Picnic Season

Pack up a basket and grab a cozy quilt. Forget about a hot stove and setting the table … oh, and leave fast food and the drive-through in your rearview mirror. With just a little pre-planning and these make-ahead recipes, you can create a relaxing, delicious al fresco feast your friends and family will love.

 

photography by
Jason Kindig & Alex Lepe

Pasta e Fagioli Salad

Yield: 8 servings
The classic Italian soup becomes a hearty salad for warm weather.
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil
2, 15-ounce cans Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
½ pound pasta, such as penne, cooked, drained, and rinsed
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 bunch scallions, chopped
½ cup capers
½ cup roasted garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, cut into julienne strips
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly add olive oil, whisking all the while. Add beans and let them marinate 30 minutes or up to 1 day. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 3 days.

Bruschetta with Assorted Toppings
Yield: each topping will serve 8 - 12 on bruschetta, with some leftover for midnight snacking.
The word bruschetta means to roast over coals – referring to the toasted or grilled bread, which becomes a blank canvas for all manner of savory toppings. Pronounce it “bru-sketta.”
The toast:
1 large baguette, cut into ½-inch slices (about 40 slices)
To toast bread slices, preheat oven to 400. Place bread on baking sheets and bake 8 – 12 minutes, until nicely browned.

Herbed Chicken and Corn Topping
This salad would be tasty served in tomato cups or on lettuce leaves.
6 ears fresh corn, cooked and kernels removed
2 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, and chopped
½ cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, sage
1 fully cooked rotisserie chicken, all meat removed and chopped (or 2 - 3 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
½ cup olive oil
4 ounces crumbled firm goat cheese, or feta
In a large bowl, toss together corn, chopped peppers, herbs, and chopped chicken.
In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Keep whisking while slowly adding olive oil. (You can also shake all ingredients together in a canning jar.) Pour over salad mixture and toss.
Just before serving, toss in goat cheese.

Rustic Tomato, Onion and Olive Spread
Fabulous on toasted baguette, this pleasantly pungent topping can also be spread on top of a block of cream cheese and served with crackers.
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
1 red onion, thinly sliced
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped Kalamata olives
½ teaspoon each, salt and pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place an iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, onions, sugar, and thyme; cook and stir until onions are wilted and beginning to char. Remove onions from the pan and place in a large bowl.
Place pan back on the heat and turn up to high. Add another tablespoon olive oil if needed, and when the oil is hot, add tomatoes; cook and stir until lightly charred and beginning to burst. Remove from heat and add reserved onions, olives, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Stir to combine flavors. The residual heat in the skillet will help flavors to meld. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Blue Cheese and Pear Chutney for Bruschetta
Micah Noeth, 10-year veteran in the Central Market cheese department, introduced me to Gorgonzola Cremamore, a fabulously smooth, soft cow’s milk blue cheese that is perfect for spreading on bruschetta. Grab some the next time you’re shopping.
8 ounces softened blue cheese
1 – 1 ½ cups pear chutney
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Spread crostini with blue cheese and top with chutney. Sprinkle on chopped rosemary. Tip: For a picnic, place blue cheese on a serving plate with spreading knife. Top with chopped rosemary. Serve chutney from a bowl with a spoon.

Read the Bon Appétit blog to get Judie's special web-only recipe for May: Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti.