Packing a picnic lunch can be as easy as a trip to the deli for cheese and charcuterie, but including some cold dishes, including hand-held Italian calzones, seafood salad rolls and savoury corn pancakes with smoked salmon takes your al fresco meal up a notch.
HAND PIES (CALZONES)
This is my version of a classic Italian calzone. You can make your own bread dough or start with frozen dough from the supermarket (I used Knead to Bake frozen bread dough, from Armstrong, BC, and found their frozen rolls perfectly sized for making an individual calzone.) This recipe is flexible — carnivores can augment these vegetarian pies with cooked chicken, slivered prosciutto, Italian sausage, chopped ham or salami. Calzones are delicious cold (like cold pizza) and make great portable lunches for hiking or cycling because they don’t get squished in your pack.
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large red pepper, seeded and slivered
1 small chili pepper, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 sundried tomatoes, soaked in warm water to rehydrate, then drained and chopped
2 ounces crumbled feta or 2 ounces shredded Parmesan
1 cup ricotta (or cottage cheese)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or three cheese Italian mix
1 14-ounce (398 ml) can artichokes, drained and chopped
1/3 cup chopped black olives
2 loaves frozen bread dough, or frozen bread rolls, thawed
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat and slowly cook the onions until caramelized and golden, about 30 minutes.
Add the red pepper and chili pepper and cook for about 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in the garlic and cook 3 minutes longer. Remove the sautéed vegetables from heat and stir in the basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and sundried tomatoes. Set aside the filling to cool slightly, then stir in the feta or Parmesan, ricotta, artichokes and olives.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut each loaf of bread dough into 6-8 equal pieces. On a floured board, roll each piece into a 5-inch (12-cm) circle (alternatively use individual thawed frozen rolls). Wet the edges. Fill with 2-3 tablespoons of filling, fold the dough over top and press well to seal, then roll edge and crimp again. Brush the calzones with milk and poke them with a fork to allow steam to escape during baking.
Set the calzones on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake for 20 minutes, until brown. Cool on a rack. Refrigerate or freeze. Makes 12-16.
A new take on tabouli — with protein-rich quinoa and added chickpeas, this portable salad makes a cool summer meal.
3 cups water or broth
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 cup chopped grape tomatoes
1 cup finely diced baby (mini) cucumbers
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint (optional)
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
1 small can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon salt
In a saucepan, combine quinoa and water (or broth) and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for another 5 minutes (the quinoa will be al dente). For softer quinoa, leave it covered for 10 minutes before you remove the lid and fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Transfer to a bowl.
For dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pour over the warm quinoa, tossing to season the grain.
Add the chopped tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, mint, green onions, and chickpeas and toss to combine. Cover salad and chill. Serves 4.
SEAFOOD SALAD ROLLS
Salad rolls make light, gluten-free picnic fare — feel free to use the seafood you prefer, cooked shrimp is classic, or substitute crab meat, lobster, salmon lox or cold smoked tuna. Find rice paper wrappers in Asian food markets.
½ pound (250 g) cooked medium shrimp, crab meat, or cold smoked salmon or tuna
2 oz. (60 g) rice vermicelli noodles
16 dried rice paper wrappers (about 8 inch diameter)
2 large carrots
2 mini English cucumbers
4 large green onions
2 cups shredded romaine or butter lettuce
shredded Thai basil or cilantro leaves
¼ cup natural peanut butter (all nuts, no sugar)
1 teaspoon Asian hot chili paste (sambal oelek) or sriracha
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
1 tablespoon lime juice or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
Cook the rice vermicelli in a large pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes, until tender, then drain and rinse in cold water to chill. Drain well and cut into 3-inch lengths using kitchen shears.
Cut the carrots into thin julienne strips (batons), about 2-3 inches long. Use a mandoline to make the finest strips, or a vegetable spiralizer. Cut the cucumbers the same way, discarding any excess seeds in the centre. Wash green onions well, then slice lengthwise into strips before cutting into 2-3-inch slivers. Halve the shrimp lengthwise if large (if using lox or smoked tuna, cut into strips).
To assemble the salad rolls, quickly dip a piece of rice paper into warm water to soften (work with one piece at a time). Set the softened rice paper on a clean kitchen towel. Arrange two or three pieces of shrimp along the lower half of the rice paper and arrange some cooked rice noodles, carrots, cucumber, green onion, lettuce, and herbs on top. Fold the sides over the filling and roll up tightly. The rice paper will stick to itself and seal the roll. Place rolls on a plate as you assemble them, and cover with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out and getting too chewy.
Continue soaking and rolling until all of the filling is used up. Cover the rolls with a damp paper towel and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate (for up to a few hours) if you’re not serving them right away.
Meanwhile, whisk all ingredients for the peanut sauce together until smooth and place in a small bowl for dipping.
To serve the rolls, use a sharp knife to cut across each roll diagonally and arrange standing up on a plate. Makes 16 rolls (32 pieces).
CORN AND CHILI PEPPER PANCAKES WITH SMOKED SALMON AND HORSERADISH MAYO
Serve these savoury corn and chile pepper pancakes as bite-sized snacks, topped with horseradish mayo and smoked fish. You can also make them larger for a light meal, topped with sour cream and fresh salsa, or as a side dish for grilled chicken or fish.
6 ounces (180 g) cold-smoked trout or salmon, sliced paper thin
3 ears fresh corn (or 1.5 cups frozen sweet corn kernels, thawed) 2 small jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped 6 green onions, chopped 2 eggs 1 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup cornmeal 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt 1 cup milk 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons (25 mL) canola oil
1/3 cup light mayonnaise 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, drained
1 teaspoon wasabi powder freshly ground black pepper 1 green onion, minced
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add corn. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Cool corn and cut kernels from cobs. You should have about 2 cups (500 mL). Set aside. Otherwise simply thaw the frozen corn.
Place corn kernels in a bowl with jalapeño, chipotle, red pepper, garlic, and green onions.
In food processor, combine eggs, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, milk, and yogurt and whirl until smooth. Add vegetables and pulse just to mix. Stir in cilantro and black pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
To make horseradish mayo, whisk mayonnaise and horseradish until smooth. Add wasabi and mix to combine well. Season with a little black pepper and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Pour in batter to make pancakes 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) in diameter for cocktails (or larger if serving as a side dish). Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.
Cool and refrigerate pancakes and mayo. To serve, place a dollop of horseradish cream on each pancake, and a rolled piece of smoked salmon or tuna. Take the components to your picnic site separately, and let guests top their own pancakes. Serves 6-8.
This is your classic home-style brownie— chewy, nutty, and addictive. I like to use a silicon mini muffin or square mold for individual brownies, but you can also make these in a regular 9- x 13-inch (3.5-L) baking pan.
1 cup unsalted butter 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar 4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 cup all-purpose flour 1⁄2 teaspoon salt ¾ cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
Grease a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with butter, or use a silicon mini-muffin pan.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until its half melted. Add the chocolate and stir until both are completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Let the mixture cool (should be warm, not hot). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating with a whisk until the mixture is shiny. Stir in the vanilla, flour, salt, and chopped nuts to make a thick batter.
Pour into a prepared pan and bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes (about 12-15 minutes for mini muffins). A cake tester inserted in the middle of the pan should come out almost clean but with moist crumbs (you want to underbake brownies slightly for a chewy interior). Cool completely in the pan before cutting into small squares. Makes 36 to 42 pieces.