This recipe and photography was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder.
It’s peak summertime and now is the time to plan that picnic you’ve been thinking about before the season passes you by. This is your official picnic update along with a few guidelines to picking and packing a movable feast so it all stays fresh and doesn’t make a mess on you or in your car.
The best picnic spreads include color, texture and a variety of flavors, allowing everyone to find something fresh, delicious and appealing. It’s relatively simple to plan alfresco meals with easy to transport and serve salads, wraps and sides, the true stars of picnics, barbecues and potlucks. After all, no one gets excited about the same old potato salad and there are some dishes like a tossed salad that just aren’t appealing after a warm hike to that special spot under a tree. The recipes below are guaranteed to breathe new life into a tired picnic repertoire.
Summer Picnic Essentials
Eating outside means drinking outside and a light, white sangria might be the perfect refreshment for a lazy day. It all starts with a bottle of easy drinking Pinot Grigio. When blended with brandy, orange liquor and juicy fruit, this cool potion is the perfect quaff for a summer afternoon lounge on a blanket. I like to pack it up in 8- oz Mason jars, adding ice when we get there. That way everyone has their own container with a lid to keep out pesky insects. I bring along another batch in a pitcher with a tight-fitting lid for refills. After all, hydration is so important in warm weather, right?
Summer produce is at its peak and now’s the time to eat all the fruit we can weave into mealtime. A fresh fruit salad is a familiar picnic offering, but infusing it with basil and lime is a worthy new tradition. Ripe berries, nectarines and melon combine for a simple salad that satisfies with bright fruit flavor that only summer can provide. When transporting, it’s preferable to pack this juicy dish in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid but if that’s not possible, I suggest a large zip-lock bag. Bring along a large bowl to transfer the salad to when you get there and don’t forget a big spoon for serving and plastic forks.
Wraps are a traditional picnic staple because they are 1) so easy to make ahead 2) you can eat them with your hands and 3) when they become messy or drippy you’re outside and it doesn’t matter. But, did you know that you can make a gluten-free wrap with leafy green collard leaves? These sturdy, good-for-you greens are perfect for rolling up a Tunisian inspired chicken and harissa-spiced wrap. Assemble the wraps up to 4 hours ahead (no need to worry about sogginess), refrigerate and transport them, individually wrapped in zip lock bags in a cooler. When you get to the picnic, just hand them out with lots of napkins. No muss. No fuss. We employ a few insulated soft-side cooler bags which we pack with reusable ice packs for the food and then pack bags of ice for the drinks in another. The soft side bags are easy to carry if we need to hike a short way to our spot and having a few means it’s easy to find everything.
When I think of the best summer flavors, tomato, basil and mozzarella are always at the top of the list. Combining those flavors with a crusty baguette and garlic butter makes this combo a dish to savor, especially on a balmy summer day. When all is said and cooked, you’ll be left with a delightful Tomato and Cheese Baguette. These little bites are perfect for a picnic since they are easy to eat and don’t require refrigeration. They’re actually best when eaten just as they are wherever you are and so may even creep into your year-round appetizer repertoire. Slicing the baguette on the diagonal gives you a slightly larger piece of bread to fit a few rounds of tomato and slices of cheese neatly. Feel free to lay on as much basil as you like and the same with the garlic butter depending on your taste and those of your guests. A wrap in foil is all you need to carry these mini sandwiches to your perfect spot.
It’s so easy to purchase great brownies and cookies and prepping for a picnic is a great time to explore some of the offerings at Heinen’s bakery. Steer clear of cakes and desserts that must be refrigerated as these will be too difficult to transport, serve and eat. Go for hand held offerings such as Heinen’s Classic Brownies, chocolate chip cookies and the large butter cookie selection in the bakery case. There’s something delicious for every taste and an assortment is usually the magic ticket to pleasing every guest.
So, don’t let the summer pass you by without having at least one picnic with friends and family. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work and the benefits of a few hours spent under a tree with a cool breeze trumps eating inside anytime, even if the tree is in your own back yard.