How to: transform your garden for entertaining

Turn your garden or patio into an extension of your kitchen and entertaining space and whip up delicious, inventive meals and snacks - read our guide for an adventure in al fresco cooking!

Remember when barbecues were all about burgers and sausages? These days it’s a different story – if you approach outdoor cooking with the same creativity as you do indoors, you can cook almost anything. Why not make the most of summer mornings and cook your breakfast outside at the weekend, or prepare your Sunday roast outdoors?


Get out of your normal barbecue routine

Most barbecues come with a lid, but not everyone makes use of it. The beauty of a lid is it can turn a basic barbecue into a smoker, so you get an extra dimension of flavour – especially if you use wood chips like oak or apple (soak them first). Whole sides of salmon are brilliant cooked like this and will easily feed a crowd – just lay a side of salmon skin side down on a double sheet of foil, season and drizzle with olive oil. When the coals have died down, push them to one side, add a handful of soaked chips to them and then lay the salmon over the other side of the barbecue. Close the lid and leave for 20-30 minutes for perfectly hot-smoked salmon.And don’t just save it for the meat or fish – that incredible smoky charring you get from charcoal cooking can lift your veg to the next level, too. Try tossing broad beans and peas in the pod in a little oil, then popping them on the metal grill over hot coals until charred. The broad beans will steam in the pod and can be popped out to eat with a minty yoghurt dip, and the pea pods can be chomped whole with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Pizza ovens and chimineas

Pizza ovens can make a great focal point for a winter gathering and having a theme can be fun. Why not evoke some of those wintery vibes by making a tarte flambé (a kind of Alpine pizza)? Start simply with a bought pizza base mix (you can find packs of these mixes in the baking aisle), and once you’ve rolled it out, put a very heavy baking sheet or pizza stone in your chiminea to heat up. Put the pizza base on another baking sheet and spread it with crème fraiche. Top with slices of taleggio or brie and cubes of pancetta, then drizzle the whole thing with garlic oil. Bake for 10 minutes until puffed and golden, then eat the crisp, gooey cheesy slices as soon as they’re out of the oven.

If it’s the weekend, why not try a breakfast pizza? Cover a pizza base with tomato sauce then add little nuggets of cooked sausage, sliced mushrooms and bacon pieces. Crack over a couple of eggs and bake for about 10 minutes until the toppings are sizzling hot. If you’re entertaining, a big jug of pre-made bloody marys may go down well, too. Pizza ovens and chimineas are quite similar, but check your chiminea is designed for cooking – it should have a swing-out or slide-out grid to hold a pan or tray.

Cooking over firepits

A firepit makes a great gathering and warming point for friends to sit around, as well as giving a lovely glow and light late into the evening. Although many manufacturers say firepits can double up as barbecues, they’re not as sturdily set up, so think of them as you would an open fire in the house and stick to quick and easy snacks that you can toast.
Toasted marshmallows are a classic, but why not try s’mores – a sweet treat from the US? You just need a pile of biscuits and squares of milk chocolate to hand. Once the marshmallows are toasted, get everyone to sandwich them between two biscuits with a square of chocolate. The heat will melt the chocolate and make everything deliciously gooey.
For grown-ups, try wrapping cubes of halloumi in a strip of streaky smoked bacon. Once the bacon has crisped, the skewers can be dunked into bowls of sweet chilli sauce and served with a chilled beer.

Keep things cosy

As we all know, our summer evenings can be less than balmy, so make sure you provide accessories to keep your guests warm and cosy. A patio heater, chiminea or firepit provides a lovely focal point but will also keep everyone warm. Have a pile of soft blankets ready for extra heat, and invest in some weatherproof cushions so that you can them add to outdoor furniture when needed. Lanterns, outdoor candles and tealight holders will give everything a twinkly vibe at night.
It also helps to serve a hot drink to keep everything toasty – yes, even in summer. Why not make a big pan of hot chocolate and put out a selection of liqueurs and spirits so everyone can add a slug of their favourite for an extra kick? Baileys, Frangelico, whisky, rum and brandy all go brilliantly. Or add a twist to cider, one of our favourite summer tipples, and simmer it with orange zest, cinnamon sticks and cloves as the temperature dips.

Once you get out of that burgers-in-the-sun mindset, al fresco cooking becomes a world of potential. With a little imagination (plus a few lanterns and cushions), it can be something very special.

Credit: Janine Ratcliffe, Olive Food Director