Steelers fans might think they're the best game in town when it comes to tailgating, but the horsey set knows how to throw a pretty good party out of the backs of their cars, too.
In Pittsburgh, no one does it better than the pony-loving crowd that gathers each year for the long-running Family House Polo Match at Hartwood Acres in Hampton, which this year will be held Sept. 8. By the time officials roll the 31/4-inch plastic ball onto the 300-by-160-yard field at 1:30 p.m., signifying the start of play between two teams of four riders, the picnicking will be in high gear.
Many of the packed luncheons will be wonderfully fancy, with elaborate spreads -- some catered, others prepared at home -- served under rented tents on fine china alongside flutes of Champagne or expensive wine. For those who'd rather let someone else do the cooking, the charity event also will offer a "brunch tent" featuring gourmet eats from five of Pittsburgh's top restaurants ($125 per person, including an open bar).
This being an informal outdoor event geared to families, you'll also find plenty of simpler food. Salads, dips, cookies, cheese and crackers, fried chicken and easy-to-transport sandwiches -- that's pretty typical fare for the annual event that draws upward of 2,000 horse and sports lovers, even in bad weather.
The key to planning a successful polo tailgate is to keep things simple, even if it's a touch indulgent, and choose items that travel well.
One delicious example comes from Bigelow Grille executive chef Anthony Zallo. He piles thinly sliced roasted tenderloin on top of toasted French bread slathered with horseradish mayo, then tops the sandwich with sliced local tomatoes, which are abundant this time of year in grocery stores and farmers markets. A sprinkling of spicy arugula leaves and local cheese round out the dish. All of the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and then assembled right before eating.
For the veggie lovers, he suggests a vegetable panzanella, a Florentine salad of bread and tomatoes that's popular in Italy during summer. His version includes bell pepper, cukes and zucchini, along with briny feta. More classic brunch fare is a savory parmesan biscuit with salmon from Giada De Laurentiis. She works green onion and parmesan cheese into the rich buttermilk dough, giving it extra kick. If you don't like fish, you can substitute prosciutto or simply serve them with a citrusy lemon butter.
A Pittsburgh tradition for nearly three decades, the annual polo match has raised more than $3 million for Family House since its inception in 1983, helping some 137,000 families facing a medical crisis.
Not bad for an event that has its roots in a pasture.
Opening ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. (Packages start at $200 for six adult tickets and one on-field parking pass; you must purchase in advance at familyhouse.org.) The match between Virginia International Polo Club of Upperville, Va., and Potomac Polo Club of Pooleseville, Md., will include six chukkers, or periods, of play lasting about 90 minutes.
At half time, guests are invited onto the field for the ceremonial stomping of the divots to the tune of "Pretty Woman."
But the fun begins much earlier. The daylong event includes a vintage car display and a silent auction with hundreds of items, including trips, sports memorabilia and gift certificates. For the younger set, a children's tent will feature face painting, games, crafts and appearances by the Pirate Parrot and Iceburgh the Penguin.
Beef Tenderloin Sandwiches with arugula and Heirloom tomatoes
- 3/4 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed of fat and silver skin
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large loaf French bread, halved lengthwise and lightly toasted
- 2 cups baby arugula, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 large heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound good local cheddar, sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Season tenderloin with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan, heat vegetable oil. Sear tenderloin on all sides. Place in oven and roast to desired temperature (approximately 25 minutes for medium rare). Remove from oven and let rest, preferably overnight, in the refrigerator. When ready to make sandwiches, slice meat thin.
To make dressing, combine mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slather dressing on top half of French bread. Layer bottom half with meat, tomato, arugula and cheddar. Cover with top half. Press together, and slice crosswide into 6 to 8 equal pieces.
Serves 6 to 8.
-- Chef Anthony Zallo, Bigelow Grille
Crispy Parmesan Biscuits With Salmon and Lemon Butter
I used ultra thin-sliced Ducktrap smoked Atlantic salmon (available at Giant Eagle). Don't be afraid to slather on the lemon butter!
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup stone-ground corn meal
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ounces ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup Lemon Butter, at room temperature (recipe follows)
- 3 cups baby arugula
- 10 ounces smoked salmon or prosciutto
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the butter. Using fingertips or a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the parmesan and green onions. Add the buttermilk and olive oil. Stir until the mixture forms a dough. Drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet in 12 equal pieces. (For appetizer-size biscuits, divided the dough into 24 equal pieces.) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until golden. Cool the biscuits for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Slice each biscuit in half and spread the bottom half with 1 teaspoon of lemon butter. Add some arugula leaves and place a small slice of smoked salmon on top. Add the top half of the biscuit and serve.
Makes 12 biscuits, or 24 mini-biscuits.
-- Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 lemon, zested
In a small bowl, mash the butter and lemon zest together using a fork. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes 1/2 cup.
-- Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network
Summer Vegetable Panzanella
This dish is best assembled right before eating. Otherwise, the bread gets pretty soggy. (It'll still taste good, though.)
- 2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 cup diced bell pepper in 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup sweet onion, julienned
- 1/2 cup celery leaves and heart, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup cucumber in 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup diced zucchini
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
- 1/4 cup feta cheese
- 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- 1 to 2 cups diced day-old rustic bread
Mix vegetables in large bowl. Season liberally with salt. Let rest for about 10 minutes; this will allow the tomatoes and vegetables to bleed. This juice is vital to the dish. Add basil, pepper, feta and olive oil. Add white balsamic to taste. Toss in bread right before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
-- Chef Anthony Zallo, Bigelow Grille