How to Have a Picnic

Gourmet Picnic Ideas

Having a gourmet picnic doesn't m­ean you have to abandon simplicity. Instead, focus on foods that rely on natural flavors and don't need to be heated at the last minute. A few ingredients, well chosen, will be more effective than a recipe that involves hours of effort and trips to specialty stores.

Some options:

  • Good bread is a must. Try a hearty peasant loaf.
  • Bring a bottle of high-quality olive oil for breads and salads.
  • Elevate sandwiches to an art. Spread the bread with Dijon mustard, pesto or tapenade. Instead of standard cold cuts, bring grilled portobello mushrooms, prosciutto crudo, smoked salmon and roast turkey breast. Ditch the supermarket brick of orange cheddar -- top your sandwiches with Brie, salty Gruyere or tangy goat cheese. Skip iceberg lettuce in favor of spinach, watercress or arugula.
  • For color, flavor and ease of preparation, it's hard to beat fruit. You don't need much more than a good cheese pairing to have a splendid meal. If you're grilling, remember that fruits such as pears and nectarines grill well, and they're wonderful complements to poultry, salad or ice cream. Cut the fruit in half, brush or mist it with a little grapeseed oil and put it on the grill just long enough for dark brown grill marks to appear.
  • Salads are wonderful ways to combine summer flavors. Consider a classic, simple Caprese salad -- sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and leaves of fresh basil. Everything depends on the quality of the tomatoes, which should be vine-ripe and never refrigerated. Heirloom and grape varieties have reliable flavors [source: Cirillo].
  • Try a tasting picnic, with a variety of bite-size nibbles. A great way to go: a nibble-based food tradition, like Spanish tapas frias or Italian antipasti.

For other ideas, take a look at Mark Bittman's list of 101 picnic foods. Bittman writes the "Minimalist" food column for the New York Times, and his no-fuss suggestions -- such as combining champagne and sorbet in a thermos -- are ideal for a lazy, sunny afternoon.

Or consider the recipes of Alice Waters, the groundbreaking chef of Chez Panisse. Waters focuses on local, seasonal produce -- the perfect complement to your surroundings.

There's more to do on a picnic than eat. On the next page, we'll take a look at some ideas for recreation.