The Art of Picnics

Location:

The park, the beach, a shady spot, your favorite secret corner. Like in real estate, location is everything when scouting for a picnic site. Keep it simple, easy to reach and close to a storm shelter.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson's Sunday on the Banks of the Marne, 1938

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Sunday on the Banks of the Marne, 1938

Semantic:

Picnic, or pique-nique, is of French origin, formed from piquer, the French for “to pick at food”, and nique meaning something small of no value.

The word picnic has existed in English for a long time, with different meanings including a kind of hat and a morally suspect club started by lord Chesterfied in 1748 that was associated with card-playing and drinking. No matter. 

Picnicking is what you make of it. I call mine alfresco dining and I pack  it as tasty and as fun as I can.

 

Thomas Cole's A Pic-Nic Party, 1846

Thomas Cole’s A Pic-Nic Party, 1846

Style:

The art of the picnic should require resolute rejection of plastic when it comes to food packing. Plastic makes everything smell funky and it’s, in my opinion, unbecoming. 
Paper, glass, cloth, cardboard, wax paper, are all beautiful alternatives.

 

Alcohol:

Don’t forget the bottle opener for the booze. Or better forget it and stick to champagne.

 

Packing:

At the beginning of times a picnic was a way to take a whole meal outside. Originally servants and coaches used to come at 4am to pick up a picnic hamper. Well I have news for you. Times have changed. Keep you packing light and organized. Select fresh ingredients and recipes that are easily sharable with your tribe. On the other hand, if you have kids in the group, by all mean, load them up.

 

Food:

In the end, packing good food is what a picnic it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be fine dining or complicated but it has to be memorable and refreshing. Jars salads are a great idea. Dressing goes on the bottom, veggies and other goodies get piled on top. Everything stays separate and dressing-free until you toss the salad together, you’ll never eat another soggy salad.

jarsalad_

A pressed sandwich is another fabulous idea. You can prepare it in advance, by cutting a good loaf of crusty bread, loading it with layers of greens, creamy cheese, salty cured meats, a good drizzle of strong olive oil and wrap it in lots of cellophane. Put it at the bottom of the picnic basket and weight it down with all the other goodies. Once you a get to your spot, ask the kids to sit on it. It will help you flatten the sandwich, and making sure all the flavors are properly combined while giving you the time you need to unpack in peace. Don’t forget scotched eggs and an aioli for dipping, I’m partial to my tarragon infused recipe, some pickled veggies for tanginess, and of course strawberries because it’s not a proper picnic with out sweet strawberries to stain your clothes.

All the recipes from my lecture at Olivette are now online.

The-Art-Of-Picnics

The Art Of Picnics at Olivette

Avocado, Lentils, Pistachio and Arugola salad
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Servings Prep Time
4 20
Cook Time
25
Servings Prep Time
4 20
Cook Time
25
Avocado, Lentils, Pistachio and Arugola salad
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 20
Cook Time
25
Servings Prep Time
4 20
Cook Time
25
Ingredients
For the salad
  • 2 bunches arugola salad washed
  • 2 cups puy lentils cooked
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 whole avocado rubbed with half a lemon and diced
  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts unsalted
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves chopped
For the dressing
  • 1/2 cup lemon infused olive oil substitute with olive oil and half a juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup aged dark balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pistachio oil
  • salt an pepper
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and whisk well.
  2. Add all the salad components and with a rubber spatula, mix all the ingredients making sure to coat well. Serve room temperature.
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Carrot and Harrissa Oil Salad
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Carrot and Harrissa Oil Salad
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Ingredients
  • 8 cups Carrots julienned or coarsely shredded
  • 1 cup Golden raisins
  • 3 cups Flat-leaf parsley leaves washed and torned
  • 3 cups Poached chicken cubed
  • Salt pepper
  • 1/2 cup Harissa oil
  • 1/4 cup Lemon, ginger balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. In a bowl whisk the harissa oil with the lemon ginger vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the carrots, raisins, parsley leaves and the chicken and toss well. Serve chilled or room temperature. Adjust the seasoning.
Recipe Notes

If you can not find harissa oil and ginger and lemon infused vinegar, you can make your harissa oil by whisking a 1/2 a cup of good olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon of harissa paste. Also you can infuse 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and one whole grated peel of a lemon.

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Farro and Tomato Salad
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Servings Prep Time
4 15
Cook Time
20
Servings Prep Time
4 15
Cook Time
20
Farro and Tomato Salad
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 15
Cook Time
20
Servings Prep Time
4 15
Cook Time
20
Ingredients
For the salad
  • 1 cup Fregola italian couscous
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes ripe and cut in quarters
  • 1/4 cup basil julienned
  • salt
For the dressing
  • 1/4 cup basil oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon infused white balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Put the fregola in boiling salted water, simmer for 18/20 minutes, drain and run under cold water. Leave to dry.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for dressing and whisk well.
  3. Mix together in a bowl the Fregola, the tomatoes and the dressing. Add the basil.
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Pressed, layered Sandwich
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Pressed, layered Sandwich
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Ingredients
Vinaigrette
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar pinot
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
  • salt and pepper
Sandwich
  • 1 loaf round bread focaccia or muffaletta
  • 4/8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6/10 leaves lettuce
  • 8 onces Brie cheese cut in slices
  • 3/4 cup black olives pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 large tomato sliced
  • 2 ounces anchovies in olive oil, drained. Optional.
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. To make the vinaigrette, mix the shallot and vinegar in a small bowl, and gradually whisk in the oil with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cut the bread horizontally into even top and bottom layers. Turn the top over, then drizzle olive oil all over the cut sides of both layers, using 2 or 3 Tbs of oil on each.
  3. Make layers of all the filling ingredients. First, completely cover the sandwich bottom with 5 or 6 lettuce leaves, then arrange the slices of Brie on top. Scatter the chopped olives and cover with the tomato slices in a single layer.
  4. Spoon about half the vinaigrette over the tomatoes, then separate the anchovy fillets and distribute evenly. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette and the oil from the anchovy can all over the filling. Finally, replace the top layer of the bread to close the sandwich.
  5. Wrap the sandwich well with several layers of plastic wrap and place on a cookie sheet or pizza pan or tray. Lay another tray on top of the sandwich and center some heavy items to press and flatten the loaf (a heavy pan and a 5-lb bag of sugar, for example).
  6. Place the weighted sandwich in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours or overnight. Before serving, remove the weight, unwrap the compressed sandwich, and let it come to room temperature. Cut into serving-size wedges or, as an hors d'oeuvre cut in thin parallel slices, and again into short, bite-size lengths. 1 large sandwich makes 8 large wedges or 24-hors-d'oeuvre-size pieces.
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Scotch Eggs
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Servings Prep Time
8 15
Cook Time
40
Servings Prep Time
8 15
Cook Time
40
Scotch Eggs
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
8 15
Cook Time
40
Servings Prep Time
8 15
Cook Time
40
Ingredients
  • 10 large eggs
  • 2 pounds sausage meat grounded
  • 1 bunch chives chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white bread crumbs
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Hard boil 8 of the eggs. 9 minutes. That's slightly underdone.
  2. Mix the sausage meat, the herbs, nutmeg, mustard and salt and pepper in a bowl and combine well. Then divide in 8 balls.
  3. Have 3 plates ready - one with a small handful of flour, one with the beaten eggs and a third with the breadcrumbs. To make the Scotch eggs, start by flouring your hands. In the palm of one hand, flatten one of the sausage balls into an oval-shaped pattie. Roll a peeled egg in flour, then pop it in the middle of the pattie. Gently shape the meat evenly around the egg, moulding it with your hands.
  4. Roll the meat-wrapped egg in the flour, shake off any excess, then dip into the beaten egg, followed by the breadcrumbs. Roll in the egg and breadcrumbs again for a really good coating.
  5. Heat the oil in a deep pan, test if the oil is hot enough by adding a piece of potato and leaving it for about a minute – if it sizzles and browns, it's ready. Carefully lower the eggs into the pan and cook for about 4 minutes, turning them every so often, until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. You can also cook them in the oven at 375 F for 20 minutes.
  6. Serve with tarragon aioli.
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Tarragon Aioli
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Tarragon Aioli
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 table spoon fresh tarragon minced
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Whisk mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons oil, tarragon, vinegar, minced garlic, and lemon juice in small bowl to blend well. Season aioli with salt and pepper.
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Pickled Vegetables, Giardiniera.
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Pickled Vegetables, Giardiniera.
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Ingredients
For the pickling brine
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons granulates sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Vegetables
  • 12 medium red beets
  • 1 pound small carrots peeled, stems trimmed
  • 1 pound cauliflower florets
  • 1 pound red and yellow pepper cleaned and sliced small
  • 1 pound green beens trimmed
  • 12 small cipollini onions trimmed, peeled
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. Wash and sterilize 2 quart-size jars. Bring pickling brine ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Boli all the vegetables separately. Vegetables should be cooked but with a crunch.
  3. Divide all vegetables equally among the jars and cover with pickling brine. Let stand until cool. Cover, and refrigerate.
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Strawberry Balsamic Soup
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Strawberry Balsamic Soup
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Ingredients
  • 8 cups strawberries cut in quarters
  • 1/4 cup granulates sugar
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup water
Servings:
Units:
Instructions
  1. In food processor, blend half of the strawberries with the sugar until smooth.
  2. Strain. Stir in the water and pepper. Chill.
  3. Macerate the remaining strawberries with the aged balsamic.
  4. Ladle chilled soup into bowls. Add a spoon of the macerated strawberries.
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