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Summer Food

Picnic perfect

Whether you're setting an elaborate table or simply spreading a blanket, here's a menu that celebrates the joys of alfresco dining.

By Lisa Zwirn
June 12, 2011

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HONEYDEW SOUP

Serves 6

1 ripe honeydew melon (4 to 5 pounds), quartered and seeded

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus 6 mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt

Remove flesh from the melon and chop into 1 1/2-inch chunks (you should have about 6 cups). In a blender or food processor, puree melon flesh, in batches, until smooth. Pour the puree into a plastic pitcher with a tight-fitting lid. To blender or processor, add yogurt, lime juice, mint leaves, sugar, and a pinch of salt, and blend. Whisk the yogurt mixture into the melon puree. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Shake well before serving, garnishing with mint sprigs, if desired.

TIP It’s easiest to transport the soup in a thermos, but you can also use a pitcher with a tight-fitting lid kept in a cooler with ice packs. Serve in cups instead of bowls.

BARLEY AND OLIVE SALAD

Serves 6 Almost any whole grain works in this salad, including farro, wheat berries, quinoa, and brown rice. Just check the cooking time and grain-to-water amounts for the grain you want to use.

1 cup pearl barley

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped fresh (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) thyme

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 ribs celery, sliced thin on a sharp diagonal (about 2 cups)

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, the barley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the barley is tender but still chewy, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain in a colander, then rinse briefly with cold water and drain well. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice, mustard, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the barley, celery, olives, onion, and parsley. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, if needed. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated; bring to room temperature and stir well before serving.)

LAMB MEATBALLS WITH CHILI GARLIC AIOLI

Makes 22 meatballs

The meatballs look their best when pan-fried, but they can also be baked: Place them (without flour coating) on a lightly greased, rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until cooked through.

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)

1 egg

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Salt and pepper

Canola or other vegetable oil, for pan-frying

Flour, for coating the meatballs

In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs and 1/4 cup water. Add the lamb, onion, egg, lemon juice, mint, parsley, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and mix thoroughly. With your hands, shape the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on a plate.

In a large, heavy skillet, pour oil to a depth of about 1/8 inch and heat over medium-high heat. Coat the meatballs lightly with flour and, working in 2 batches, add them to the pan. Cook the meatballs, turning to brown all sides, for 8 to 10 minutes or until firm and cooked through. Transfer the meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels. Cool to room temperature, then pack in a covered container. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.)

Serve at room temperature or, if desired, reheat on a grill before serving. Serve with toothpicks and Chili Garlic Aioli (recipe follows) for dipping.

CHILI GARLIC AIOLI

Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce, such as sriracha, to taste

Salt and pepper

In a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice, oil, sugar, and chili garlic sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated.)

SHRIMP AND FETA BREAD SALAD

Serves 6

Grilled shrimp and cubes of feta turn a classic Italian bread salad, panzanella, into a tasty, filling meal. If you’re not bringing a grill to the picnic, grill (or broil) the shrimp, bell pepper, and bread ahead of time, and bring all the salad ingredients, undressed, in a large bowl with a lid. Combine the ingredients and dress the salad about 15 minutes before serving.

1 pound (25 to 30) uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/3 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 pound cherry or cocktail tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size

1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced, rings cut in half (about 1 cup)

1 yellow or orange bell pepper, quartered and cored

8 ounces coarse-textured bread, such as ciabatta, cut into 1-inch-thick slices

4 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)

On bamboo skewers, thread 5 shrimp per skewer, piercing both the thick and curled ends of the shrimp to keep them from rotating. Brush the shrimp with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Transfer the skewers to a gallon-size plastic bag and refrigerate.

In a salad bowl, whisk the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Whisk in the 1/3 cup of oil. Stir in the oregano, tomatoes, and onion. (This can stand at room temperature for a few hours.)

Prepare the grill for medium-high heat. Grill the bell pepper for 6 to 8 minutes or until charred in places. Grill the bread for 1 to 2 minutes per side or until browned and crisp. Grill the skewered shrimp, turning once, for 3 to 5 minutes or until opaque and cooked through.

Cut the bell pepper into 1/4-inch-thick strips and add to the bowl with the tomatoes and dressing. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and add to the bowl. Using tongs, slide the shrimp off the skewers and add to the salad. Add the feta. Stir gently to combine. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes for the flavors to develop. Toss once more just before serving.

TIP Use a heavy plastic zipper bag for the skewered shrimp, with pointed ends up so they don’t pierce the bottom of the bag.

CUCUMBER, ARUGULA, AND STRAWBERRY SALAD

Serves 6

For the dressing

Juice from 1 lime (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and black pepper

For the salad

2 medium cucumbers, trimmed and peeled

5 packed cups (about 3 1/2 ounces) baby arugula

8 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/3 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped

In a small container, whisk lime juice, 1 tablespoon water, sugar, oil, and crushed red pepper. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

With a sharp vegetable peeler, shave each cucumber lengthwise into long, 1-inch-wide ribbons. Rotating the cucumber, continue shaving off ribbons until you reach the seeded center. (You should have about 2 1/2 cups of cucumber ribbons.) Discard the centers.

In a salad bowl, combine the cucumbers, arugula, and strawberries. Just before serving, toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with pistachios.

TIP Pack the dressing and pistachios separately from the salad, and put the salad in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Add the dressing to the salad just before serving, seal the lid, and give a few shakes.

CHERRY RHUBARB CRISPS

Makes 6 individual crisps

For the filling

1 pound (about 3 cups) sweet cherries, pitted

3 stalks fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 3 cups)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon cherry brandy

For the topping

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/3 cup sliced almonds

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Have on hand 6 3/4- or 1-cup ramekins or custard cups. In a medium bowl, combine the cherries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice, and cherry brandy. Mix well. Let stand for about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. Squeeze the mixture in small handfuls to form clumps. The topping should be crumbly. Mix in the almonds.

Divide the fruit mixture among the ramekins. Crumble the topping over the fruit. Set the cups on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 28 minutes or until the topping is browned and crisp and the filling is bubbling around the edges. Cool on a rack. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)

When completely cool, cover loosely with foil, and keep at room temperature or refrigerate. (Serve at room temperature.) Transport the ramekins in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan lined with a dish towel to keep them from moving around.

Lisa Zwirn is a freelance food writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.