Isle-Style Entertaining

David Hassell describes wife Helene as “a party waiting to happen.” Here, the couple presents best-loved recipes for good times this season.

While she was growing up in Mississippi, every time her mother would go out of town Helene Holleman would have friends over and cook for them. She even hosted a dinner party 27 years ago during her honeymoon. The newlywed Hassells met four other honeymooning couples during their flight to the Cayman Islands, and the ever-hospitable Helene promptly issued a dinner invitation to her new friends.

Helene’s husband, David, is a local radiologist at Providence Hospital, and Helene is a community volunteer. She has served as chairwoman for numerous boards, committees and fundraisers and is a past president of the Junior League of Mobile.

When the weather warms up, the skilled host and hostess often hold casual get-togethers at their home on Dauphin Island. “We tend to serve things that can be made ahead and use lots of seafood and fresh tomatoes we can find on the island, ” Helene says. “There is fresh produce every Saturday at Cadillac Square, and I always have basil and rosemary growing.” David frequently fires up the grill to cook oysters or the catch of the day. Drinks on the deck, supper at sunset and lots of lively lunches are all a part of the couple’s regular repertoire.

Red Snapper and Pesto Phyllo Packages

This is one of Helene’s longtime favorite ways to prepare a delectable catch, red snapper. It can easily be made ahead of time and then baked right before serving to company. “Don’t fear the phyllo, ” she says. “It’s actually quite easy to work with.”

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3/4 to 1 cup pesto, see below
6 (6-ounce) snapper fillets, each cut crosswise into 4 pieces
1 stick butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
12 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed

Spread 1 tablespoon pesto on a piece of fish. Cover with another piece of fish, forming a sandwich. Repeat with remaining pieces of fish and pesto to form 12 fish “sandwiches.” Stir butter and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts. Place 1 pastry sheet on work surface so that 1 short side of the sheet is parallel to the edge of the counter. Brush lightly with melted butter mixture. Fold in half, right to left, and brush again lightly with butter. Place 1 fish sandwich 2 inches in from the bottom. Fold a 2-inch pastry border up over the fish. Fold in sides. Roll up fish as for a jelly roll. Place seam side down on a large baking sheet. Brush with butter mixture. Repeat with remaining pastry, fish and butter. (These fish packets can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake until snapper feels firm and pastry is golden, about 25 minutes. Serves 6.


1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil

In a food processor, combine garlic, basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese while gradually streaming in the olive oil. Makes about 1 1/2 – 2 cups.

Roasted Tomato Peppers

The tomatoes and peppers nearly melt together, making an unusual, flavorful side dish.

3 red peppers, split in half lengthwise, cored and seeded
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
5 large basil leaves, chopped
6 tomatoes, peeled
4 ounces olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season insides of pepper halves lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Distribute garlic slivers evenly inside pepper halves. Sprinkle basil over garlic. Add a peeled tomato to each pepper half and season again with pepper and a little salt. Place in a roasting pan. Drizzle a little olive oil over each tomato/pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking another 45 minutes or so, until edges of the peppers are slightly burned and somewhat collapsed. Remove peppers from oven and let cool. Reserve any cooking liquid. When ready to serve, heat oven to 425 degrees. Spoon reserved liquid over tomato peppers and reheat for 5 minutes. Serves 6.

Risotto Primavera

This tasty dish is Helene’s adaptation of a recipe from the pages of “Bay Tables, ” published by the Junior League of Mobile. Helene was the chairwoman of the cookbook’s committee.

3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons julienned lemon peel
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup frozen English peas, thawed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Simmer stock in a saucepan. Blanch the lemon peel in a small saucepan of hot water for 30 seconds, then drain. Repeat the process two more times using fresh hot water. Melt the butter in a separate large saucepan. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add prosciutto and sauté for another minute. Add the rice. Sauté for 1 minute. Add the wine. Boil until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup hot chicken stock, stirring constantly. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Repeat with the remaining stock until all of the stock has been absorbed. Stir in the peas just prior to last bit of stock. Add Parmesan cheese and lemon peel. Serve immediately. (May cover to keep warm up to an hour before serving. If it needs reheating, stir in a little more stock over low-medium heat until warm.) Note: The total cooking time for the rice is approximately 20 – 25 minutes. Serves 6 – 8.

Shrimp, Bean and Arugula Salad with Pancetta

This works as a starter, side or light entrée.

1/4 cup fruity olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, either chopped or cut into lardoons
2 dozen shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup lemon juice (preferably Meyer)
sea salt, to taste
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound baby arugula

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet and sauté pancetta for a couple of minutes. Add shrimp and continue sautéeing until shrimp turn opaque, about 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in red pepper flakes. Drain. To prepare dressing, mix remaining olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. In a bowl, add beans to arugula and toss with dressing. Plate salad and top with shrimp and pancetta. Serves 6 – 8.

Crab and Mango Salad with Tomato Shallot Vinaigrette

1 clove garlic
1 shallot
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
5 large basil leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over to remove shells
1 mango, peeled and cubed

To prepare dressing, combine garlic, shallot, tomato, basil, olive oil and sherry vinegar in a blender and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Dressing may be made 2 or 3 days before using.) When ready to serve, add enough dressing to crabmeat to moisten it well. Season to taste. Gently combine crabmeat mixture and mango. Serves 6 in martini glasses.

Luscious Meyer Lemon Cake

This makes a fabulous finale to any summer soiree. 

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
5 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
Meyer Lemon Icing, see below
seasonal berries, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine sugar and butter; cream with mixer at medium-high speed. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well. Reduce speed to low and beat in lemon juice. Using a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add this dry mixture, alternately with milk, to the large mixing bowl; beat well. Pour into pans. Bake 22 – 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 15 minutes. Remove from pans and continue to cool completely on wire racks. Spread about 3/4 cup icing on top of 1 cake layer. Place second cake layer on top. Spread remaining icing in a thin layer over the top and sides. Garnish with fresh berries, if desired. Serves 10 – 12.

Meyer Lemon Icing

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 (1-pound) package confectioners’ sugar

Combine butter, cream cheese, lemon juice and half of the confectioners’ sugar. Using mixer, at low speed, beat until well blended. Gradually add the remaining confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.

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