Picnic Ideas Everyone Will Envy
Imagine a painting of a pastoral scene on a fine summer day, a splendid party laid out, fine rugs for lounging on, and guests munching on carefully transported morsels – a proverbial picnic in the grass, with dogs and children on the edges.
It’s kind of a picnic, but there are so many ways to picnic. Even the simple act of moving dinner outside on a balmy evening can feel picnicking, that is, pleasant.
That picnics are moveable parties adds to the experience. It’s the gathering and packing of the food, the transportation of the meal to a particular location, and the anticipation of serving it that makes picnics something of a special event, whether it’s a a leisurely trip to the beach, an hour-long tailgate, or a buffet lunch in a lush garden. (The frugal city lunch you eat on a bench by a tree is also a kind of picnic – savor it.)
If I have to lug the basket around, I want it filled with things I like.
Sandwiches are my favorite picnic foods, so I’m featuring a few here. I’ve had a thing for canned sardines since I was a kid, but now I want them served on dense, thinly sliced dark rye bread, generously spread with good butter, sprinkled with sea salt and pepper. black, a few sprigs of arugula and a small squeeze of lemon, no more. Some would add a little Dijon mustard, but not me. Bring all the ingredients to the picnic site and make the sandwiches there, or pack them for takeout. They look wide open, but of course they could be done in a two-slice format.
A totally simple and refreshing combination of herb-spiced cucumber salad and creamy ricotta, served on halved ciabatta buns, is another option. Other than good cucumbers, there are only two requirements: freshly baked bread, with a crispy crust and tender crumb, and the best ricotta you can find, preferably basket ricotta. (You can also use natural cream cheese or queso fresco.)
Next, I want some substantial salads that are always nice to have on hand, picnic or not. For this, I packed white beans tossed with oven-charred cauliflower and a tangy dressing, sprinkled with celery hearts and ground fennel, and cherry tomatoes and olives seasoned with olive oil, with a little oregano, vinegar, garlic and chili flakes, and drizzled with slices of fresh mozzarella. Just before serving, I toss in a handful of basil leaves and toss them in the vinaigrette. Serve them right out of the container, if desired. Everything is meant to be appetizers.
Dessert at a picnic is always wanted, expected and deserved. Anything resembling a cookie is a sure bet, especially if you’re traversing rough terrain, and the pecan shortbread is my current favorite – crumbly, salty and buttery, with a hint of cardamom. Decorate, if you wish, with a bowl of cherries, nectarines and peaches. And ice cream, if you’re smart enough to keep it frozen on your travels.
Then, wash it all down with a summery red hibiscus punch. Known in Mexico as agua de Jamaica and in the Caribbean as sorrel, the drink is made by simmering and infusing dried hibiscus flowers with spices. The resulting ruby liquid, slightly sweet, has a pleasant tannic quality and quenches its thirst deliciously over ice. If you want your punch to live up to its name, add the spirit of your choice. Read: rum. It’s a picnic, after all.
Receipts: Hibiscus Punch | Marinated mozzarella, olives and cherry tomatoes | Sardines on brown bread with butter | Cucumber and ricotta sandwiches | White Bean Salad with Roasted Cauliflower | Pecan nut shortbread