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When Pete Marczyk and Barbara Macfarlane, owners of Marczyk Fine Foods gourmet grocery stores, throw a dinner party at their home on Sixth Avenue Parkway, they stick to the same thoughtful philosophy that defines their shops: Pay attention to the seasons, use exquisitely fresh ingredients, and highlight small-batch producers.
In the summer months, the couple pulls inspiration from the land surrounding their house by taking a stroll to see what’s at its peak. The late-1800s Prairie-style home, which Marczyk and Macfarlane bought as a fixer-upper 20 years ago, sits on six city lots that the couple has painstakingly brought back to life by planting an orchard with cherry, apricot, and plum trees; a meadow with native Colorado grasses and flowers; and an impressive backyard garden. These features don’t just set the tone for an urban oasis or inform what’s for dinner; they also become part of the decor. As she walks the property, Macfarlane often plucks what’s growing—vines, grasses, flowers, branches, even pretty weeds—and assembles them in vases for the table. The effect is effortless and seasonal, with just the right amount of polish.
“Pete’s philosophy is ‘keep it simple, make it great,’ ” Macfarlane says. In keeping with that motto, Marczyk fires up the Weber grill and focuses on dishes that deliver maximum flavor with minimal effort. Macfarlane dresses the outdoor table with linens that don’t require dry-cleaning (sometimes even a bolt of fabric that she’s had a tailor finish with a hem) and serves dinner family style. “There’s something so great, so personal, about passing a plate to someone sitting next to you,” Macfarlane says. “It’s a simple but significant act of friendship and care, to smile and offer food to the person beside you. It’s a small gesture that builds community.” And since gathering together is what it’s all about, the added bonus of family-style dining is that Marczyk and Macfarlane aren’t stuck in the kitchen plating each dish. Instead, they’re right where they should be: at the center of it all.
Shuck raw oysters and place on a bed of crushed ice. Top with a small spoonful of mignonette (½ cup sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped shallots, freshly ground pepper, and kosher salt). For grilled oysters, place on the grill, cupped side down. Grill until they open, about 2 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and good salt and serve.
Halve 4 fresh tomatoes and dig out the seeds with your thumbs. Dice the tomatoes, place them in a colander set over a bowl, and salt generously. Allow to sit for about 1 hour. Slice a baguette at a slight angle and about ¾-inch thick. Grill, then flip over so both sides are marked. Place on a plate and brush with olive oil. Cut a garlic clove in half and rub it gently on each piece of toast. Drain (or drink) the tomato juice. Julienne 4 sprigs of basil into strips. Finally, dice a clove of garlic or a small shallot. Toss basil and garlic with the tomatoes in a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, and place on toast.
The key to this Italian-style steak is to properly rest the meat before and after grilling. About 1 hour before grilling, remove a 2-pound porterhouse (which will feed 4 to 6 in this recipe) from the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter. Build a very hot fire over mesquite or hardwood charcoal. Grill steak until flames begin to leap up the sides, then flip the meat and move it to a different spot on the grill. After a few more minutes, repeat the process until the desired temperature is reached. Do not overcrowd the grill. Once the meat is perfectly browned, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Slice the steak and dress it liberally with a bold olive oil (such as Franci from Tuscany) and crunchy fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt.
Meanwhile, wash a bunch of arugula, dry lightly, and toss gently with a liberal amount of olive oil and a small amount of red-wine or champagne vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and place the salad on a large serving platter. Place the sliced steak atop the greens.
In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm ¼ cup olive oil. Slice the kernels off 4 ears of corn and add to the pan. Dice 1 yellow onion and add to pan. Slice a zucchini and a yellow summer squash into ½-inch-thick coins and add to pan. Stir over medium-high heat until the vegetables soften. Salt and pepper generously.
Boil a couple pounds of new and fingerling potatoes. Drain and place in a large, heavy pan with butter. Cook over medium-high heat. As the potatoes brown, season with salt and pepper and smash them down with a big spoon. Remove from heat and finish with chopped scallions.
Grilled peaches with ice cream and honey
Wash and halve peaches. Over a clean grill, gently cook each half (cut-side down) for about 8 minutes. The fruit is done when you see grill marks and a little caramelization on the surface of the peach. Serve warm and top with Marczyk Fine Foods’ Larkspur Limone ice cream and a drizzle of honey. (Marczyk uses the honey collected from bees on their property. For a similar flavor, he recommends Björn’s Colorado Honey from Boulder.)
Paso A Paso Tempranillo
Barbara Macfarlane’s Party Tips
- Light candles, lots of candles.
- Situate the outdoor table so it’s in close proximity to the kitchen.
- Cook and serve what’s in season.
- Go easy on the appetizers. “I think Americans eat too much before the dinner,” Macfarlane says. “You’re drinking and you’re happy to see your friends and you’re not paying attention to how much you’re eating.”
- Invest in a collection of folding chairs (she bought theirs from Ballard Designs) or a bench you can pull up for extra guests.
- Use different sets of china to layer color and texture, and don’t be afraid to blend old with new. (Just “don’t use anything that you’re going to flip out about if it breaks,” Macfarlane says.)
To Market, To Market
With today’s busy schedules, entertaining on the fly may seem out of reach. Not so when you can pop by Marczyk Fine Foods and pick up the basics. Just add a few bottles of wine to these items and—voila!—you’ve got a party.
Main course: For an easy meal, throw a spatchcocked chicken (marinated and butterflied) on the grill, and a few minutes later, dinner is served with “lots of crispy parts for everyone,” Macfarlane says. If you’re not in the mood for chicken, the mild (and sustainable) Loch Duart salmon is a crowd-pleaser.
Vegetables: Macfarlane suggests forgoing a plan and simply choosing whatever looks the freshest.
Cheese and bread: Toast up Marczyk’s table bread, top it with Burrata or Taleggio cheese, and add a sprinkle of good salt.
Olive oil: The right olive oil can make the meal. “Olive oil is my gravy,” Marczyk says. “Choosing a high-quality oil is a simple thing home cooks can do to improve their food.” Browse the market’s selection, and look for the Marczyk label or pick out a specialty bottle from Italy. Drizzle it over grilled steak, salmon, veggies, greens, or cheese for a finishing touch.
Dessert: The market-made ice cream (try the Paper Boy Crunch with Ritz crackers and maple syrup) and fruit pies are surefire hits.