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Picnicking with class!

By Jean Louis L’Heureux

 

Issue #63 • May/June, 2000

Picnic weather has arrived and there's nothing like enjoying good food with family or friends in the scenic outdoors. I have several recipes that have made my outings classy occasions, and I include them here for you to try. They have been designed to achieve the ultimate appreciation of good food using unusual and sometimes expensive ingredients. If you cannot obtain some of the ingredients, or want to substitute a more reasonably priced item, feel free to do so. At times I suggest an alternate for you to use.

Vertical Roaster
Vertical Roaster

I recommend shopping on the Internet for the items that are hard to find in your local markets. Living in southern Oregon as I do, I often have this problem and have solved it by shopping the worldwide web.

Italian antipasto

This dish should be made several hours ahead, preferably the night before. The longer it marinates the better the flavor. I have marinated it for several days without any detrimental effect.

I have used some expensive Italian cold cuts in my recipe but have left room for you to substitute more common and less-expensive meats and cheeses.

Italian meatballs

Everyone has their favorite recipe for meatballs. This is mine. The addition of toasted pine nuts gives the meatballs a nice crunchy taste. If you are picnicking at home you can cook these meatballs in the oven for better control. Cook them on a baking sheet for 30 minutes or until they are done. To cook on the barbecue, place them inside an aluminum foil sealed pack, making sure you use two layers of foil. You may also use the new barbecue bags made by Reynold's. Remember to puncture the top of the pack to let the steam escape.

Olive oil

Olive oil is made by using the entire olive; the pulp, skin and even husk. Many years ago the oil was extracted by crushing by hand in spherical stone basins. Today, in a similar method, olives are crushed by mechanical stainless steel grindstones, and result in an olive paste. The paste is mixed with water, placed on circular hemp mats, stacked, and pressed. This "cold pressing" yields an olive liquid of oil and water which is later separated. It is the cold press method that enables olive oil to maintain its flavor, color and nutritional value. The majority of olive oil is now produced with only one pressing.

Olive oil is graded by its acidity level—Extra Virgin, which is the best grade, has an acidity level of less then 1% and is used mainly as a salad dressing or marinade. Virgin olive oil acidity is between 1% and 3%—is used for sauteing, stir frying and pasta sauces. Fino olive oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin oils. Olive oil (Pure) contain a combination of refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin oil. The new light olive oil does not mean low in calories but lighter in flavor—due to an extremely fine filtration process.

For the sauce, I would prepare it at home and transport it to the picnic site. I've included a good recipe for a tomato sauce to serve over the meatballs, but you may use your own favorite sauce.

To toast the pine nuts place them on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for approximately five minutes in a 400° F oven. Watch them carefully to prevent burning. Do not do anything else at this time. After about three minutes stir the nuts and turn the sheet around.

Chicken

Before you leave on your picnic, prepare the chicken marinade and put the chicken into a gallon-size plastic bag that has a sealable top. Pour in the marinade, shake well, and the chicken will be ready to barbecue when you arrive at the picnic grounds. Alternates: you may substitute regular oil for the olive oil, and minced onions for the green onions.

Roast chicken

You may purchase a special rack, called a vertical roaster, for roasting chicken on the barbecue. It's a wire rack in the shape of an upside-down funnel. Or you can prop the chicken up, with the opening of the body cavity down, on the grill. Into the body cavity (or the bottom of the wire rack if it doesn't have a built-in cup) place a small can filled about three quarters full with chicken broth (or beer) and one Tbsp. of the rub mixture. This will help flavor the chicken as it cooks. But if you do not use a vertical roaster with a built-in cup, be careful when removing the chicken to avoid burning yourself. One way is to slide a stiff metal spatula under the can and chicken to help you remove them together, while you grip the chicken with tongs. Make sure you have a dish right next to the chicken before you attempt to transfer it.

Steak

You can prepare the steaks with the peppercorn mixture before you leave for your picnic and place them in plastic bags to transport to the picnic area. I like to use Porterhouse or T-bone steaks, but you may of course choose less expensive cuts such as rib or sirloin steaks.

For the marinade I like to use a mixture of available peppercorns— black, white, red, green and whatever other kind I can find. To use peppercorns, place them into a pepper mill and grind them, or place them under the bottom of a pot and crush them by pushing with a sliding/banging motion. Press the marinade mixture into both sides of the steaks and put them in plastic bags to marinate on the way to your picnic.

Barbecued ribs

This is a simple recipe for baby-back ribs that you prepare by sprinkling salt and cumin on both sides of the ribs. Cook them on the barbecue on low heat (around 250° if you can control the temperature) for around 2 hours. After 45 minutes start basting the ribs with the barbecue sauce until they are done.

Happy picnicking!

 

Italian antipasto
Marinade:
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
½ tsp. dried rosemary
  
1 tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. hot pepper flakes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried basil
Antipasto:
3 large carrots, cut diagonally, into ¼-inch slices
1 large fennel bulb cut in ¼-inch slices
2 roasted red bell peppers
2 roasted yellow bell peppers
12-oz jar pepperoncini (Tuscan peppers), rinsed, and drained
¾ lb. black or green olives
¼ lb. sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained, cut into strips
¼ cup minced parsley leaves
¼ lb. of sliced cheese—provolone and mozzarella* cut into ¼-inch strips
1 lb. of assorted Italian cold cuts such as pepperoni, soppressata, capricola, etc.**
½ lb. Genoa salami
2 7-oz jars marinated artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
Make the marinade:

In a small bowl whisk together the garlic, vinegars, basil, rosemary, oregano, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Add oil in a stream, whisking until marinade is emulsified.

In a large saucepan of boiling water blanch the carrots and fennel for three to four minutes, or until al dente, drain, and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Let vegetables cool and drain well. In a large bowl toss together the carrots, fennel, roasted peppers, pepperoncini, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sliced meats & cheeses, artichoke hearts, marinade, parsley; chill well, covered. Transfer after chilling to a platter with fresh vegetables such as a bed of lettuce, cucumbers & tomatoes.

*Alternate: You can use your favorite American cheese or another type of cheese.

**Use whatever Italian cold cuts you can find or substitute your favorite cold-cuts—such as boiled/pressed ham, bologna, etc.

Italian Meatballs
Meatballs:
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 lb. sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
1 large egg
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. dried currants
Sauce:
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-oz. cans diced Italian tomatoes or regular tomatoes
  
1½ cups chopped onion
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Meatballs—Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix crumbs and milk in mixing bowl and let stand for a few minutes. Mix in Parmesan, onion, basil, egg, garlic, pepper, sausage, pine nuts and currants; blend well. Wet hands and form mixture into 1 inch balls. Place on sheet and bake until light brown and cooked through—approximately 30 minutes.

Sauce—Heat oil in heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté for approximately 8 minutes. until golden. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes with juices and 2 Tbsp. basil; bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thick, breaking up tomatoes—approximately 1 hour. Mix in 2 Tbsp. basil and season to taste with salt & pepper. Mix sauce with meatballs.

Roast chicken rub (for 4-5 lb. chicken)
¼ cup paprika (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
Mix all the ingredients of the rub and place into a covered jar for storage. This rub will store in the refrigerator for several months. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, blot dry. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the rub inside the cavity and all over the outside of the chicken. Place 1 tablespoon in the can you will insert into the chicken or wire rack with the can ¾ full of chicken broth or beer. The chicken should take a couple of hours to cook thoroughly. You will have to add some fresh briquettes after about an hour. To add a smoked flavor you can add presoaked wood chips to the coals before you start to cook and again after 1 hour.

Chicken
Marinade (per bag):
2 Tbsp. extra light olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1 green onion (minced)
2 boneless chicken breasts (4 halves) or 8 thighs or 4 leg quarters

The marinade recipe above is for each bag of chicken. If you want white meat only, you can put 4 half breasts in a bag, for dark meat, use 8 thighs or 4 leg quarters per bag. Of course you may mix white and dark meat.

Reserve 2 Tbsp. of marinade per recipe to sprinkle on cooked chicken just before serving. Do not use marinade that has had raw chicken in it to sprinkle on cooked chicken.

Steak
Marinade (for 2 steaks):
2 Tbsp. peppercorns, crushed
1½ Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1 Tbsp. dried
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 porterhouse or T-bone steaks
Alternates: Sirloin or rib-eye steaks

The marinade recipe above is for two steaks—increase or decrease the recipe in proportion to the number of steaks you use.

Mix marinade in a bowl and press the mixture into the steaks on both sides. Place into plastic bags and seal. This should be done before you leave or if you're in the backyard 30 minutes before cooking them.

Barbaque sauce
1 jar of your favorite barbecue sauce
Then add:
½ to 1 cup of orange juice (to thin out)
½ cup orange marmalade
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
Simmer until thickened and ready to use. If you have a barbecue with a side burner you can do it at the picnic site or put in on the side of the grill, otherwise do it at home and transport to the picnic area.



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