Monday, July 16, 2007

Pack A Beach Picnic!

July is made for the beach. Here in New England, the water has finally warmed up a bit, the sunny days outnumber the rainy ones, and it is the perfect time to eat “al fresco”. This time of year, nothing beats a beach picnic, if you know how to do it right!

The first step is having the right gear. A few oversized beach blankets, beach chairs, an umbrella, and a hard-sided cooler with wheels will usually do the trick. Next, it is important to choose beach-friendly picnic fare. Stay away from messy food items, or ones which require cutting. Chances are good that you’ll be eating on your lap, so keeping your meal simple is best.

One of my all-time favorite picnic meals consists of an overstuffed “muffuletta”, a sliced tomato salad, and fruit and brownies for dessert. A “muffuletta” is basically a big sandwich made from a round, crusty loaf of bread, which is filled and later cut into triangular wedges. The sky is the limit when it comes to fillings. You might like layering Italian cold cuts such as salami, prosciutto, and provolone on your muffuletta, or try chicken salad and romaine lettuce! My personal favorite is a Grilled Vegetable Muffuletta with Pesto (recipe follows). It is light, healthy, and delicious. I also like it because it travels well and there is nothing which can spoil in the heat, such as mayonnaise or cheese. It’s perfect for your picnic basket.

For dessert, slice up some watermelon and serve it together with your favorite bakery-purchased brownies (avoid desserts with frosting or chocolate chips, as they will surely melt in the heat!). To drink, I like to partially freeze bottles of spring water, which double as my ice-packs in my cooler. Once you take them out into the heat, they will stay cool longer than regular water. Pack everything into your cooler along with disposable plastic plates, forks, and napkins, and head for the beach! Once you find a perfect spot, set up your beach gear, take out your food, and use your cooler as a “table” for your beach buffet. You’ll be the envy of everyone around you!

Grilled Vegetable Muffuletta with Pesto
Serves 6
1 large, round loaf of crusty bread, cut in half crosswise
2 medium red bell peppers
3-4 medium Portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1 medium eggplant, cut into ½ inch thick rounds
2 medium zucchini, cut into ¼ inch long slices
2 medium summer squash, cut into ¼ inch long slices
Olive oil/Salt/Pepper
1 recipe Pesto Genovese (on previous blog entry), or store-bought pesto

Preheat the grill to medium-high.
Place the whole red peppers on the hottest part of the grill and turn only when side on grates is completely blackened. When pepper is blackened on each side, place in a bowl and cover with foil. Set aside. Once cooled, gently peel away the loosened, black skin, remove the seeds, and cut into wide 1 inch strips.
Meanwhile, brush all the vegetables except the red pepper with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.
Grill all the vegetables according the following approximate times (flipping only once during cooking):
Portobello Mushrooms: 4-6 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear and vegetable begins to soften Eggplant: 3-4 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear and vegetable begins to soften
Zucchini/Summer Squash: 2-3 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear and vegetable begins to soften
Once cooked, allow vegetables to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the bread by tearing out about ½ of the inside doughy portion of the bread (to make room for the filling). Spread about ¼ cup of pesto on each side of the bread.
Layer each vegetable on the bread, one type at a time, starting with the Portobello mushrooms and ending with the red peppers. Replace the top of the bread, and cut into 6 wedges. Wrap the entire big sandwich in tin foil and pack into your cooler.
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