Some people celebrate the start of summer by firing up the grill or heading to the beach, but for me, summertime equals picnics. I love the ease and un-fussiness; the food is made entirely in advance, so there's no last-minute rushing around. And because the meal is served on a blanket, there's no need for flowers or candles or seating arrangements. Lounging outdoors in the grass or on the sand with bare feet, friends, and a spread of good food is summertime gathering at its absolute best.
There are a few rules to keep in mind for a perfect picnic. First of all, plan a menu that can be served either chilled or at room temperature. And keep in mind that the food will be sitting out for several hours, so finding a spot in the shade is crucial—both for comfort and food safety. I like having a range of food options: a vegetarian side dish or grain-based salad (both of which keep better than green salads, which tend to wilt in the heat); a hearty sandwich or roasted chicken; and something to snack on, like a dip and raw veggies or cheese and crackers. Add something sweet and easily portable, such as cookies or brownies, for dessert. And make sure you have a variety of drinks and a cooler full of ice. I love rosé, but it's nice to bring some beer and something nonalcoholic like lemonade, plus plenty of water. If you're planning to picnic quite a bit, it's worth investing in a nice picnic blanket with a waterproof underside and a cooler to transport the food. Stock up on some cute, reusable plastic plates, wine glasses, and cutlery for an elegant touch.
This menu is a nod to those Provençal picnics of my early twenties. A pretty spread of crudités is served with a lemony crème fraîche dip with herbes de Provence, the quintessential Provençal seasoning combo of thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, and often, lavender. The main attraction is a hearty twist on pan bagnat, a pressed Provençal sandwich typically made with tomatoes, peppers, olives, anchovies, and tuna that I stuff with black olive tapenade, goat cheese, roasted chicken, and thinly sliced vegetables. A light quinoa salad filled with scallions, mint, snap peas, and crisp haricots verts tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette are easy sides that are perfect served at room temperature. And finally, for dessert? Mini financiers studded with raspberries. Everything can be made ahead, packed up, and served cool or at room temperature. Here's your game plan:
The Game Plan
Two Days Ahead: Do the shopping and buy the rosé. Make the tapenade.
One Day Ahead: Blanch the haricots verts and the Dijon vinaigrette; store them separately in the refrigerator. Make the crème fraiche dip and chill. Make the quinoa salad and chill. Make the financier batter.
Day of the Picnic: Make sure the rosé is chilled. Bake the financiers (they taste best the day they are baked!). Toss the green beans with the vinaigrette. Assemble the sandwich one to two hours in advance; press and wrap tightly. Pack your picnic basket and cooler, grab blankets, and head to the park!