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7 Crowd-Pleasing Party Platters for Easy Summer Entertaining

  • Photos by Ryan Liebe
  • Recipes by Lauryn Tyrell

The secret to hosting a party is putting out one of these irresistible self-serve spreads.

Build It Better

Bacon-Lobster-Tomato Sandwiches

A special occasion like sending your baby off to college (or finally taking a vacation) calls for an extra-special spread. Here, we one-upped the classic BLT by enlisting lobster (you can sub in shrimp or poached chicken if you prefer). Then we flanked a rainbow of ripe-tomato slices with hard-boiled eggs and avocado, and whisked together two next-level condiments: mayo mixed with crisp bacon and a tangy mignonette. To make quick (or no) work of the lobsters, have your fish counter steam them and remove the meat.

Bowl Them Over at Breakfast

Fruit Platter with Whipped Ricotta

For a meal that puts the “good” in “good morning,” nothing beats sliced-up summer fruit. Peaches and other stone varieties are wonderful on their own, but when poached (with lemon and sugar, to bring out their sweetness and acidity), they become the fruit cocktail of dreams. Add a creamy element by blending part-skim ricotta with maple syrup and vanilla, and for a crowning touch, bake our breakfast biscuits—essentially digestives, made with whole-wheat flour and a little brown sugar. Dip them in the whipped ricotta, or crumble them on top for crunch.

Bring Home the Beach

Smoky Clams and Fregola

Capturing the flavors of a clambake, but at a fraction of the effort, this seafood stew melds a polyglot of cultural influences. The combination of clams and sausage hints at Portugal, while the corn is a nod to New England, and the fregola that soaks up all the juices hails from Sardinia. You serve the dish in shallow bowls with spoons, but this is a messy, eat-with-your-hands meal that says you’re among friends. To round out the menu, offer a simple green salad or coleslaw alongside.

Stick with It

Saffron Chicken Kebabs

Five is the magic number for these kebabs: That’s how many ingredients are in the saffron-citrus marinade, and how many minutes the meat needs on the grill. Which is to say they’re fuss-free and fast—essential qualities when you’re cooking for a group. Plus, skewers are fun and make just-right portions; everyone grabs a stick, and they’re good to go. Lavash, a Middle Eastern flatbread that’s thinner than pita, comes in big, tearable pieces. Wrap it around chunks of chicken, then pile on toppings: grilled Vidalia onions and tomatoes, fresh mint, radishes, and herby yogurt sauce with jalapeño.

Lay Out La Dolce Vita

Grilled-Vegetable Agrodolce

An antipasto platter checks off all the boxes for a great summer lunch: It can sit at room temperature for a few hours. If extra guests arrive, you can easily add more cheeses and cured meats. And its eclectic array of flavors hits the spot for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. The grilled eggplants and squashes get a sweet-and-sour marinade full of plump raisins and briny capers. They can be prepped the day before if you like, and then all that’s left to do is toast some crusty Italian bread and raise a glass.

Rack Up Compliments

Tuscan Ribs with Balsamic Potato Salad

Baby back ribs are excellent for entertaining, because you can make them up to three days ahead of time, then quickly crisp them under the broiler or on the grill before serving. American-style recipes usually combine a spice rub and a sauce; our version tosses in some Italian flavors: rosemary, thyme, sage, and fennel seed for the rub, then a sweet-tart whitebalsamic glaze to finish. The potato salad with sliced peperoncini and their brine adds more spice and vinegary pep to the proceedings. Dress the potatoes while they’re still warm so they absorb all the flavors, but serve them at room temperature, so the arugula that gets folded in at the end doesn’t wilt.

Share the Love

Chocolate-Zucchini Sheet Cake with Cream-Cheese Frosting

Nothing says “party” like an oversize sheet cake covered with thick, swirling icing. This one was baked in a jelly-roll pan (which is slightly larger than a 9-by-13-inch baking dish) to yield a larger, thinner cake, and the batter doubles down on chocolate with both semi-sweet chunks and cocoa powder. The addition of grated zucchini helps keeps it so moist that you can bake it a day in advance; just frost it the day you serve it. The gorgeous garnish—sugared squash blossoms, crisped in the oven—tastes like candied pumpkin, lending an intriguing adult touch to a kid-pleasing dessert.