Throwing a barbecue is one of the joys of summer, but it can get pricey.
The secret to backyard entertaining without breaking the bank is to build the meal around foods that are good values or sale items. Pantry items and ingredients that add multiple flavors with one stroke complete the package.
This impressive, yet easy to prepare Mediterranean-inspired meal can comfortably serve 10 people for around $3 a person. Plus, most of the dishes can be prepared ahead, leaving you with more time with your guests.
Tomato-balsamic barbecued chicken starts with chicken thighs and drumsticks, which cost little and tend to be the most flavorful parts of the bird.
A flavorful, tangy glaze takes advantage of pre-seasoned tomato paste and the complex sweet acidity of balsamic vinegar. For this recipe, inexpensive balsamic works as well as more pricey kinds because a bit of sugar is added to the mix.
Mediterranean orzo salad marries perfectly with the flavors of the barbecued chicken. The main ingredient is the traditional rice-shaped pasta, which usually cost around $1 for a 1-pound box.
And because the salad includes a good amount of feta cheese, the dish is substantial enough to serve as an entree for any guests who are vegetarian.
To finish off the meal there is an indulgent treat that is made with just four ingredients. A simple brown sugar shortbread is layered with rich and tangy jarred lemon curd to make sweet little sandwiches that are both crunchy and chewy.
TOMATO-BALSAMIC BARBECUED CHICKEN
To make this tangy dish even easier to prepare, make the tomato-balsamic glaze and par-cook the chicken ahead of time. Refrigerate both and when guests arrive, you can finish the chicken on the grill about 15 minutes before serving.
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
For the sauce:
6-ounce can basil-garlic flavored tomato paste (or a 6-ounce can of tomato paste mixed with a teaspoon of prepared pesto)
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the chicken:
5 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 F.
To make the sauce, in a small bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place on two, rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat a gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal fire.
Remove chicken from oven and cool for 5 minutes. If desired, remove the skin. Brush the chicken generously with the tomato-balsamic sauce.
Grill the chicken, turning and basting frequently, until well browned and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
MEDITERRANEAN ORZO SALAD
For the best value, buy the exact amount of olives for this salad from the bulk olive bar found in many larger grocers. For the dressing, use convenient squeeze bottles of lemon juice found in the freezer case.
A bottle cost a little over $2 but contains the juice of around 7 large lemons.
Start to finish: 25 minutes
1 pound orzo pasta
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound tomatoes, diced
1 seedless cucumber, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1Ú2-inch pieces
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to package instructions. In a colander, drain the cooked pasta, then rinse with cold water and drain well. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta cheese and the reserved pasta. Add the dressing and toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper just before serving.
LEMON CURD SHORTBREAD SANDWICHES
Butter and eggs make prepared lemon curd so rich and flavorful that it can stand on its own as a filling for these golden shortbread cookies. You can find it with the other jams and jellies at the grocer.
Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active), plus 2 hours cooling
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
12 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup lemon curd
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Coat a 7-by-11-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the bottom of the dish, letting the ends hang over the sides; smooth out any wrinkles.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
On low speed, beat in the flour until the mixture is well blended and holds together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the ball in half and press one half into an even layer over the bottom of the prepared dish.
Grab the edges of the plastic wrap and lift the rectangle of dough out of the dish. Set aside.
Press the remaining dough over the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Spread the lemon curd on top. Invert the reserved first half of the dough directly on to the filling. Peel away the plastic wrap.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden.
Transfer the dish to a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut into 12 rectangles.