Take a break from hamburgers and potato salad with this summer picnic inspired by the French countryside. With this menu, we draw from the cuisine of Provence, with the emphasis on sun-ripened vegetables, seafood, fresh herbs and liberal helpings of olive oil. Traditional Provençal cuisine blends intense flavors and simple ingredients. The cheese course takes our taste buds through Normandy, the Loire, Burgundy, and the Auvergne.
Everything cam be prepared ahead and served chilled. A dry rosé from the Loire Valley or a Muscadet-Sēvres et Maine completes the virtual transformation of your patio into a picnic in a vineyard. As you savor these délices gourmands, close your eyes and imagine heavy clusters of grapes basking in the mid-day sun.
French Country Picnic
Tapenade on Toast, Radishes
Salmon with Fennel and Pernod
Camembert, Crottin de Chavignol, Morbier, Bleu d’Auvergne
Trio of Desserts
Tapenade on Toast, Fresh Radishes
Start with a platter of tapenade-covered croutons (the French version of crostini). Tapenade is a spread made from puréed or finely-chopped olives, capers, and olive oil. It is widely available pre-made in specialty markets and many grocers, or make your own with this recipe from Ina Garten.
Radishes with butter and salt are often served with aperitifs in France. As with anything so simple, the quality of the ingredients is important. These instructions, also from Ina Garten, will steer you in the right direction. Serve with the best baguettes you can find.
Salmon is one of those rare fish that is delicious either hot or cold. While poaching is the traditional way to prepare salmon that will be served chilled, baking also works, and it’s less fussy to make. This recipe from Bon Appetit’s 1999 special Provence edition calls for brushing a few tablespoons of Pernod, the anise-flavored aperitif, and herbes de Provence on top before baking. We skipped the onion mixture and used the Pernod mixture alone. It was the right choice.
Mary’s Uncle Charlie’s Ratatouille
We’ve sung the praises of Mary’s Uncle Charlie’s ratatouille before, for good reason. It’s an easy, straightforward, forgiving recipe that always turns out beautifully. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to cold salmon, or an omelet, or grilled sausages. Really, you can’t go wrong with ratatouille.
A Trio of Desserts
Why have only one dessert when you can have three (even if you are dining alone)? This trio offers something for everyone, keeping the Provençal theme going into the evening.
Verrines hit the French culinary scene about a decade ago, and more recently have been appearing at dinner parties in the rest of the world. A verrine is an appetizer or dessert presented in a small glass with several ingredients that are artfully layered. Color, texture, volume, and appearance are very important, as well as complementary flavors. Verrines are an easy way to create an impressive dessert with little effort. Here we mix seasonal berries—pictured here are strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries—and layer the with broken meringues, pistachios, and cream. It’s easy enough but a recipe to guide your way can be found here.
While not strictly Provençal, anything with lemons gets a free pass. We were inspired to make this when faced with a huge bunch of basil brought home from the farmers market. It couldn’t be easier because the base is a box of Trader Joe’s Meyer Lemon Cake Mix. Or you can make a vanilla cake and add some lemon juice and zest along with the chopped basil. It takes about an hour from opening the cake mix box to pulling it out of the oven. Make it early in the morning before the heat sets in. Recipe is here.
If you’d like to show off your French, it’s also called Gâteau de Beaumes de Venise aux Raisins. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a natural sweet fortified wine that has been made for centuries in the Southern Rhône Valley from the Muscat grape. It’s the central ingredient in this grape-filled cake—a novel way to showcase such a noble wine. The recipe first appeared in Bon Appetit’s special Provence edition in 1999. Finally, a way to eat your cake and drink it, too.
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