Gourmet picnic ideas for summer

How many people are tired of the same old picnics items? Do memories of bland potato salads and boring sandwiches persuade you to buy fast food or, worse yet, keep you locked indoors?

Whether it’s a romantic picnic for two or a family outing, easy-to-prepare gourmet ideas will liven up your picnic basket for this holiday long weekend.

One of the simplest things to pack for a romantic picnic for two is a fruit and cheese assortment as there’s virtually no preparation required. A grocery store with a delicatessen counter will be able to provide you with a number of small cheeses and specialty meats.

While you are there, pick up an assortment of fruit like grapes, pears, and local fresh berries, along with some gourmet crackers and pepper jelly. Wash the fruit but leave everything else in its original store packaging.

You will want to pack a small cutting board, a couple of sharp knives, and, if legally feasible, a bottle of wine. If wine is not an option, then juice in wine glasses will create the same seductive ambiance.

Too many family picnic gatherings are bombarded with the consistently-usual potato salads and coleslaws. However, no matter what salad you choose, it will require some assembly so one is better off expending that energy by making something different.

The variations of salads are endless. A quick and easy way is to create one from the ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry. If you don’t have the confidence to go this far, then blow some dust off the cookbooks you have piling up and try something you have never made before.

Whatever salad you choose to prepare, pita pockets are the perfect item to serve them in. They will eliminate the need for paper plates and plastic cutlery while adding a gourmet aura to your salad-eating experience.

If carbohydrates are a concern, lettuce leaves also work great as salad holders.

That brings our conversation to the next common picnic item: sandwiches. Instead of peanut butter and jelly or egg salad, why not make Italian pressed sandwiches filled with a variety of Mediterranean meats, cheeses, and complementary flavours.

This is not as hard as it sounds as it is made in a large loaf and then cut into individual sandwiches.

To ease the preparation, purchase a large Ciabatta loaf from the bakery counter. Cut it in half length-wise and hollow out the majority of the centre while keeping the shape of the outside crust intact (you should be able to put the top back on and have it look like an untouched loaf).

Fill the centre with a variety of sliced meats like salami and capicolli, along with a complementing cheese like provolone and/or shavings of parmissiano reggiano. Then continue to fill the bread with gourmet olives, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, fresh basil and oregano, salt, fresh-cracked pepper, and some extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the top of the bread back on, seal it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight with a cutting board and some heavy cans placed on top of it to press it all together combining the flavours.

Dear Chef Dez:
I always find potato salads bland. Any suggestions?
Stephanie T.
Langley, B.C.

Dear Stephanie:
I am so glad you asked this question as I always use this as a topic of discussion with my students.
Firstly, if you are boiling your potatoes, try steaming them instead. Potatoes being boiled will take on excess unnecessary water and water has no flavour.
If you insist on boiling, then at least make sure the water is salted liberally so the potatoes will become seasoned as they boil.
The most important thing to do, however, is “taste” the salad. Dressings usually are prepared separately and then mixed with the bland potatoes. People are very careful to taste their dressings in progress, and adjust the seasonings as needed, but we forget to taste the salad once it is combined.
Always taste and adjust the seasonings in anything you make, just before you are serving it, so you can assess it in the same form that your guests will.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C., V2T 6R4.
Chef Dez is a chef, writer, and host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com