Perfect picnic recipes and picnic packing tips

Jul 24, 2009 at 8:15 p.m. ET

Finding a grassy lush spot under a generous shade tree to lay out a picnic spread is an anticipated summer event for couples and families and for those who simply want to get away and have some delicious outdoor dining time alone. It seems the most challenging aspect of planning a picnic isn't finding the idyllic location; it is actually determining the perfect picnic menu. Chef John Kurapatwa, executive chef of Italian restaurant Spigola Ristorante in Hamilton, New Jersey, shares tasty tips for packing your picnic basket and his favorite selection of summer picnic recipes.

Couple with Picnic Basket

Chef's tips for packing the perfect basket

Who better than a chef to suggest tasty picnic tips and recipes? Before you think you have to be an expert chef or culinary wiz to follow a chef's lead, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of Chef John Kurapatwa's picnic suggestions.

John Kurapatwa1. Keep the theme of the day in mind

Chef Kurapatwa advises, "If it is a romantic lunch for two, pack a CD of love songs and bite-sized foods to feed each other. If it is family outing, make sure to bring easy, fun things for the kids to eat and some games to entertain them."

2. Plan ahead and don't overpack

With 20 years of culinary experience, Chef Kurapatwa knows the importance of being prepared. "Planning ahead will allow you to pack only necessary items and help you resist the urge to keep adding things to your basket that you really don't need," he explains. "Bring the essentials including your favorite foods, some comfy pillows and a blanket."

3. Pack your items properly

"Make sure that wine bottles, and any other breakable items you bring, are packed securely and cushioned against breakage," says the executive chef. "Also, pack condiments, sauces, and liquids, such as dressings, securely in tupperware or other tight lidded containers. The last thing you want is a nasty spill ruining the rest of the items in your basket." Chef Kurapatwa also recommends using hot and cold packs to keep foods at their proper temperatures. Frozen beverages such as iced tea and lemonade make great ice packs.

4. Don't forget the clean up

Make sure you bring items such as wet naps, wipes, paper towels, and garbage bags to make cleaning up easy and manageable.

5. Pursue your personal tastes with wine and food pairings

"As a general rule, I think your personal tastes should come first with any wine pairing, but for a picnic, you should definitely chill whatever wine you choose, white or red," says Chef Kurapatwa.

He offers the following picnic pairings:

  • Rose wines and Reislings tend to have the broadest appeal, and go well with several different types of traditional picnic food - such as chicken, BBQ meats and even hot dogs.
  • Cheese and meat plates are well paired with a Cabernet or Beaujolais.
  • Fresh fruits like berries, peaches and nectaries would do nicely with a Chardonnay.

Perfect picnic recipes

Oftentimes the most challenging part of packing a perfect picnic is determining the menu for the outdoor occasion. In line with the cuisine he masterfully prepares at Spigola, Chef Kurapatwa shares his favorite Italian-inspired picnic recipes.

Grilled Chicken Italiano

Serves 4

4 (3-ounce) chicken breasts
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons melted butter
8 slices brioche bread
Sundried Tomato Basil Pesto (recipe follows)
8 ounces thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
Boston bibb lettuce (about 8 leaves)
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced

1. Preheat grill to medium high. Lightly coat chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill chicken approximately 4 minutes on each side. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the chicken, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Set chicken aside.

2. Mix the garlic powder and melted butter together. Brush the mixture onto the brioche and grill the bread for about a minute on each side. Be careful not to burn the bread by leaving it on too long, or using too much of the butter mixture.

3. Assemble the sandwich by spreading a tablespoon of the pesto on the bread. Layer the grilled chicken, and then the prosciutto on one slice. Top with 2 leaves of the lettuce and 2 slices of tomato. Finish with another slice of brioche.

Chef's note: For a picnic, pack all of the ingredients separately, and assemble the sandwich at the picnic site to ensure the best taste and avoid the sandwich becoming soggy.

Sun dried Tomato Basil Pesto

Makes about 3 cups

Delish as a spread for sandwiches, as a dipping sauce, or a dressing for salads and vegetables.

1 bunch fresh basil
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, rehydrated in warm water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese
2 cups extra virgin olive oil

1. Pick leaves off basil stems, and wash and dry the leaves. Place the basil in a food processor and add all other ingredients except the oil. Turn on the processor and blend together.

2. In a slow stream, add the oil while the processor is still running, until the mixture emulsifies. Transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate or keep cold until ready to use.

Italian Potato Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound white or red skin potatoes
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon oregano
4 ounces red onion, julienned
2 ounces chopped scallions

1. Wash potatoes and boil in salted water until fork tender. Let potatoes cool slightly, and cut into quarters. Set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, celery seed and oregano. Add the julienned red onion and scallions.

3. Pour the dressing over the reserved potatoes and toss well to coat. Chill overnight.

Fresh Fruit Crisp

Serves 8

For the topping:
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups light brown sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 peaches, peeled and sliced
2 pints fresh blueberries
2 pints fresh raspberries
4 plums, peeled and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour and sugars in a food processor, blending well to aerate and remove any lumps. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and add to flour and sugar. Pulse mixture just until it appears crumbly. Set aside.

2. For the filling, combine the sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add fruit and toss together gently. Pour fruit mixture into a 9x13-inch Pyrex or similar pan.

3. Top with the reserved topping and bake for 1 hour or until the crisp is bubbly and golden brown.

More picnic tips and recipes