the Perfect Spring Picnic
Updated: Apr 14
Memorial Day is once again upon us and as we hang our flag on the front porch it is important to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Although this year has a different vibe than years past, we are still able to gather in small groups to honor our fallen troops by celebrating the freedom for which they fought.
If you are anything like me you love a gorgeous Spring day with pristine weather and beautiful blue skies that are begging for a picnic. The perfect picnic doesn't have to take too much effort but a little planning ahead is key to success and relaxation. Being prepared and creating brilliant food combos are the key to picnic mastery. Dining al fresco is a way to escape from the daily grind and enjoy the outdoors. Perfect for Memorial Day in your backyard or use it as a charming way to create a romantic date with your significant other. C'est magnifique!
Choose the perfect spot...
It sets the mood and will most definitely feed your soul. Whether it's on an urban rooftop or balcony, on a sandy beach, hiking to your favorite spot by a babbling brook, on board the boat, or even in your own backyard... you can tap in to your romantic creativity to make it extra special. When I have the opportunity to serve my clients as their destination chef, they love the picnic option when heading to the beach for the day or going on a hike.
The simpler the better...
Keep in mind if you have to tote the food with you to keep it light and high in protein especially if you go on a hike and need to walk a lot to your picnic spot.
Plan the perfect picnic menu...
The possibilities are endless, but honestly the key to a great picnic is found in the food!
Many French foods beg to be on a picnic menu. Here is an example of a picnic menu recently created for one of my clients:
Pan Bagnat. One of my ultimate scrumptious picnic sandwiches is the classic French Pan Bagnat because it not only keeps well but can be prepared in advance for all of the sophisticated flavors to develop before that first luxurious bite! This gorgeous Pan Bagnat sandwich, meaning "bathed bread", is the ultimate street food in the region around Nice, France where you will find it in different variations. There are several substitutions for the ingredients in this flavorful seafood sandwich depending on your preference, location, time of year, or even just what you have in the pantry. As a professional chef, I pride myself in using seasonally fresh and local ingredients for my clients so you will see that reflected in my Spring recipe below.
Crudités with Lemon Oil. This can be assembled the night before an outing and then packed quickly into the picnic basket when you are ready to roll out.
Mini Charcuterie & Fromage. I mean, who doesnt love a great meat and cheese board? Serve with olives, nuts, & mini croissants. Pro Tip: Brie or Camembert are the perfect picnic cheeses. They will be deliciously oozy whereas harder cheeses will tend to get oily in the heat.
Dark chocolate & Strawberries. Be sure to keep the chocolate in the cooler with berries until serving.
French Macarons or substitute for your favorite cookie or brownie.
Chilled Rosé. This lovely wine pairs perfectly with the Pan Bagnat, sparkling wine is a great option as well!
Lemon & Cucumber infused Water. I like to freeze the bottles the night before to alleviate the use of bulky ice packs in the cooler or backpack.
Classic Pan Bagnat Recipe
MISE EN PLACE:
Crispy Baguette or Individual Rounds of Pan de Campagne (or French sourdough)
2 large Garlic Cloves, peeled & smashed
About 1/4 cup Good Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Herbs de Provence (my favorite is from Spicewalla located in Asheville)
4 Tbsp Pistou (easy to make from scratch or premade pesto is fine too)
Sea Salt (my favorite is the Tassafari blend from Big Sur Salts)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Small Red Onion, thinly sliced
2 Anchovy Fillets, finely chopped or use anchovy paste
2 cans High Quality Tuna, packed in olive oil--opt for a sustainable brand (Wild Planet is my go to)
1 Tbsp dried Lemon Peel (again I use Spicewalla from Asheville) or you can use zest of one lemon
1/4 cup Pitted Niçoise or Kalamata Olives
1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard
4 Tbsp Capers, rinsed
Baby Arugula Leaves
2 Hard Boiled Eggs, sliced, local farm fresh
1/2 Cucumber, peeled & thinly sliced
2 Vine Ripe Tomatoes, thinly sliced
10-12 Large Basil Leaves
1-Boil the Eggs. Place eggs in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to boil on stovetop. While waiting for eggs to boil make ice bath for the eggs in a bowl. Remove from heat after boiling begins and place lid on pan and let sit for 11 minutes. When time is up immediately add eggs to the ice bath and set aside. When cool peel the eggs. These can be made way in advance.
2-Prepare the Bread. Slice the bread along its length to separate. Remove the inside of both slices of bread to make room for the filling. Rub the inside of each slice with the smashed garlic cloves. Spread pistou (or pesto) evenly on the inside of each slice. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the red wine vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, and very lightly herbs de provence. Set aside.
3-Prepare the Onions. For this step I like to break out my mandoline slicer for a super quick job. Place the onion slices in a bowl and add cold water to cover. Let them soak from 15-30 minutes at room temperature. I do this step to remove some of the powerful enzymes from the onion so it doesn't overpower the sandwich.
4-Make the Seafood Filling. Mix together the tuna and its oil, anchovies, capers, olives, dried lemon peel, mustard, and remaining tablespoon of red wine vinegar in a bowl. I like to use my chopper attachment to give the anchovies, capers, and olives a quick chop before adding to the other ingredients. You can use fresh lemon zest instead of the dried lemon peel. Stir gently and try not to separate the tuna chunks too much. Set aside.
5-Fill the Sandwich. Drain the onions and place on paper towel. Distribute the filling evenly across the bottom slice of the bread. Top the filling with the red onions, basil, sliced eggs, tomato slices, cucumber slices, and arugula. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
6-Assemble, Prep, & Pack. Top the sandwiches with the top of the bread, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Press the sandwich using a cast iron skillet or heavy pot filled with water for 10 minutes. Turn the sandwich over and repeat on the other side for 10 minutes. These sandwiches can be made in advance and kept up to 8 hours before serving. Before packing for your picnic slice through the sandwich with the plastic wrap still on it to keep the filling in tact. I like to wrap mine in parchment and tie it off with bakers twine before packing in the basket because I'm just extra. The sandwich tastes best at room temperature.
My favorite picnic basket has a built in cooler that is ideal and it also includes all of the dinnerware you will need. Reusable melamine plates are ideal so there is minimal waste, no breakage, and no soggy paper plates.
Blanket or Tablecloth Decorative centerpiece (citronella candles, a cup of freshly plucked wildflowers, a beautiful dessert)
I always like to pack a smaller sharp knife & small cutting board. I also pack a compact cheese board because a perfect picnic just begs for charcuterie & fromage!
I freeze flavored water overnight to use as an icepack in the cooler. Infusing lemons, cucumbers and fruit is not only refreshing but offers up more nutrients while staying hydrated. If more than two people are going on the picnic remind everyone to bring water if several will be in attendance so your picnic basket or cooler isn't crowded with bottles of water.
If you plan on serving wine, I highly recommend using these gorgeous Goverre wine glasses I discovered while watching Shark Tank! These are simply glasses covered with a silicone sleeve that you fill and seal! If you don't have these adorable glasses yet on then just don't forget to also pack the corkscrew!
Picnics can naturally be a bit messy so be sure to pack plenty of napkins & hand wipes. I like using cloth napkins to prevent waste.
Hats, sunscreen, insect repellant (my favorite is doTerra's Terra Shield--naturally chemical free and effective!)
Trash bag--so you can leave your picnic area cleaner than when you arrived.
à votre santé,