When the weather turns warm, I find it difficult to resist the allure of eating outdoors. One of my family's favorite picnic spots is Riverside Park, which runs along the Hudson River near my home in New York City. Everyone relaxes differently: playing with the dog, reading a book, kicking a soccer ball, or doing nothing at all.
Over the years, I've learned that an enjoyable picnic begins with efficient planning and packing. A make-ahead, grab-and-go strategy that doesn't require utensils is best. I prefer reusable to disposable tableware, so I rely on durable, lightweight enamelware or plastic plates. Packing materials can double as serving vessels, and kitchen towels that provide cushioning en route can later serve as napkins. Herbal sun tea and chilled wine are the last items to go in the basket.
Whether your destination is a park, a beach, or your own backyard, this menu offers the complete makings for an easy ritual that you'll want to repeat throughout summer.
2 Days Before
Shop for groceries. Make the sun tea and the pickles.
Make the pesto. Grill the vegetables, and assemble and press the sandwiches. Make the soup. Bake the blondies, cut into squares, and pack. Pack kitchen towels, plates, cups, and glasses.
In the Morning
Stir arugula into the soup, and pour it into a thermos. Pack the jar of pickles (and a fork), the chocolate-hazelnut spread (and a spoon), the sun tea, a bottle of wine, and a corkscrew. Bundle the sandwiches, a cutting board, and a knife.
1 large bunch basil, 1 bunch chives, and 2 or 3 tarragon sprigs
3/4 cup arugula
2 garlic cloves
1 red bell pepper, 1 small eggplant, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow summer squash, and 4 Kirby cucumbers
1/3 cup pine nuts and 1/3 cup hazelnuts
1 jar chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella
2 tablespoons dried lemon verbena or dried mint
2 tablespoons rooibos tea
1 quart tomato juice
2 loaves ciabatta
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese
1/3 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
Extra-virgin olive oil
All-purpose flour and baking powder
Coarse salt, table salt, and pepper
Vanilla extract, and honey (if using)
Granulated sugar and light-brown sugar
Unsalted butter and large eggs
Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce
Distilled white vinegar