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A Carefree Picnic

by Lou Seibert Pappas

Almost any time of year calls for a carefree picnic, with salads made ahead in the cool of the day. One of these individual dishes is also excellent for any potluck gathering. The pizza is good warm or tepid. Plan to pick up two or three crusty country-style breads or bake some focaccia. Tote some fruity olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, blended in equal parts, to enjoy dipping the bread in the marinade. Depending on the number of family or friends involved, the menu can be as simple or as complex as you wish. For a handful of diners, you may want to prepare just one or two salads. For a dozen or more guests, you can make the entire menu.

For beverages, bring some mineral waters and some affordable red or white wines: a 1994 Concho y Toro Chile Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1994 Louis Martini North Coast Merlot, or a 1995 Arciero Paso Robles Chardonnay. Or for a summer outing, try a 1996 Sanford Pinot Noir-Vin Gris or a 1995 Oregon King Estate Pinot Gris.

Tri-Color Salad
makes 6 servings

large beefsteak tomatoes
2 ounces Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 dozen fresh basil leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons each olive oil and red wine vinegar

Peel and slice the tomatoes and arrange on a platter. Overlap the cheese slices and cluster the basil in the center. Grind the salt and pepper to taste over all and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.

Green Lentils Balsamic
Makes 10 to 12 servings

2 cups French green lentils
3-3/4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup minced red onion

In a saucepot, bring the lentils and water to a boil with salt and pepper, thyme, and onion, and cover and simmer 25 minutes or until al dente. Add the red wine vinegar and boil down until juices are reduced. Let cool. Mix together the Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and onion and pour over. Chill several hours or up to 3 days.

Eggplant Summer Salad
Makes 8 servings

2 medium-sized eggplant
1 red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons wine vinegar or part Balsamic vinegar
1 stalk fennel or celery, chopped
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons minced basil and basil leaves

Cut the eggplant into chunks, sprinkle with salt, and let stand 30 minutes; rinse under cold water and pat dry. In a saucepot, saut» the onions in oil with the eggplant, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, and fennel and cook uncovered 10 minutes so juices evaporate; it should be crunchy. Add the capers and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill several hours, toss with minced basil, and top with basil leaves. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, if desired.

Zucchini Frittata
Makes 8 servings

5 zucchini or yellow squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot or green onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded Jarlsberg cheese
1 tablespoon each minced fresh oregano and basil
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Trim the squash and cut into julienne. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and set aside to drain 20 minutes; rinse and pat dry. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 9-inch skillet and saut» the squash until light golden brown, about 8 minutes; drain on towels. Heat 1 teaspoon of the remaining oil and saut» the shallots and garlic until soft, add the tomatoes and heat through; set aside. Whisk the eggs, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Heat the remaining oil and spread the zucchini over the bottom of the pan. Pour in the egg mixture and cook until set. Top with tomato mixture, Jarlsberg, and herbs. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

Crispy Roman Pizzas
Makes one 10-inch pizza with enough dough for 3 more pizzas
Ristorante Parseille, a neighborhood trattoria near the Borghese Gardens in Rome, serves crispy discs of platter-size pizza with a dozen different toppings. This light-style pizza makes an addictive entree and one that can be varied in impromptu fashion since the dough keeps refrigerated for several days.

3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 each yellow and zucchini squash, thinly sliced
6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 ounces Mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Few sprigs basil

For the dough, place the water in a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast and sugar. Let stand until dissolved and puffy, about 10 minutes. Mix in 1 cup of the flour, the salt, egg, and oil. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix until the dough clings together in a ball. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead a few times until the dough is no longer sticky. Place in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise until the dough is doubled in size, about 1 hour. Gently remove dough from the bowl and cut into 4 equal sections. Use immediately or wrap each piece loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Farenheit. Roll out each piece of dough into a 10-inch disc and place on a pizza peel generously sprinkled with cornmeal or on a greased pizza pan. Or without a peel, place on an oiled sheet of foil to slip directly onto a hot stone in the oven.

Meanwhile, in a skillet heat the oil and saut» the onion until soft, push to the sides of the pan and saut» the squash 2 minutes; add mushrooms and heat through. Place on the dough with the sliced tomatoes; cover with Mozzarella or Jack cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes or until the crust is crispy and browned. Sprinkle with grated cheese and basil.

Variation: In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil and saut» 2 shallots, chopped, until limp. Add 1/8 pound mushrooms and saut» until glazed. Spoon over the dough and top with 2 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto and 2 ounces thinly sliced Mozzarella. Bake as directed. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan and fresh basil or oregano leaves.

Lemon Anise Biscotti
Makes about 3-1/2 to 4 dozen

1 tablespoon anise seeds
2 tablespoons Sambucca liqueur or Pernod
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Place the anise seeds in a small microwave-safe bowl. Add 1 tablespoon liqueur and microwave on high for 10 to 15 seconds, or until steaming. Set aside. In a mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and beat in the eggs and lemon zest, beating until smooth. Mix in the anise seed with the liqueur and the remaining 1 tablespoon liqueur. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix in, mixing just until blended. Mix in the nuts.

Divide the dough in half. On a greased and floured baking sheet or a pan lined with parchment paper, pat out into two logs about 1/2-inch high, 1-1/2 inches wide and 14 inches long, spacing at least 2 inches apart. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool for 5 to 8 minutes, then slice with a serrated knife at a 45 degree angle about 3/8-inch thick. Lay the slices down on the baking sheet and return to a 300 degrees F oven for 15 minutes longer to dry slightly, turning them once. Let cool on a rack. Store in a tightly covered container.

Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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