When the weather turns warm, it is time to eat out.
Quick to put together, easy to carry, nourishing, light and fun to eat are the requirements food for a picnic must meet. The kind of recipes you can prepare the previous evening and keep in the fridge until the last minute. Dishes you can carry in a portable cooler, a picnic basket or a thermal bag.
Of course you cannot lay the table on the open air as you would at home! You can get artistic with plates, glasses, and containers on a colorful. Many times that is all you’ll need, a colorful cloth and a set of contrasting napkins to make it special.
Not only easy o carry, but easy to eat, no knife and fork required, consider them the first option. You already know the basics of sandwich making. You only need some simple yet tempting fillings. Let’s play with some variations of the popular ham and cheese and a couple vegetarian options.
The Spaniard – Cut a piece 2-4” long (5-10 cm) of a baguette or ciabatta bread. Fill with 2 fine slices Serrano ham and 2 slices Manchego cheese, top with roasted red pepper, skinned, and dress with a little olive oil. For a healthier note use a whole wheat roll or five cereals bread.
Provencal – Halve a roll of bread, spread 1 Tbs tapenade on the base, fill with 2 slices of ham and 3-4 small pieces Brie cheese, cover with the top. If you don’t have it, substitute tapenade with black olive paté and brie with Camembert.
German – Estimate 3-4 thin slices of ham sausage or cured meat on gelatin, or Westfalian ham and 2 slices of Bavarian cheese or butter cheese -Edam is a good substitution- and 2 thick slices of rye bread or pumpernickel; alternate ham sausage and cheese on 1 slice of bread, top with pickled cabbage, and cover with the other slice.
Italian – Let’s use pita bread to make it lighter. Slice ½ mozzarella ball and 1 medium salad tomato; let them stand for 10 minutes so the juices drain. Open the pita brad, fill with mozzarella and tomato slices; season with a pinch of salt and a little olive oil, flavor with 1 tsp fresh chopped oregano or basil leaves –or ½ tsp dried.
Vegetarian – Open 1 pita bread and fill with 2 Tbs humus, shredded lettuce, and 2-3 tomato slices, salad tomatoes are the best, season with salt and olive oil.
The gourmet - Halve a medium French baguette and fill with grilled chicken, shredded red cabagge, and slices of apple -rubbed with lemon juice. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over.
The meatless gourmet - Halve a medium French baguette and fill with brie, sliced tomatoes and arugula, drizzle a little vinaigrette.
Quiches and pies
Quiches or pies make a delicious picnic lunch. Those are the kind of dishes to prepare today and eat when you want; they keep perfectly overnight in the fridge or they can be frozen. The filling can be as simple or as elaborated as you wish. Serve a salad on the side.
Quiche Lorraine – Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) and line a 13” (26 cm) pie pan with pastry. Pierce the bottom 6-7 times with a fork. Distribute ¾ cup chopped grilled bacon on top. Mix 1 cup cream with 4 eggs, beaten, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour over the filling. Cook in the center rack 25-30 minutes.
- Smoked salmon and spinach – follow the same procedure as quiche Lorraine, but use ½ cup smoked salmon strips and ½ cup cooked spinach, well drained, instead of bacon.
- Smoked salmon and leek – cook the white part from1-2 leeks, sliced, in butter or olive oil until it becomes transparent. Use ½ cup smoked salmon strips and 1/2 cup cooked leek as filling.
- Grilled vegetables – use 1 cup mixed grilled vegetables –onion, eggplant, zucchini, red peppers- and 2 Tbs grated cheese as filling.
Goat cheese, onion and tomato pie – Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) and line a pie pan with puff pastry. Distribute 4 Tbs (100 g) crumbled goat cheese at the bottom. Mix 1 cup cream with 4 eggs, beaten, season with salt, and pepper. Pour over the filling. Cook for 15 minutes. Add 4 spring onions, blanched and halved and 6 cherry tomatoes, halved. Cook 10-15 minutes more.
Onion and Camembert tart - Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) and line a 11” (22 cm) square pie pan with puff pastry. Fill with 1 cup thin cream, 1 cup diced Camembert, 2 eggs, beaten, and a bunch of spring onions, washed and thinly sliced. Season with salt and pepper and cook in the center rack for 25-30 minutes.
Sausage, peppers and onion pie – Cook ¾ cup sliced Italian sausage, with 1 small onion, halved and each half cut in thin slices and 1 small green pepper, thinly sliced. Distribute over a pie pan lined with puff pastry. Pour over 2 beaten eggs mixed with ¾ cup grated cheese. Cook in the oven at 400° F (200° F) for 30 minutes.
Feta cheese salad
4 tomatoes, washed and cut in 6-8 wedges each
8 oz feta cheese, diced
1 green pepper, washed and cut in strips
1 medium small onion, peeled and cut in thin rings
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
20 black olives
Dressing: 5 Tbs olive oil, 2 Tbs vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper
Garnish: 2 Tbs fresh chopped oregano leaves
Place all ingredients in a salad bowl. Mix together all ingredients for the dressing and shake to blend well. Pour over the salad and garnish with the chopped oregano.
Lettuce, cheese and bacon salad
1 lettuce head, washed and chopped
6 strips of bacon, diced and pan fried until crisp
2-3 slices bread, toasted or ½ cup croutons
4 Tbs grated cheese
Dressing: 2 hard boiled eggs, 4 anchovy fillets, juice from 1 lemon, 1 tsp Perrins sauce, 3 cloves of garlic, peeled, 1/3 cup olive oil
Prepare the dressing by mixing all ingredients in the electric blender. Place the lettuce in the salad bowl, pour the dressing over. Garnish with the bacon, croutons and cheese.
Peasant potato salad
6 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut in thick slices
1 green pepper, washed and cut in rings
2 salad tomatoes, washed and sliced
1 can tuna, crumbled
Dressing: 4 Tbs olive oil, 2 Tbs vinegar, 1 Tbs water, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbs parsley leaves, finely chopped, 1 small onion, finely chopped – about 1/4 cup.
Mix oil, vinegar, salt, sugar and water and shake to blend. Add onion and parsley. Stir to distribute evenly. Pour over the boiled potato slices when still warm. Let cool down. Top with tomato, green pepper rings and the tuna.
Best ever potato salad
4 medium russet potatoes
4 thick strips of bacon, diced
Dressing: 2 Tbs minced onion, 10 chives, finely chopped,1 small clove of garlic, minced, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 3/4 cup basic vinaigrette
Cover potatoes with cold water. Add 1 tsp salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes – potatoes shouldn’t feel soft. Cover in cold water to stop cooking and drain. Peel and slice. Sautee the bacon until crisp; add to the potatoes including the hot drippings. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss. Check the seasoning and serve.