Roll up those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer ‘cause fall is descending upon us. It’s time for football and tailgating. Celebrate the passing of the season and the beginning of my favorite season with a travelling al fresco party. Make it a seasonal blowout that anyone can crash in the parking lot while using up the last of the warm weather veggies from the garden.
A tailgate party is defined as a social event held on or around an open tailgate of a vehicle (in high school we called it a field party!). This type of party uniquely originated in the United States with the consumption of alcohol and grilling of food in parking lots of stadiums or arenas. In my ‘research’ of a tailgate, I found several theories on how they began.
The first theory is that a tailgate party occurred during the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton. I read this one in several references. Participant’s pre-game ritual was grilling sausages at the “tail end” of a horse. What does that even mean and I certainly don’t dare to speculate.
The second theory is that in 1904 a train transported a large group of fans to a Yale football game. Supposedly fans brought food and beverages to the stadium to consume in the parking lot. Sounds pretty standard to me and there were no vehicles.
The third theory is that Green Bay Packers fans named the party as a tailgate in 1919. Fans would back trucks up to the field and fold down the tailgate then consume food and drink that they brought. I’m sticking with this one. With fun, food and alcohol involved, a sense of community can be experienced ~ opposing teams can even get along with no hard feelings. You might even make new friends…now that’s a positive outcome!
Eat, drink and be merry no matter where your party takes place. I’ve only experienced a tailgate prior to a live concert and it didn’t involve food. Ha! Sports fans and concert go-ers alike have upped their culinary game and if I were lucky enough to tailgate before a Broncos or Colts game when Peyton Manning was playing, here’s what I would have brought…
Ali’s Tailgate Party Menu:
Beer is a given (although I do love my chardonnay) and water
Mini-chili taco bowls with all the fixin’s – sour cream, guacamole, cheese, onions
Chicken wings – otherwise the tailgate would not be complete in my opinion
Cheeseburger sliders – because they are adorable and you can eat more than one
Cupcakes – ‘sporting’ the team colors you are rooting for
I would also include one item that represents the city of the team you are following. This is where you can get creative. For example, let’s say you are rooting for the New Orleans Saints. This menu item could have a multitude of choices – perhaps gumbo, muffuletta sandwiches or shrimp po’ boys. In fact, I think I would support them for all of their fantastic Cajun/Creole options! Or say you just LOVE the New England Patriots (really?). Make lobster Mac and cheese or lobster rolls. Think outside of the box. I favor Green Bay right now so I would include the following item because it requires cheese and the color green is part of their uniform too.
Ali’s Grilled Green Tomato Salad with Basil Oil on Grilled Baguette Slices
- 8-10 firm green tomatoes, sliced thick
- 1 c. whole basil leaves plus extra for garnish
- ¼ c. olive oil plus extra for grilling
- Juice of one lemon
- 4 oz. goat cheese crumbles or goat cheese log*
- 1 hot banana pepper, minced
- Salt to taste
- 1 fresh baguette
- Slice tomatoes and brush with olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
- Grill rapidly on high just until you get grill marks about 2-3 minutes per side.
- To prepare the vinaigrette, first pulse the basil leaves in a mini-food processor.
- Place ground leaves in a strainer, pour olive oil over them. Let drain for 10 minutes.
- Once oil is though the strainer, whisk in lemon juice.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Chop tomatoes into large dice; add minced hot pepper and goat cheese crumbles if desired.
- Pour dressing over mixture and toss to combine in a large bowl.
- Garnish with chopped basil leaves.
- Just prior to serving, thinly slice the baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil and quickly brown bread on low heat to get grill marks. Spread goat cheese one each slice. Top with tomato salad. Serve immediately.
This tomato salad uses up your green tomatoes well into October even when the plants are looking pathetic. If the weather stays warm enough in early fall, the hot peppers may continue as well. Grilling green tomatoes imparts an intense sweet flavor and the fruit remains quite firm when grilled, albeit they lose a good portion of their brilliant bright green color. *The recipe calls for goat cheese crumbles and I often assemble it as per the recipe but spreading a thin layer of cheese on the bread allows the salad to adhere better.
You may be saying to yourself by now what the heck are mini-taco bowls? Old El Paso™ makes flour mini-bowls – you can purchase them in most grocery stores. Make your favorite chili – with or without beans and bring to the stadium in a warmed crock-pot (these days our cars have an outlet). Fill the bowls when you are ready to eat and top as desired ~ the bowl is edible as well! You can take along the fixings in separate containers for the party to serve once you get there.
Also, partially cook your wings ahead and finish on the grill once the sliders are done. The menu is quite simple – all you need is a mini-kettle charcoal grill which is compact for transporting.
There are some people who just ‘get’ the whole public party scene. My cousin Amy’s husband, Chris Papatolis is the ultimate tailgater. Just look at the picture of his set-up! He also enters and WINS BBQ cooking contests (think Man, Eat, Fire). I admire his competitive edge and compassion for grilling. I want to go to a tailgate party when he’s preparing the food!
Amy and Chris Papatolis
Have fun, be safe and Bon appétit!