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Celebrating Spring with a Beach Picnic
Most people reserve a beach picnic for the warmer months of the year when they'll most likely encounter groups of other people who have the same idea as they do. Dodging crowds of raucous adults, playful running children, and frisbee-catching dogs is not my idea of a peaceful afternoon with friends. Eating my way through a delicious picnic basket brimming with goodies...with 100 of my closest beach-going friends is also unappealing.
I prefer to choose a warm, early spring day that promises a spot on a quiet beach for my pursuit of privacy and memorable moments. If the weather doesn't quite warm up enough for my liking, I don't change my plans for my al fresco meal. I bring some extra blankets and sweaters to keep out the chill. I can even build a bonfire, if local ordinances permit.
For most people, sitting on the beach can be very restorative to one's psyche. For this reason, I think a beach picnic should be an easy, leisurely meal to eat. No fuss or muss in setting up an elaborate feast. Everyone can serve themselves whenever he or she wants a break from their beach combing.
The menu for this serene setting celebrates the season by using a vegetable, herb or fruit in each dish that signals the onset of spring: roasted new potatoes, asparagus crudites, roasted cornish hens with thin slices of meyer, and strawberry-rhubarb crisp. Everything is made ahead and served at room temperature so all you'll need to do is pack the food in a cooler for the drive to your destination. To enjoy the optimum flavors and aromas of this food, you'll want to remove everything from your cooler about forty five minutes before you plan on eating.
Some nice extras to consider bringing on your picnic would be a crisp white wine, wine glasses, a corkscrew, plates, utensils, big cloth napkins, and a large blanket for sitting.
What's left to do? Nothing except kick back and bask in those balmy spring breezes as you enjoy the uninterrupted view of the crashing waves and seagulls.
The following recipes serve four people but can easily be doubled
Roasted New Potatoes with Garlic and Basil
12-16 new potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
few grinds fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch fresh basil, leaves only
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Peel off a ring of red skin from the middle of each potato. Toss with the 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and then place in a shallow baking pan.
Roast for 30-40 minutes, moving the potatoes a couple of times during baking so they brown evenly.
Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until all is minced.
When potatoes are done, remove from the oven and toss with the processed ingredients. Allow to cool and store in your refrigerator.
Serrano-Sweet Pea Aioli
makes about 2 cups
Since asparagus crudites are simply crisp, blanched stalks of the vegetable, I am leaving it up to the reader to put together this part of the menu. The following is the recipe for the sauce that accompanies them. It's composed of a mayonnaise base but resembles a guacamole. Do not use olive oil as its intensity would overpower the delicate flavors in the sauce.
1/2 cup sweet peas, shelled
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
juice of 1 lime
1 serrano chile, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 cup vegetable oil
Cook the sweet peas in simmering water until they are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.
Place the egg yolks, whole egg and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until the mixture begins to become light and fluffy. Stop machine and add the chile, garlic, cilantro, and cooked sweet peas. Process the mixture again until the ingredients are well blended. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the oil into the bowl until all the oil is incorporated and the mixture turns into a thick mayonnaise. Stop the machine immediately.
Olive and Rosemary Roasted Cornish Hens with Meyer Lemon Slices
1 dozen imported black olives, pitted
1 small sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
6 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 Cornish hens, split
2 meyer lemons, seeds removed, thinly sliced
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Mash together the olives, rosemary, parsley, and olive oil with a mortar and pestle or with the tines of a fork in a small bowl. Set aside.
Rinse the hens in cool water and pat dry with paper toweling. Gently slip your index finger under the skin on the thigh and the breast, separating the skin from the bird as much as possible without tearing the fragile skin. Slide the thinly sliced lemons under the skin of both the breast and the thigh in a single layer.
Rub the outside of each bird with the olive-rosemary mixture. Lightly salt and pepper the birds. Place on an oiled rack set in a shallow roasting pan. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the birds. Remove and cool completely before refrigerating.
This is best eaten the same day when the topping is the most crunchy.
6 cups strawberries, sliced
4 cups rhubarb, cut into one-inch pieces
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place strawberries and rhubarb in a bowl and toss with white sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place in a baking dish large enough to fit the mixture comfortably.
Mix flour, brown sugar and melted butter together in a bowl until mixture crumbles and resembles peas. Sprinkle this on top of the fruit in the baking dish.
Bake the crisp in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to one hour, or until the mixture is bubbling and the top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cover with aluminum foil and keep at room temperature.
Rosemary Furfaro is a freelance food writer.