Lemon Thyme & Ginger

Spring Spinach Frittata with Ricotta

Spring spinach frittata with ricotta and recipe

Are you a sweet or savory breakfast person? If you are like me, someone who finds it difficult to choose between the two, frittatas are a wonderful choice and a healthy(ish) alternative to quiche. Because frittatas lack an all butter pastry crust, heavy cream and extra cheese, they are not as rich as quiche, Plus they are much easier to make. What this means is, you can serve up a savory frittata as a main course and include all the pastries or coffee cake you crave. Sweet and savory satisfaction without the guilt, (kind-of). I created this spinach frittata with the dual purpose of making something elegant and savory to serve for breakfast or brunch that also leaves room for something sweet, like The Best Damn Lemon Cake or Apple Muffin with Lemon Glaze.

Ricotta and Spinach Frittata and recipe.

Spinach Frittata Inspiration

My spinach frittata recipe combines two ideas from my favorite egg dishes. The first idea is from Deborah Madison’s  cookbook, In My Kitchen.  She adds saffron to her Swiss Chard Flan recipe, giving the custard an exotic floral nuance that I love. Saffron compliments custards and leafy green vegetables nicely, so I decided to use it instead of freshly grated nutmeg for some extra elegance in the frittata. I love saffron and don’t mind spending the extra money to buy it. However, if you rather not use saffron, add some freshly grated nutmeg directly into the egg mixture. Fresh basil or mint provides a brighter and fresher tasting substitution for saffron, and it pairs very nicely with the spinach frittata.

The second idea is the addition of fresh ricotta, whipped smooth and spooned on top of the spinach frittata. The first time I tasted a ricotta topped frittata is when I made Joshua McFadden’s Red Pepper, Potato, Prosciutto Frittata with Ricotta from his cookbook, Six Seasons. The ricotta transformed an ordinary western omelet into a very special occasion. The ricotta gets soft and warm baked with the frittata and you want every bite filled with this light creaminess. I totally got hooked on ricotta topped frittatas and now want to add ricotta cheese to just about everything.

It pays to buy the freshly made ricotta cheese, there is a big difference in taste. Usually you can find good quality ricotta near the deli department at your grocery. Or make a small batch of ricotta cheese. It takes a lot less time than you think and tastes like real milk.

Julienne Leeks

Making a frittata is fairly straight forward and quick. The only challenging part in this recipe is to julienne the leeks. For a change I decided to julienne slice the white and light green parts of the leek instead of cutting them into circles or half-moons.  It doesn’t really matter how they are prepared as long as they are thoroughly cleaned and cooked till soft and translucent. The julienned leek disappears into the spinach and eggs but adds lovely sweet onion background flavor.

To julienne the leeks, cut the leek in half lengthwise then clean between the layers. Then cut across the leek dividing it into chunks the size of your desired length, mine where about an inch and a half (3.5 cm). Then slice the portioned leeks, lengthwise in very thin strips, mine were about 1/16-1/8 of an inch (about 2-3 mm).  Because you won’t see the leeks you do not have to worry about being precise like you would for julienned carrots in a vegetable sauté, so don’t fret about it.

Check out this video for a live example of how to julienne leeks. In this video he discards the root end of the leek. I do not discard it and julienne cut the root as best I can.

Spinach Frittata

Coming up with a name for this spinach frittata was challenging. With all the special ingredients, it could easily have a name that takes longer to say then it does to cook. Yet the mood of this frittata is all about spring and representing new life and the warming of the earth and air. Fresh farm eggs give the vegetables its foundation with a salty bite of Romano cheese. Young spring spinach and leeks provide a sense of newness to the frittata which in turn is gets grounded from the floral but earthy notes from the stamens of spring crocuses, otherwise known as saffron. Warm, creamy fresh ricotta tie all the flavors together for a sunny “Good morning” greeting. All that goodness is invigorating but not filling leaving plenty of room for pastries or dessert.

Frittatas are delicious for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a light supper. For a spectacular Mother’s Day brunch (or any brunch), serve the spinach frittata with your favorite sides like sausage, bacon, green salad, fruit salad and your favorite pastries.

Ricotta Spinach Frittata with recipe.

Ricotta Spinach Frittata

An elegant frittata recipe for the times when you want a special breakfast or brunch that is also easy to make. It is a lighter and healthier substitute for quiche.  

Course Breakfast, Brunch, Light Supper, Lunch, Vegetarian
Cuisine Italian American
Keyword Frittata, Spinach Frittata
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch of saffron 1 TB boiling water
  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup 24 g finely grated real Romano cheese
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1-2 TB olive oil
  • 1 leek about 6 oz (187 g) Pale green and white parts only
  • 5 oz 142 g spinach cleaned, and stems removed
  • ½ cup 117 g real ricotta cheese

Instructions

Prepare your ingredients

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

  2. Place a pinch of saffron in a small bowl and add 1 TB of just shy of boiling water to the saffron. Set aside and let the saffron steep.

  3. In a medium size bowl, mix the eggs together with a fork until there are no egg whites visible in the mix. Add the Romano cheese and mix again until combined. Set aside.

  4. Thoroughly clean and julienne slice the white and pale green parts of the leek, about an inch and a half in length and about 1/16 of an inch wide. See blog post for a video demonstration. 

  5. In a small bowl, whip the ricotta with a pinch of Kosher salt and a few grounds of black pepper until smooth. A fork works nicely for this job. Set aside. 

  6. Place an 8-inch (20cm) skillet, preferably a non-stick skillet with an oven-proof handle, on a burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Pour in the olive oil and heat up. Add the sliced leeks and turn down the heat to medium then sauté until soft, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add the prepared spinach, in batches, and cook down until completely wilted and soft, about 5 minutes. 

  7. Meanwhile, pour the saffron and water to the eggs, making sure you get every last drop and all saffron threads, and whisk together with a fork.

Make the Frittata

  1. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet with the spinach and leeks. Tilt the pan to make sure the egg mixture is evenly distributed across the whole skillet. Turn the heat to medium and let the eggs cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes.

  2. Run a thin rubber spatula around the edge of the frittata to loosen the eggs. Pull the eggs toward the center with the spatula creating pockets for uncooked runny eggs to fill up. Repeat this step going around the circumference of the frittata. Continue to gently cook the frittata until there is a thin liquid layer on top of the frittata. 

  3. Drop spoonfuls of whipped ricotta cheese around the frittata, about 6-8 spoonfuls. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until it is solid all the way through, about 6 minutes. You may need to place the frittata under the broiler to brown the top. It is not necessary, only if you want browning on the top. If you do, watch the frittata carefully because it should only take a few minutes.  

  4. Remove from the oven and run the frittata around the edge of the skillet, then slide the frittata  on to a serving plate. 

  5. Frittata is best eaten warm the same day it is made. 

< div style =”display:none;”>Ricotta Spinach Frittata. Spring spinach frittata recipe with leeks, saffron and ricotta. An elegant frittata recipe and a great healthy substitute for quiche. Perfect for any meal of the day.,

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas, recipe.

I find it amazing that I can talk about my history and memories not just in a couple of decades, but in several decades. Over a half century to be exact. That sounds old to me, but I don’t feel that old. It is a momentous feeling to think about a friendship that is over 50 years old or remember an experience that happened 30 years ago. Even my food memories hold a place in my archives situated between remembrances of day-to-day life and momentous occasions. One such food memory that stands out is the first time I ate beef empanadas over 30 years ago.

It couldn’t be any clearer than if it happened yesterday. The sweet and savory flavors of the beef filling warmed my heart and surprised me. At the time I was pregnant with my first child, so this might anchor my taste memory. The sweet raisins made the savory meat filling come alive with each bite. I’ve had braised beef filled with raisins before, like in braciole, but raisins in beef empanadas are an addictive combination. I love it and often crave this Mediterranean flavor. Unfortunately, finding beef empanadas with the sweet and savory meat filling is more difficult than you’d think.

Finally, to satisfy my craving for sweet and savory beef empanadas, I decided to undertake the task of making them at home. What I learned during this process is, just like pot sticker dough, corn tortillas, or pie dough, the process of making the dough is easy in theory and practice. Yet, getting the dough’s texture just right takes some additional practice and helpful suggestions from experienced hands. Fortunately, there are two options: you can make empanada dough or buy it ready-made and shaped.

I tested both options and feel confident recommending buying the empanada dough if you don’t want to make it. I also believe buying pastry might be the difference between making empanadas this weekend or placing it on your bucket list. Believe me I get it, after-all it has taken me 30 years to finally make empanadas for myself. According to my recipe from Bon Appetit, Goya is the recommended brand. Find frozen empanada dough in the frozen food section with other frozen Goya products. They come in packages of 10 pre-cut pastry discs. Another bonus is they are vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Don’t let me stop you from making empanada dough if that is your desire. Click, this link for a recipe at laylita.com.  Included with the recipe is a helpful video showing how to assemble the empanadas. I made this recipe by hand, with butter and with a flour mixture of 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Empanada pastry is different from pie dough in that it is not flaky, and is supposed to absorb the juices from the filling keeping a crumbly texture.

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas, recipe.

 

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas, recipe.

As for empanada filling, anything goes. There are many traditional fillings from South American and Central American countries, and within these countries each region has another variation. I am not sure of the origin of my favorite beef, raisin and Spanish olive filling so I feel at liberty to play around with the seasoning. The warm spices like cumin and cinnamon give the beef a lot of depth of flavor. Feel free to substitute it with ground pork, ground lamb, ground turkey, or shredded chicken. If you want a vegetarian empanada, substitute the beef with the filling from Swiss Chard and Feta Stuffed Pastry, or make this stuffed pastry as an option. I wonder how my Ratatouille made with Fennel and Chickpeas recipe would taste encased in empanada pastry?

My empanada recipe is slightly adapted from Argentinian Beef Empanadas from Bon Appetit, February 2017. I added additional spices and slightly adjusted their technique.

Where did the time go, and why did I wait so long to make beef empanadas? Beef empanadas are delicious either using homemade or purchased pastry dough. I know Joe is excited about having a freezer full of beef empanadas at his disposal. They make great snacks, appetizers, picnic food, or to eat for any meal of the day. Serve them plain or with chimichurri sauce.

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas, recipe.

3 Tips for Making the Perfect Beef Empanadas

  • To ensure your empanadas have a tight seal and don’t explode in the oven, assemble the empanadas when the filling is at a cool room temperature or chilled. When the filling is cool there is less liquid oozing over the pastry.
  • Second, when assembling the empanadas, make sure the filling stays compact in the center and does not roll out to the edge. Making a tight seal along the edge is important to ensure the empanadas do not leak.
  • Third, once the empanadas are all assembled, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. This chilling time allows the dough to relax and secure the seal. Of all the tips to remember, chilling the empanadas before you bake them is the most important.

Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas

Empanadas are a flaky pastry stuffed with a sweet or savory filling. They make great appetizers, lunch, light supper and perfect picnic food. Empanadas originated from Spain but many cultures all over the world have several regional varieties. I love empanadas with a sweet and savory meat filling. My favorite is with ground beef or lamb, raisins and olives seasoned with warm spices like cumin, paprika and cinnamon. You can substitute ground beef with ground pork, turkey, or lamb. Serve plain or with a chimichurri sauce . You can make the meat and dough ahead of time then assemble them the day they are made. Uncooked empanadas also freeze well for up to three months. Empanadas can be made one day in advance. Reheat on a sheet pan in a 300°F (149°C) oven for about 15 minutes or until warm through. The empanada filling recipe is slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, Argentinian Beef Empanadas, February 2017
Course Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine Argentianinian
Prep Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Author Ginger

Ingredients

Empanadas

  • 3 TB olive oil divided
  • 1.5 lbs (750 g) ground beef
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 TB ground cumin
  • 2 TB sweet paprika
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chicken stock
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) raisins
  • 1/2 cup Spanish green olives pitted and rough chopped
  • 3 packages Puff pastry dough for Turnovers/Empanadas* preferably Goya or homemade empanada dough
  • You will need 2-3 large rimmed sheet pans. If you only have 2 sheet pans bake the empanadas over two batches.

Instructions

  1. If you are making homemade empanada dough , make it first then refrigerate it while you make the meat filling.

Empanada Filling

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a12-inch (29 cm) skillet (or Dutch Oven), at medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the meat and cook until browned with no visible pink spots. While the meat cooks, break it up using the side of a wooden spoon. Season with a pinch, about ¼ tsp, of Kosher salt and stir to mix.
  2. Remove the ground beef using a slotted spoon and place on a plate and loosely cover aluminum foil. Reserve for later.
  3. Lower the heat to medium then add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions and bell peppers. Stir to evenly coat and cook until the onions and peppers have softened, but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the minced garlic, stir and cook for about one minute.
  5. Add the browned meat and any juices, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, oregano, ground cinnamon, ground clove and cayenne pepper to the meat mixture and stir to evenly mix. Cook for about one minute.
  6. Add the chicken stock, sugar and a 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Stir the mix, scraping along the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen up any browned bits. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is evaporated.
  7. Stir in the raisins and olives then transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Allow the filling to cool down to a cool room temperature or cover and refrigerate for about an hour or more. The beef filling can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Assemble the Empanadas

  1. Remove the defrosted purchased dough, or homemade dough, from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  2. For the homemade dough, follow the instructions given with your recipe.
  3. Pre-heat the oven for 375°F / 190°C and place the racks in the upper and lower third position in the oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.
  4. Fill a glass or small bowl with water and keep at your work area.
  5. Place 6 pastry discs on a work surface. To prevent the pastry from sticking to your work surface keep the paper divider under the empanada pastry.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each disc. Dab your finger in the water and paint the edge of one pastry with water. Bring the two sides together by picking up the center points of the top and bottom of the pastry circle making a half moon shape. Starting at the center, pinch the edges together and move your fingers down both sides, pinching along the way to seal the edges.
  7. Lay the empanada flat on the work surface and run your fingers over the mounded part of the pastry to work out any air around the filling. Press down to secure the edges. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.
  8. Place the empanada on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and continue until all the filling is used up. Loosely drape the assembled empanadas with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, so they do not dry out.
  9. Each sheet pan holds about 12 empanadas. When one sheet pan reaches capacity, loosely cover the empanadas with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Continue assembling the remaining empanadas and refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  10. Remove the empanadas from the refrigerator and baste each empanada with an egg yolk and water wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the sheet pans front to back and top to bottom, half way through. The empanadas are done when they have a nice golden brown color and slightly darker around the edges.
  11. Do ahead note: Unbaked empanadas will keep for 3 months in the freezer. Freeze them on a sheet pan until they are frozen solid, then transfer them into freezer bags and keep in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

Goya makes puff pastry dough for turnovers/empanadas. They are found in the freezer section of your grocery store with other Goya products. This product should not be confused with puff pastry dough found in the dessert freezer section of the store.

Nutrition Facts
Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas
Amount Per Serving (2 g)
Calories 0
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Purée of Vegetable Soup

Puree of Vegetable Soup, recipe.

Oh baby it’s cold outside and nothing warms up a numb body better than a steaming hot bowl of soup. Purée of vegetable soup is an easy recipe made with ingredients typically found in a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. Canned tomatoes, canned or fresh cannellini beans, onions, carrots and celery make up the foundation for this hearty soup. The additional ingredients, like herbs, spices and other vegetables, add extra body and flavor for a bright tasting vegetable soup with great depth of flavor.

Puree of Vegetable Soup, recipe.

Puree of Vegetable Soup recipe.

My original intention was to create a hearty tomato soup recipe. I love tomato soup, especially when paired with a grilled cheese sandwich. Essentially, I did develop a tomato soup, but one with a blended flavor of tomatoes, aromatics and legumes. As a result, compared to a traditional tomato soup, the tomato flavor is less pronounced. I found the generous amount of mixed vegetables softens the tomato flavor, creating a hearty and fresh tasting blend of garden delights.

Puree of Vegetable Soup, recipe.

I love living where there are four distinct seasons, but during this dark and chilly winter, I sometimes need a reminder of the sunny and warm days to come. These short days with harsh and biting temperatures can make a person feel sad and extra hungry. Do you find your appetite increases during the winter? Mine does. I believe the body needs extra calories to maintain a normal body temperature. That is my theory but some scientists disagree.

If you find you are always craving something extra during the winter, instead of reaching for a bunch of crackers, or cookies, make a bowl of vegetable soup. Not only will it provide sustenance and warm you up, the bright color and taste will lighten your winter mood and give hope for the spring days to come.

Puree of Vegetable Soup, recipe.

Warming winter foods:

Swedish meatballs

Beef stew with Horseradish Sauce

Cod Braised in Tomato Saffron Broth

Puree of Vegetable Soup, recipe.

Purée of Vegetable Soup

This is a fresh tasting and hearty soup perfect for cold fall and winter days. It is an easy and delicious soup made with canned tomatoes, canned white beans, onion, celery, and carrots. I also added fennel bulb for a brighter flavor. If you prefer, substitute it with roasted red pepper or any leafy green vegetable you wish. Also, any canned or fresh white bean works with this recipe. If you are using canned beans, make sure they are the low or no salt variety. Homemade stock is preferred, but low-salt store bought stock will work just fine. You can also use chicken stock if you are not making this a vegetarian meal. Fresh herbs like thyme, basil or tarragon are nice additions as well. Add the thyme instead of the Herbs of Provence, and the fresh basil or tarragon after the soup is puréed.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 7 cups
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion (about 9 oz / 254 g), minced
  • 3 celery stalks about 8 oz /223 g, minced
  • 2 carrots about 6 oz/ 165 g, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 fennel bulb about 7 oz / 219 g, minced (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup 60 ml dry white wine
  • 1- 28 oz can 800 g whole peeled tomatoes in purée
  • 1- 15 oz can 425 g cannellini beans
  • 2 1/2 cups 625 ml vegetable broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Garnish

  • 2 TB raisins
  • 2 TB chopped walnuts
  • 2 TB chopped celery leaves
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • Small pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the minced onion, celery, carrots and bay leaf. Cook the vegetables until they begin to get soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. While cooking occasionally stir the vegetables so they don't brown or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  2. Add the fennel and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  3. Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes, cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, about one minute.
  4. Add the white wine and cook until almost evaporated.
  5. Cut up the tomatoes into 3-4 irregular size pieces and add them and their juices to the vegetables. Add the vegetable stock and cannellini beans. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft. Taste the soup after 7 minutes and correct the seasoning with more Kosher salt and or fresh ground black pepper.
  6. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
  7. Purée the soup with a blender or an immersion blender, until smooth or to your desired consistency.
  8. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and black pepper.
  9. Garnish with croutons, your favorite garnish, or the celery raisin walnut garnish.

Garnish

  1. Put all the ingredients into a small bowl and mix together. Taste and correct the seasoning. Let the garnish sit for 15 minutes before serving. Serve room temperature with the soup.

Recipe Notes

You can make this soup any consistency you like. If you do not own a blender or food processor, keep it chunky. Add more stock to thin it out if you think it needs it.
To make it smooth with chunks of vegetables, strain out about 2 cups (500 ml) of the cooked vegetables from the soup before you purée it. Once the soup is puréed to your desired consistency, add the mixed vegetables back in.

For more pronounced tomato flavor, add a tablespoon of tomato paste to the pot of cooked vegetables before you add the tomatoes and other liquid ingredients. You may need more stock to thin out the consistency.

Nutrition Facts
Purée of Vegetable Soup
Amount Per Serving (1.5 g)
Calories 0
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Puree of Vegetable Soup, an easy recipe with bright fresh vegetable flavor.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Late Summer and Fall

Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.

In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.

I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed.  Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes

Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise.

What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes

Muhammara and Artichoke Tapenade

A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.

Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas with recipes

Fruit salad with watermelon, nectarines, herbs, and a spicy lemon honey dressing.

I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.

For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.

Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal Cookies reicpe

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.

If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall and recipes

Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :

If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.

Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches,  fruit salad,  and packing for the morning of. 

Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight  and easy to stuff into a pocket.

Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on. 

Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.

Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.

Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.

If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Smoked Mozzarella, Avocado, and Basil Mayonnaise

Included are three recipes that are perfect for an afternoon lunch or light supper picnic. Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Smoked Mozzarella, Avocado and Basil Mayonnaise. The other recipe is the Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad with Spicy Honey Lemon Dressing. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped. The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make. Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size. For the tapenade or dip, and dessert- click on recipe links in blog post. Enjoy your picnic.
Servings 4 servings
Author Ginger

Ingredients

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Grilled Chicken - Prepare the day before

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts 1.5 lbs / 750 g
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp of onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

  • 8 slices of good quality bread
  • About 1/2 cup 125 ml basil mayo
  • Grilled chicken sliced thin across the grain
  • About 4 oz 125 g of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
  • Arugula

Basil Mayonnaise

  • 1- part mayonnaise
  • 1- part basil sauce*

Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing

  • 1/4 Seedless watermelon cut into big bite size chunks
  • 3 ripe nectarines sliced into thin wedges
  • Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
  • Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
  • About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp ground chili pepper

Instructions

Grilled Chicken

  1. The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
  3. Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it.
  4. Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Heat the pan to medium high.
  5. When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down at a diagonal to get nice grill marks. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn over to the other side and repeat. If the chicken is not done cooking move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done. About 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.

Assemble the Sandwiches

  1. Smear and good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack in an insulated bag with a cool pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.

Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad

  1. Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
  2. Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with dressing.

Recipe Notes

To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise with 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.

My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups of basil leaves, 1 cup arugula or spinach leaves, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with an additional layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.

Where is your favorite place to picnic? Please share in the comment section below.

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