme

The decor of Italy’s seaside restaurants often reflects their locale. Comb antique or craft stores for a replica buoy or fishing net and use as part of a centerpiece, or as decoration for a sideboard or buffet. Tie cloth napkins around silverware with raffia or twine, and keep table colors in hues of blues and white.

Bring the beach inside

Whether you’re landlocked or you live on the beach, seashells and coral make classic coastal tablescapes. Home decor stores sell both replicas and the real thing, but don’t be afraid to showcase your own collections: fill glass jars with similarly colored shells or sea glass, or fill bottles of varied heights with sand and group in the middle of the table. Accent with singular shells, river stones or votive candles.

Wake up your water

For a change on an everyday table staple, instead of pre-filling water glasses set out a pitcher of water with slices of lemon or cucumber. Or, bypass the flavored waters you see in stores and make your own using purees of your favorite flavors like strawberries or cucumbers, straining them, adding simple syrup to taste, and mixing the base with still or sparkling water. You’ll love the freshness.

Grill bread for great summertime taste

If you don’t have the ingredients for one of the bruschetta recipes like this delicious Bertolli suggestion, make quick grilled garlic bread with just bread and a clove of garlic. Place thick slices of a bread with a good crust (Italian Ciabatta or French bread work well), lightly grill so you can see char marks, and rub a peeled clove of raw garlic on both sides. Drizzle with Bertolli® Classico Olive Oil before serving and finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.