All Ablaze: Brighten Up Winter With an Outdoor Feast

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA

If there’s anything I’ve learned about enduring wintertime in New England, it’s that you have to face it, not fight it. This is an easier sell in early January than in late February, when winter saps our will, but afternoons spent skating and sledding revive the spirit, right?

And so does cooking. Turns out, the antidote to slipping on black ice is cooking dinner outside on your fire pit in the middle of winter. True story.

So if you’re counting the days until you can light the grill again, stop counting. Invite some friends over for a leisurely day of cooking and eating and tell them to bundle up—you’ll be building a raging fire on the patio and cooking dinner on it.

Take the better part of the afternoon to do this. While the wood burns down, set out a hunk of raclette-style cheese (like Reading from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont) on a pie plate adjacent to the fire, and as the soft outer layer closest to the heat melts, scoop it onto thick slices of sourdough bread and serve with cornichons, pickled shallots, mustard and a stiff drink. While you’re at it, make a two-zone fire by moving the coals to one side of the pit, giving you both direct and indirect heat for grilling. And remember: The fire’s in charge, so be ready to respond to its needs.

Beets wrapped in a foil packet are the longest-cooking item on this menu, so nestle those into the coals first. While they roast, get the rest of the food together: Chop vegetables and gather ingredients for the paella, make the vinaigrette and whip some ricotta. Once the prep is done, take it slow: Feed the fire throughout the afternoon to keep it ablaze and make and eat one dish at a time (it’s likely all your pit can handle). Homemade marshmallows top off this meal; make them in advance and serve them simply toasted, dipped in crème fraîche ganache, or make a fancy s’more by layering the toasted marshmallow with a dab of ganache over an Effie’s Oatcake.

This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue.

LEIGH BELANGER is a cookbook author, writer and editor. Her second cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, about seasonal meal planning and family dinners, came out in May 2018. Leigh's personal chef and kitchen coaching service, Salt & Lemons, help families eat better at home. Find more of her work at saltandlemons.net.