Whether you are out on a hike or plunked down on a patch of grass in your backyard, there’s something about a summer picnic that brings out the kid in all of us. For me, it was sun-drenched summer family picnics at Redondo Beach in Des Moines, complete with garden-fresh food, music, and laughter. My Italian-born grandmother, Nettie, would shell fava beans into her apron, and create delectable summer picnic dishes. Inspired by my picnicking past, I’m tossing down a cool blanket and serving up a colorful array of old-school picnic-proof bites and sips — pasta salad with fava beans; heirloom tomato and cucumber baguettes; strawberry, basil and cucumber hard lemonade; and blackberry shortbread bars.
Tomato and Cucumber Baguettes with Fresh Basil
Parchment-wrapped baguette sandwiches are easy to eat and tote. The paper holds the sandwich together beautifully.
Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
Heirloom tomatoes, sliced
Fresh basil leaves
Cut a small baguette in half lengthwise. Slather with butter and olive oil to taste. Layer in cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil leaves. Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lemon zest. Slice in half, and wrap in parchment paper tied with baker’s twine.
Hold the Mayo
Mayo can’t handle the heat — I like lemony vinaigrettes instead for summertime picnic sandwiches and salads.
I love spill-proof, lidded mason jars for picnic drinks. Lemonade, sliced cucumber, and fresh basil make a refreshing combo. Or try strawberry lemonade by adding chopped, muddled, fresh strawberries. Throw in a splash of vodka for a hard lemonade.
Antique wood boxes and bottle carriers make cool picnic totes!
Lemony Pasta Salad with Fava Beans, Basil, and Pine Nuts
You want your picnic fare to be simple and hold up — light make-ahead dishes that can stand up to summer sun and travel. This pasta salad is so simple, it barely requires a recipe, and you can make it a day ahead.
1 box penne pasta
½ cup olive oil
2 dozen fava beans, shelled and boiled till tender
2 shallots, chopped
½ cup basil, torn
2-3 chives, chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Zest of half a lemon
¾ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved
Salt and pepper
Boil penne pasta per the box instructions, drain, and reserve 1/4 cup of the water. In a bowl, toss cooked pasta with 1/4 cup olive oil and the reserved liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Shell fava bean pods and boil until tender, then plunge them into an ice bath. Drain.
Sauté two chopped shallots in 1/4 cup olive oil until they begin to caramelize. Add another splash of olive oil and the fava beans, and sauté for a few minutes until the beans are coated with the oil.
Add beans and shallots to the pasta bowl. Add torn fresh basil, chives, pine nuts, lemon zest, and toss. Top generously with shaved Parmesan.
All-in-One Picnic Packs
Brown-bag it with DIY picnic pouches. Simply fold up the paper lunch bags from the bottom to create a pocket for utensils, napkins, and salt and pepper packets. Secure the pocket sides with decorative tape. Later, the bags come in handy for tidying up your picnic spot!
Inspiration From the Past
My Italian grandmother would swaddle her containers in dish towels to keep the lids tight and the meal warm before toting the food to the picnic. I used 30-by-32-inch dish towels here. Center a small box atop each towel on the diagonal, and then tie up opposite ends of the towel. Bonus: The dishtowels double as lap napkins!
Blackberry Shortbread Bars
These blackberry bars are the bomb — just the right combo of sweet and tart, with a hint of vanilla bean salt!
1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup confectioners’
13/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
Zest of half a lemon
Cream butter, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Stir the flour and cornstarch together, and slowly add it to the bowl. Beat until just combined. Press the dough into an ungreased 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan, and sprinkle lightly with vanilla bean salt. Pierce the shortbread dough several times with the tines of a fork. Bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the crust begins to turn golden and is firm to the touch. Cool.
3 cups fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Bring ingredients to a boil in a stovetop pan, then simmer for approximately 8 minutes, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens but there are still chunks of berries. Remove from heat, and cool. Spread the filling over the crust.
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup steel-cut oatmeal
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter.
Mix ingredients together. Dot the berry bars with topping mixture. Run under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture turns golden brown. Cool, and cut into bars.
Hummus with Toasted Walnut Parsley Pesto
This delish picnic appetizer is packed with flavor, and the lidded mason jars make it spill-proof! Add this yummy make-ahead parsley pesto to store-bought hummus to make it special.
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
Zest of half a lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Salt and pepper
In a dry pan, toast the walnuts on the stovetop until they begin to brown. Cool.
In a food processor, pulse the parsley, lemon zest, and walnuts, and add a few grinds of salt and pepper. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil.
Spoon the hummus into mason jars, and add a generous dollop of the toasted walnut parsley pesto. Serve with pita chips.
See Monica Hart’s design, recipe, and entertaining ideas in every issue of 425 magazine, and at lafamigliadesignllc.com.