August 19, 2009 | Sarasota, FL
By MARSHA FOTTLER
In this part of Florida, August is the ideal time to organize and host a picnic supper on the beach at twilight. Spread a blanket on the sand, unpack the cooler and invite the flavors of late summer to mingle with the sound of gently lapping waves and the sight of a plump orange sun lazily sinking beyond the horizon.
Because August is National Sandwich Month and the average American eats about 200 a year, putting a muffaletta sandwich on your picnic menu would be appropriate, says chef Larry Barrett, owner of Simply Gourmet catering in Sarasota.
He said this classic, round, New Orleans-signature sandwich made with olive tapanade and meats is a whole meal you can hold in your hands.
"But sandwiches are the obvious picnic food," said Barrett. "It's much more fun to plan a whole menu around a theme, such as Mediterranean or Asian, and go with it from appetizer to dessert. This elevates a beach picnic into a real party."
Barrett advises that you choose reusable plastic plates and utensils instead of paper, and select plates that are 7-inches instead of bigger ones. Smaller plates are easier for guests to handle. Make sure your blanket is thick enough (like a quilt) and serve courses in single-portion containers for each guest. The best beach picnic requires good planning and thoughtful packaging before you leave home.
"But, I always say be adventurous with the menu," Barrett adds.
"That's how you make a beach picnic memorable. Consider things like grilled flatbread with various toppings, Asian slaw, seafoods served in martini glasses, pasta salad with sun-dried tomato pesto, exotic fruit salads, or a cold soup, such as gazpacho. Frozen desserts, such as pitted cherries that you dip in cassis liquor, or frozen grapes rolled in sugar, work just fine and are totally refreshing. How about watermelon infused with a little vodka?"
For beverages, Barrett likes white sangria with seasonal fruit, mimosa cocktails, lemonade, Prosecco, ros� wines or grape juice with a splash of seltzer.
Bonni Brown, who owns and cooks at Bonni Bakes restaurant in Bradenton, agrees about investing picnic menus with authentic ethnic specialties.
She believes a successful beach picnic has all the elements of an imaginative home party with the extra luxury of a sand-and-surf ambience.
"For years, my husband and I stayed with friends during the summer on the Spanish island of Menorca, which is next to Majorca in the Baleares Islands off Barcelona," she said. "The coastline is a string of pristine white beaches where we often staged picnics. One beach was so remote that we had to get out of the car (after driving down a cow path) and open and close six wooden gates before arriving at a spectacular cove with no one else in sight. When I think of supper at the beach, I think of Menorca."
Brown said the food was prepared at home, packed up with frozen gel packs in insulated coolers and carried along with beach bags holding reusable plastic glasses, plates and silverware.
"Blankets served as our table, since most beaches didn't have picnic furniture," she remembered.
"We brought a few bottles of water and lots of delicious Spanish wines, both red and white. Sometimes it was chilled sangria or Spanish champagne, which in the 1980s was cheaper than imported bottled water.
"The entire meal was set out at one time and people grazed their way through it, much like tapas or a cocktail party."
Both Barrett and Brown stressed that keeping cold things properly chilled is a must for a successful beach picnic. They recommend packing food in air-tight containers and packing them close together with plenty of ice or gel packs. And they say you don't have to do everything yourself. "Get some of the food items from your favorite restaurant or caterer," said Barrett. "Bring your containers from home and have the professionals pack it up for you, because the host shouldn't have to do all the work, and should enjoy all the fun."
GAZPACHO SEVILLE/SEARED GARLIC SHRIMP
From Chef Larry Barrett at Simply Gourmet (serves 8)
10 ripe plum tomatoes (large dice)
1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes
1/2 medium onion (large dice)
1 cucumber (large dice)
1 green pepper (seeded/large dice)
6 cloves garlic
5 slices white bread/crusts removed
1 cup tomato juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in blender (except garnish). You might have to do this in several batches. Blend until smooth. Let chill overnight in refrigerator (this will meld the flavors and let the bread thicken the soup). If soup is too thick, thin with a little tomato juice.
12 large shrimp
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Kalamata olives for garnish
Peel and clean shrimp. Mix all ingredients in mixing bowl. Make sure shrimp are well coated with spices. Sear in hot saut� pan (don't over cook). Slice shrimp in half and garnish center of soup. Sprinkle diced black Kalamata olives for garnish. Serve in plastic cup so you can sip your soup.
BLUE CRAB/MANGO COCKTAIL
From Chef Larry Barrett
1 pound jumbo lump blue crab
1 ripe, but firm, mango (small dice)
1/2 red pepper
1/2 gold pepper
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated/chopped ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
A few drops of tabasco
1 ripe, firm avocado (small dice)
Mixed baby lettuces
Plastic martini glasses
Mix all ingredients (except garnishes). Be careful not to break up crab. Fill martini glasses with baby lettuces, and add avocado to crab.
Place crab mixture on lettuce. Garnish with tomatoes, lemon and lime. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and wedge into cooler.
GRILLED HERBED FLATBREAD
From Chef Larry Barrett
Good quality pita (flat) bread (no pocket)
Extra virgin olive oil
Brush bread well with olive oil. Grill on barbecue or cast-iron grill until score marks appear. Season with herbs and spices. Cut in sixths.
GAMBAS A LA PLANCHA
From Bonni Brown (serves 8)
Spaniards love to eat grilled shrimp. They're usually cooked with the heads on, which provides great flavor. If you're interested in a more delicate experience, headless shrimp are fine, but still cook them with the shells on. This is usually cooked on an outdoor grill. If you do it indoors, be prepared for your smoke alarm to go off.
3/4 cup regular olive oil
Juice of 1-1/2 lemons
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1-1/2 pounds large shrimp (2-2.5/per pound) in the shell
Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and salt in a bowl until well blended. Heat a dry skillet over high heat. Working in batches, dip some shrimp briefly into the olive oil mixture and lightly coat. Add those shrimp to the hot pan in a single layer without crowding. Sear for 1-1/2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over with tongs and sear for 2 more minutes, or until golden. Do not overcook! Peel the shrimp and remove vein on top while still warm so shells won't stick. Serve with caper aioli.
When taking to the beach, allow the cooked shrimp to cool completely on a rack. Layer flat in a freezer container, separating layers with plastic wrap. Pack between frozen gel packs in an insulated container. Keep cold until ready to eat.
1 small garlic clove, pureed
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup capers, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoon caper brine
1-1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
Put the garlic, mayonnaise, salt, olive oil, capers, caper brine and parsley in a bowl and mix well to combine. Chill for at least 1 hour for the flavors to blend. Serve as a dip with the grilled shrimp.
MENORCAN RED ONION AND ORANGE SALAD
From Bonni Brown (serves 8)
This classic salad pairing is found all over Spain, varying according to local tradition. When taking to the beach, prepare the individual salad ingredients as directed, pack separately into plastic bags and keep chilled.
1 large red onion, sliced thin
6 large naval oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
40 black olives, pitted
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water 10 minutes, drained
1/4 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
Sprigs of fresh mint for garnish
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, Spanish preferred
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Transfer into a plastic screw-top container to transport safely to the beach. To serve, arrange the orange slices concentrically then scatter the red onion rings over them.
Spoon the dressing over and sprinkle with the raisins, olives, sunflower seeds and almonds. Garnish with mint sprigs.