by Joan Saunders –
Summer is when we can truly savour our long, light-filled evenings as we relax with good food, good wine and good company. One of the best ways to spend time while waiting for a glorious sunset is with a picnic. Everything tastes better outdoors after a leisurely walk to that perfect spot by the beach, in the park or even to the table set up on the deck.
What I look for in picnic fare are foods that are not difficult to create and still make others feel like some effort has been taken. And when we combine some of the best fruits and vegetables from here in B.C. with the flavours of France, we can always come up with a fabulous summer meal.
Salade Niçoise sounds posh but is both uncomplicated and beautiful. There are many different versions of this recipe, but what I really like about it is that you can adapt it to your own tastes. Traditionally it didn’t include lettuce, but using it creates a winning combination which adds crunch and texture. It also appears that the classic recipes don’t have both tuna and anchovies, so you can leave anchovies off if they’re not your favorite. What I like to do is put the salad ingredients in one container for transport with the vinaigrette in another. Then you can shake up the vinaigrette and dress the salad just before serving so it doesn’t become too soggy or heavy.
Quiche is another dish that makes it appear like you put in a lot of effort. It does involve pastry, but you can always purchase a ready-made pie shell and start from there.
It’s also an easily adaptable option. Don’t like mushrooms? Add more peppers. Have a whack of listless-looking celery? Just sauté it up and it’s now part of a stunning picnic. Want to add some seafood? Sure, throw in some shrimp.
Equally tasty hot or cold, quiche is easy to carry and serve. I often slice up a tomato to decorate the top as it then looks so pretty on the picnic table.
Finish off the menu with a baguette from a local bakery, some great cheese, a lovely bottle of wine and a pitcher of some sparkling water with lemon slices tossed in.
For dessert, keep it simple. I like to take along a little something that won’t get crushed on the journey. Biscotti are always a good choice as they’re a treat without being too heavy. You can make your own or purchase whatever kind you prefer. Along with some luscious local berries you’ll find that you created an enjoyable and extremely flavourful summer event.
Salade Niçoise (serves 4 as a starter or side)
From: The Food of France, recipes by Maria Villegas and Sarah Randell, Whitecap Books.
4 waxy potatoes (about 1½ cups cooked)
1 tbsp olive oil
1¾ cups green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
10 oz chunk tuna (canned/drained or cooked fresh)
6 oz lettuce
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
20 pitted black olives
2 tbsp capers
3 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain. Cut into small cubes; place in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and toss. Cook green beans in boiling salted water for 3 minutes; drain and refresh under cold water. Vinaigrette: whisk together garlic, mustard, vinegar and lemon juice. Add oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking until smooth. Drain and put the tuna in a bowl; separate into chunks. Cover the bottom of a serving dish with lettuce leaves. Scatter the potatoes, beans, tuna, tomatoes, olives and capers over the leaves, pour the vinaigrette over the top and decorate with eggs and anchovies. Add salt and pepper to taste if not using anchovies.
Vegetable Quiche (serves 4-6)
1 unbaked 8-9 inch pie shell
2 cups mixed sautéed veggies, whatever you prefer: mushrooms, onions, celery, peppers, leeks
4 oz swiss cheese, grated
1 tbsp flour
½ cup each dry white wine and mayo
2 slightly beaten eggs
Lightly sauté veggies in oil. Cool. Combine veggies and cheese, spread in unbaked pie shell. Whisk mayo, flour and wine until smooth, add the eggs and whisk again. Pour into pie shell over veggies and cheese. Slice tomato and place decoratively. Add salt and pepper if desired on top. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes.
Photo by Joan Saunders