Ooh la la! A Summer Dinner Inspiration from Provence

Words and recipes by Liz McAvoy Gabriel, with photography by Sarah Gerrity


Close your eyes. Think about what summer feels like. A hot grill. A cold glass of wine. A garden overflowing with fresh herbs. Those damn mosquitos nipping at your ankles. The laughter and helping hands of friends around the table.

It’s simple stuff, really. But it’s some of the best stuff.

Ok, now that we’re in the mood, let’s set a more specific scene:  Summer. In. Provence.

There’s rosé. There’s butter. There’s lemon. There’s garlic. There’s more butter.


That’s the scene we decided to set on a recent Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Northeast DC. Because even if we weren’t on holiday, we wanted to feel like we were.

And here’s what that looked like:

A charcuterie board brimming with fresh tapenade, peppery salami, and plenty of radishes swiped thoroughly with herbed butter. Arugula tossed with peppery mustard vinaigrette and plenty of shaved Parmesan. Barely blanched haricot verts dotted with jeweled sungold tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. A golden roast chicken glistening with white wine pan sauce.

And the ultimate fan favorite:  A whole grilled fish.


It sounds intimidating. We were intimidated. But the mark of great summer food is simple, bright ingredients – and a grill. So we tackled the whole-fish challenge. You can do it too. 

Whole Grilled Fish with Tomato Vinaigrette

  • 1 or 2 medium whole branzino
  • 1 lemon
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 large ripe red tomatoes, cored and seeded
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Clean the fish and rub the inside with softened butter. Insert thinly sliced lemon rounds and halved garlic cloves into the cavity. Season exterior with fresh cracked pepper and flaky salt. Place fish in the fridge while you prepare the pistachios and vinaigrette.

Grind the pistachios in a food processor until relatively fine. Toast the ground nuts carefully over medium heat in a small pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.

Grate the flesh of the tomatoes on the large-holed side of a box grater and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill and brush with oil. Place the whole fish on the foil and close the grill, allowing it to cook for 6 minutes, or until the skin releases from the foil. Carefully flip the fish and cook an additional 6 minutes on the other side.

Drizzle tomato vinaigrette over fish before serving and finish with pistachio crumb, a sprinkle of capers, and fresh parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

To portion fish, use a spoon to carefully separate the head and the tail from the body. Then delicately portion the top filet of the fish onto your guests’ plates. You’ll then be able to remove the spine and get to the bottom filets. Let your guests know there’ll be bones – this comes with the whole-fish territory.  We’re grownups,  we can handle it.

Now that you’ve licked your plate and made your way through a few bottles of chilled wine – you’re probably thinking about dessert. That’s where ice cream comes in.

You can make it yourself (we made a delicate and refreshing Earl Gray-Lavender version). Or you can buy some fresh vanilla – that totally counts, too. And you’ll want fresh fruit. Maybe some honey. Maybe some cookies or crisps for swiping through your ice cream. That’s all there is to this.

Summer should feel easy.

Words and recipes by Liz McAvoy Gabriel. Photos by Sarah Gerrity. Want more? Liz and Sarah are sharing the other recipes from this Provençal feast on their Instagram feeds.