I have always loved picnics, even when the reality falls short of expectations. My romantic notions of dining al fresco, have survived numerous forays on windswept British beaches, with sand scouring our faces and invading the sandwiches. Enduring buzzing flies and angry wasps on a soggy river bank could not dampen my enthusiasm for eating in the great outdoors.
Occasionally there would be a magic moment when the setting and food aligned into something special. A summer road trip to the West Country saw our family of six pulled over on the roadside for an early lunch in the shadow of Stonehenge. Never mind that we had to dine half-in, half-out of the car to avoid the rain showers, or that my mother had to carve a roast chicken on her lap while juggling a fidgety three-year-old. It was pure bliss.
We were just hours away from the beaches of Cornwall, no major fights had broken out and the aforementioned chicken had crispy skin and was served with homemade potato salad.
The North Fork of Long Island has no ancient monoliths, but we do have long hot summers and plenty of inviting spots ideal for picnicking and lazing away a sunny afternoon. With a global pandemic disrupting our lives in summer 2020, socially-distanced outdoor gatherings are the safe and mandated way to celebrate.
Our menu for August is a two-dish meal that is robust enough to transport in a cooler and highlights the best of our local bounty. The tomato is the star of high summer, and this delicious tart is pretty to look at and contrasts the sweetness of the fruit with the salty, buttery topping. New season potatoes and crisp green beans, dressed with lemon, dill and garlic are made for each other. I often leave out the potatoes and serve the green beans, tossed warm with the dressing as a simple side for grilled meat or fish.
Wherever you are dining, be sure to keep it simple as we did. A beach towel doing duty as a tablecloth, thrown over a picnic table in the shade and the tart and salad served straight from the containers. Whether you’re dining at the shore, in the park or even your own backyard, have a wonderful summer and eat outdoors!
The Tomato Tart
The best quality ingredients make this simple dish shine. Use the ripest reddest tomatoes that you can find, freshly grated parmesan and just-picked basil.
Pre-baking the tart shell ensures that the crust will be thoroughly cooked. Resting the dough at several stages helps the fat to solidify after handling and hold its shape better. Lining the crust with parchment and then weighting with dried beans prevents the shell from bubbling up and collapsing during baking. If you plan on baking regularly, you can purchase reusable ceramic beans for this purpose. You will need a 10 inch tart pan with a removable base.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup plus two Tbsp chilled unsalted butter cut into small cubes
½ tsp salt
6 Tbsp iced water
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water, making sure it is evenly mixed. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and quickly shape into a round. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.
Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out to a 14-inch thin round (you will have extra left). Gently press the dough into the pan, trim the edges leaving a half inch overhang and fold this back on edge of the crust. Let the crust rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before moving on to the next stage. Lightly prick the base of the crust with a fork, line with a 12 inch circle of baking parchment and fill with dried beans. Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated 365 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment and set aside to cool.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese (use a micro plane grater if possible)
¼ tsp salt
3 large ripe local tomatoes sliced in rounds 1/3 inch thick
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped basil
Whole basil leaves to garnish
Lightly salt the tomato slices and place on a rack over a baking sheet for 15 minutes to drain. Place the flour, salt and butter in a bowl and blend with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in ½ cup parmesan. Line the tart base with ½ cup of the crumble mixture and sprinkle over the chopped basil. Place the tomato slices in a single layer over the crumble. Cut triangular sections from whole slices to fill in the spaces.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and cover with a thin layer of crumble. You should still be able to see some of the colorful tomatoes. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and place in a 365 degree oven for about 25 minutes.
Check after about 20 minutes. If the top is brown, remove from the oven early. Cool for at least 30 minutes on a rack. Remove the tart and base from the pan and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. If you plan to serve the next day, wrap thoroughly and place in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
Green Bean & Potato Salad
It is important that you make this salad with local farmstand green beans, garlic and new season’s potatoes. Fresh picked dill is non-negotiable. Be sure the green beans are super fresh and not tough. They should snap easily in the middle when you bend them. I use this flavorful lemon dressing on many of my summer salads. It is pairs well with arugula and lettuce, and a few tablespoons stirred into a bowl of cooked chickpeas is an excellent light meal. Be sure to add plenty of chopped fresh parsley and scallions and season well.
1 large fat clove local garlic, peeled (use two cloves if smaller)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Juice of half a lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Place the Dijon mustard and lemon juice in a bowl. Puree the garlic clove with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar or grate with a micro plane grater and add to bowl. Mix thoroughly, before slowly whisking in the olive oil. Add the sea salt to taste and set aside.
1 lb local green beans, trimmed
1 lb red and white local potatoes, scrubbed, with skins on
1 tsp wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender. Cool, before slicing into ½ inch rounds. Place in a bowl and toss with the wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and extra virgin olive oil. Have a bowl of iced water on hand before cooking the green beans. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the beans. Bring back to a low boil and cook for three minutes Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to the iced water to prevent them from cooking further.
When the beans are thorough chilled, arrange them on a double thickness of paper towels to remove excess water. Place the beans to a large bowl and fold in half of the dressing. Marinate for 15 minutes before adding the potatoes, scallions, dill and the rest of the dressing. Add salt and black pepper to taste and garnish with extra dill fronds. Wait for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow all of the flavors to develop. Keeps well for a couple of days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.