Picnic on The Green

Every summer in Charlotte there are a zillion events to attend outdoors, and the ones that don’t revolve directly around food and drink tend to welcome them. The opportunities to picnic – they are plentiful.

Voltron from The Green

Which makes me happy, beyond measure, as I have always loved a good picnic. When I was a teen, my little sister & I used to take snacks, books and my mancala board over behind the VFW by our parent’s house, and sit under the big tree for hours reading, playing games and hiding from our brothers.

As an adult, I have rejoiced in the simplicity of bread, cheese, fruit & wine at summer symphonies, fireworks, plays and outdoor movies. I have relished fried chicken and sides from Price’s Chicken on picnic blankets in Freedom Park or Latte Park. I served many a dinner from a picnic basket or plastic & Pyrex containers over the years, and many of my friends often potluck meals this way – a fantastic joy. One made extra special when good friends like Sarah remembered my coconut allergy and made me spring rolls without coconut oil, so I could have some too. A joy I rarely get to partake in now, because of my allergies (though that is part of why I write these recipes, in hopes that might change).¬†Continuing to enjoy activities like these has meant rewriting the recipe book to include safe foods that can withstand the Southern weather & won’t clobber my immune system.

Each June, The Charlotte Shakespeare Company puts on Shakespeare on the Green, and I’ve never missed a production in the 6 1/2 years I lived here, I wasn’t about to miss this very fun version of The Tempest.

Ariel playing with the shipwrecked Queen & Co.

So, on Sunday afternoon of the last show (I had already seen it once and was going again) I stood in the kitchen, pondering my pantry & fridge for picnic possibilities and produced this delish trio of tasty: Strawberry basil & goat cheese salad, black bean & corn pasta salad, and some raw broccoli & cauliflower.

Simple salads make easy picnic prep.

I assume you all know how to take broccoli & cauliflower and cut it up into pieces, so I’m only including the recipes for the first two.

fresh strawberries with basil & goat cheese

Strawberry Basil & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves: as many as you like

2 parts fresh strawberries (I used local, organic ones – strawberries should be organic when possible, they soak up pesticides like mad)
1 part goat cheese (Trader Joe’s goat cheddar is pictured, but a soft goat cheese works too)
A small handful of fresh basil leaves (I also used Trader Joe’s organic here.)

De-stem & dice (cut up into tiny bits) the strawberries. Then cup up the goat cheese into pieces the same size as the strawberry chunks. (See picture for a general reference; I went fairly small.) Toss together.

Take basil leaves & chiffonade. (Wondering what the hell chiffonade means? Stack the leaves on top of each other, roll them into a tube, then thinly slice to get slivers of basil.) Toss with cheese & strawberries.

Refrigerate until time to go. If traveling far, or it will be sitting out, I’d ice – diary + heat = bad stuff. Otherwise, serve as a first course.

Black Bean & Corn Pasta Salad
Serves: as many as you like
This be one of those meals where you have wing it a little. Feel free to ask questions if you need to. I’m here to help.

1 part pasta of choice (pictured is quinoa pasta shells)
1 part black beans
1 part corn (I used Trader Joe’s Organic frozen corn)
Olive oil

Seasonings to taste:
Salt, pepper, cumin & thyme

Parts are based on DRY measurement, not cooked pasta.

Prep pasta according to directions. When it’s done drain, do not rinse, coat lightly with olive oil and add corn directly to the pasta. (If using canned corn, drain first, duh.) No matter whether using frozen or canned or fresh, the residual heat from pasta (and beans when we add them) will cook the corn enough to make it soft enough to eat but still crunchy.

When I could eat beans, I kept mostly cooked black beans in the fridge that I had prepped from dried – you can use your preferred canned black bean. I suggest something unseasoned, however, adjust accordingly if using preseasoned. However you are coming by your beans, heat them, mostly drained in a sauce pan with salt, pepper, cumin & thyme. When heated through, add to pasta & corn. If done before pasta feel free to add the corn to this after removing it from the heat.

Toss it all together, add additional seasoning if needed, refrigerate until time to leave.

~ Should you not be allergic, this is a good place for onion or garlic.
~ If you want to get fancy, you can roast your cumin & pepper first, the add beans.
~ Yes, fine, you could add cheese. I didn’t, because this was the main course and would be sitting out. See above about dairy + heat.
~ You could use a different bean if you prefer. Pinto, garbanzo, or white beans could be nice.
~ Feel free to use whatever pasta/shape you like. I prefer fusulli personally, but shells is what I had.

Go, enjoy, picnic, and tell me what you think! What variations will you be trying?