Picnic At The Pops

The Charlotte Symphony Pops In The Park series concluded July 3 after a resounding success both in performance and fund raising. The financially strapped orchestra raised nearly $150,000 this season from patrons eager to pay the small suggested donation. In addition to doing my part monetarily, I also contributed to my favorite summertime activity by introducing "newbies" to four of the symphony concerts. I hope they, in turn, will continue to populate the lawn each summer with friends and more friends.

Not only did I show up with new people in tow, each week also brought new and exciting picnic fare. Simplicity was the key for each of the concerts so that I could enjoy the day doing other things and not be stuck in the kitchen prepping and cleaning. Rosemary Flatbread with Bleu Cheese, Grapes and Honey from Food and Wine magazine was a delicious combination of sweet and savory and considering that I'm not a huge fan of bleu cheese, that's a pretty bold statement. I'm fully aware that all of these components compliment each other but it would never have occured to me to combine them in this manner. While this was quick and easy to put together, it does require a bit of planning in order to make the dough and let it rise.

If you're in the mood for something a little more substantial, then no doubt this overstuffed
muffuletta sandwich will fill the void. Another simple and delicious snack to pull together but again, forethought is required. The olive tapenade needs to be made at least a day in advance so the flavors can meld and the longer the assembled sandwich sits, the better it tastes ~ perfect for a picnic because it won't get soggy. Tangy and spicy, this hearty sandwich is not for the faint of heart!

Insalata Caprese is probably one of the most elegant things you can prepare for a picnic. Thick sliced heirloom tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil all drizzled with first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Amore mio! Of course, I do have to admit that I don't keep the dish true to its Neapolitan roots because I also add a dash of balsamic vinegar and some coarsely ground sea salt. It is imperative to use the best of fresh, home grown tomatoes and basil ~ do not refrigerate either of them prior to making the salad or even after assembly or else the flavors will diminish ~ and make sure you choose a very good fresh mozzarella and not the rubbery stuff that is so common in the grocery stores. Mozzarella di Bufala is ideal but sometimes hard to find so a good fresh cow's milk cheese will work just as well. Each and every item in this salad is showcased so it is important to use quality, fresh, and expensive.

My coveted picnic backpack is neatly store away until next summer but in the meantime, I hope you enoy these recipes and enjoy the summer!

Muffuletta Sandwiches

1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, crushed
1/2 cup drained kalamata olives, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped carrot
1/2 cup pepperoncini, drained
1/4 cup marinated cocktail onions
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 (1 pound) loaves Italian bread
8 ounces thinly sliced Genoa salami
8 ounces thinly sliced cooked ham
8 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
8 ounces sliced Provolone cheese

To Make Olive Salad: In a medium bowl, combine the green olives, kalamata olives, garlic, capers, celery, carrot, pepperoncini, cocktail onions, celery seed, oregano, basil, black pepper, vinegar, olive oil and canola oil. Mix together and transfer mixture into a glass jar (or other nonreactive container). If needed, pour in more oil to cover. Cover jar or container and refrigerate at least overnight.

To Make Sandwiches: Cut loaves of bread in half horizontally; hollow out some of the excess bread to make room for filling. Spread each piece of bread with equal amounts olive salad, including oil. Layer bottom of each loaf with 1/2 of the salami, ham, mozzarella and Provolone. Replace top on each loaf and cut sandwich into quarters.

Serve immediately, or wrap tightly and refrigerate for a few hours; this will allow for the flavors to mingle and the olive salad to soak into the bread.

Adapted from allrecipes.com

NOTES : Marinates overnight.


Rosemary Flatbread with Bleu Cheese, Grapes, and Honey

1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound red grapes (1 1/2 cups)
Coarse sea salt
3 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon snipped chives

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast and sugar with 1/4 cup of the flour. Stir in 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand until slightly foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, fine salt, pepper and the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of water; stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a draft-free spot until billowy and doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°. Place a pizza stone in the bottom of the oven, and preheat for at least 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press and stretch the dough into a 13-inch round, then transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel. Press the grapes into the dough and sprinkle with sea salt.
Slide the flatbread onto the hot stone and bake for about 12 minutes, until the crust is golden and the grapes have begun to release some of their juices. Sprinkle the bleu cheese on top and bake for about 2 minutes longer, until the cheese melts. Slide the flatbread onto a work surface and drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with the chives. Cut into wedges and serve.



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