In the summertime, my kitchen undergoes a sort of culinary makeover. I store away roasting pans and stewpots in favor of salad bowls and grilling utensils. By the same token, my choice of beverages morphs in warm weather from the hearty red wines of winter and hot coffee drinks to lighter, sweeter white wines and, of course, the backyard cocktail. I guess there’s no rule that says you can’t drink a Hot Toddy on the porch in June. But it just seems sort of ... gauche. So what follows is a backyard bar guide to my favorite sips of summer.
There is nothing that says “summer” to me quite like the national drink of Brazil, the “caipirinha.” It’s refreshing, slightly sweet but crisp, and it’ll knock you out if you’re not careful. Caipirinhas are made with the Brazilian firewater called cachaÃ§a. My favorite brand is one an old friend of mine in New York City imports called Nega Fulo; it’s a bit milder and more rounded than most brands. To make a caipirinha, quarter one lime and place it (unpeeled) in the bottom of a rocks glass along with 1 tablespoon of sugar. With a wooden pestle or spoon, smash, mash and crush the lime with the sugar. You want to pulverize it enough to extract most of the lime’s juice. Leaving the quartered lime in the glass, add 1 shot of “cachaÃ§a” and 1/2 cup of ice cubes. Stir well and garnish the glass with a slice of lime. For a slightly more effervescent preparation, you can also use a lemon-lime soft drink in place of the limes, substituting 1 cup of the soft drink.
For outdoor get-togethers, concerts and such, I like to pack along a large container of Sangria, Spain’s all-purpose adult Kool-Aid. There are as many Sangria recipes as there are Sangria drinkers; no two people seem to be able to agree on every ingredient. But here’s my favorite way to make a big batch of Sangria: In a pitcher or other large container combine the following: 2 bottles of red wine, 1 cup superfine sugar, a 1/2-cup each of brandy and orange liqueur (such as Cointreau), 1 sliced orange, 1 sliced lemon and 1 cored and sliced apple. Mix the ingredients together well and allow to “incubate” in the fridge for 24 hours or so. During this time the Sangria will turn almost syrupy. Before serving, add 1 quart of cold club soda, preferably fruit-flavored. Serve very cold on ice.
When I’m grilling flank steak on the barbecue, there’s nothing that seems more fitting than to sip a cold Margarita. And the tastiest Margarita I ever encountered came from one of this country’s best Mexican restaurants, Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo in Chicago. Here’s how he makes his “Topolo” Margarita: First you make tangy “limeade” by combining in a pitcher the finely grated zest of 1-1/2 limes, a 1/2-cup fresh lime juice, 1/4-cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, and 10 tablespoons of water. Mix well then cover and refrigerate the limeade for at least two hours. Before serving, rub the rims of four martini or Margarita glasses with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. In a shaker, combine the limeade along with 3/4-cup of Sauza Commemorativo tequila and 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Gran Torres orange liqueur or Grand Marnier. Add 1 cup of broken ice cubes and shake well, then strain into the prepared glasses.
But perhaps my all-time favorite sip of summer is also the simplest, one that takes me back to a sun-drenched patio in ProvenÃ§e. Pour a 1/2-cup of French pastis, preferably Ricard, into a glass over ice and dilute with an equal amount of water. Grab a spot on the hammock and enjoy a sip of pure heaven.