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Thursday, June 29, 2017 12:01 am

Perfect picnics under the stars

Ashley Meyer

Greek-style green bean salad and Rosemary white bean dip (inset).

 

There is not much that I enjoy more than packing a picnic and curling up on a thick blanket to watch a show under the stars. Be it a movie in the park, a concert or community theatre, it’s a lovely way to spend an evening.  

Some of my favorite childhood memories of summer include making a warm tomato, basil and brie pasta salad with my older sister to take along on a trip to the Muni. Occasionally we would head up to the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park for a concert and my mother would always pack over-the-top, multi-course picnics and she would justify it by saying, “It’s Ravinia! People bring tablecloths and candelabras. This is normal.” I never saw any white linens or crystal and the candles were all citronella, but the picnics surrounding us did look divine. Mom’s picnic was definitely one of the most elaborate. She would make these amazing pressed sandwiches with roasted chicken and grilled vegetables on flatbread, minted melon skewers and smoked shrimp with remoulade. We’d stuff ourselves full, then stroll the festival grounds to get a look at the stage, or stretch out on a blanket and let the music wash over us.

The tradition continues, and my daughter now looks forward to each new season at our local Muni. My picnics are a little more low-key than my mother’s were, most of the time. Usually the basket is packed with some sort of summer vegetable salad, sliced salami, cheeses and crackers, cut fruit, veggies and dip and cookies. The more time and energy I have, the heavier the basket gets!

Rosemary White Bean Dip
• 1 can cannellini beans, drained and liquid reserved
• 1 clove garlic
• 2-3 T. olive oil
• 1 tsp. sherry vinegar  
• ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
• 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
• 1 T. fresh parsley, chopped
• Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth. Add reserved bean liquid as needed to achieve the right consistency. Serve with cut veggies or chips. Also makes a great sandwich spread.

Greek-Style Green Bean Salad
• 8 ounces trimmed green beans
• ½ red onion, sliced thin
• 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into ½-inch chunks
• 2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
• 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• Juice of 1 lemon
• ¼ tsp. each dried oregano, thyme and marjoram
• ¼ c. minced parsley  
• 3 T. olive oil
• ½ c. sliced pitted Kalamata olives (or more to taste)
• 5 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and have a bowl of ice water ready. Drop the green beans into the boiling water and boil for one minute, then quickly remove them and plunge into the ice water to stop them cooking and preserve their bright green color. Let them sit in the ice water for a couple of minutes, then remove them from the ice bath and spin them in a salad spinner or roll up in a towel. Combine the green beans with the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Brie
• 14 ounces campanelle pasta (bow tie or orrechiette work well too)
• 1 T. olive oil  
• 8 ounces brie cheese
• 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 2-3 large tomatoes, cut in 1-inch chunks
• ¼ c. thinly sliced basil
• 2 T. chopped parsley
• Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions (do not overcook!). While the water is coming to a boil, cut the cheese into smallish chunks. Mince the garlic and chop the tomatoes. It is important to have all these ingredients ready when the pasta is finished cooking. When the pasta is al dente, reserve ¼ cup pasta water, then drain it and immediately toss with the olive oil, then with the cubed cheese, garlic and pasta water. Mix gently to distribute the cheese (the heat of the pasta will melt the cheese and create its own sauce). Add the tomatoes and herbs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Contact Ashley Meyer at Ashley@realcuisine.net.

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