Pack your summer picnic baskets with luscious produce

“And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days; Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune, And over it softly her warm ear lays.” — James Russell Lowell

June has gifted us with day after day of absolutely stunning weather this year. Bright sunshine, low humidity and cool nighttime temperatures have helped to ease the strain of the current world conditions.

During these days of social distancing, making plans to enjoy the great outdoors is more vital than ever. What better way to capture summer’s splendor than a picnic? Whether you find respite under the shade of a magnificent tree, spread a blanket on a sandy beach, or enjoy your own patio or yard, dining “en plein air” is a delightful diversion.

Simplicity is key for a pleasant picnic. With farm markets opening, stock up on fresh fruits, berries and veggies for the picnic basket. Luscious, seasonal asparagus can be lightly grilled, steamed or roasted, then spritzed with fresh lemon juice and adorned with fresh parmesan cheese shavings for a light and lovely picnic lunch that packs easily. Freshly picked asparagus can also be served raw. Shave each stalk using a vegetable peeler, into long strips and dress with olive oil, rice vinegar, salt and pepper. Embellish at will with goat or feta cheese, pine nuts or almonds and plenty of minced herbs.

Fresh herbs perk up picnic recipes and eliminate the need for excess sodium. Chives will add a slightly sharp bite to potato, egg or pasta salads, as well as a nice little nip of flavor to deviled eggs. Poach a piece of salmon and nap it with a creamy dill sauce for an elegant picnic entree. Cilantro and Thai basil elevate rice noodle salads, and the snappy tang of fresh parsley is just the right addition to grain bowls. Fresh basil with ripe tomatoes is a classic combination. For something sweet, pack fresh berries, such as native strawberries, blueberries or raspberries, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with honey.

If your picnic involves grilling, use sturdy rosemary to imbue vegetables, meat and fish with Mediterranean flavor and flair. Marinate chunks of lamb, beef or chicken with fresh rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Let rest for several hours, then grill as desired.

Have picnic supplies at the ready to take advantage of gorgeous weather. Stash a small roll of garbage bags, hand sanitizer, salt and pepper packets, a small cutting board and knife, bug spray, sunscreen and a blanket in your picnic basket. Keep small ice packs in the freezer. Gather your food and drink and enjoy the healthy benefits of picnicking all summer long.

What better way to prepare a delicious life?!

Perfect Picnic Veggies

Served 4-6

2 medium size eggplant

1 medium zucchini

1 medium summer squash

1 pound thick asparagus spears

3-4 colored sweet peppers

2 large sweet onions

1 bunch each parsley, dill, basil and cilantro (washed and finely chopped) (substitute your favorite herbs)

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and trim all the vegetables. Cut eggplant, squashes, peppers and onions into 1/3 inch thick slices. Snap ends off asparagus. Place vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and toss until shiny and well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Prepare a medium hot fire in a grill. Be sure the grill rack is clean and well oiled. Grill vegetables 3-4 minutes on each side, or until just beginning to soften. Remove from the grill when cooked to desired tenderness and place in a container. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter all the chopped herbs over them.

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread and fresh mozzarella cheese.

Vegetables can also be roasted in a 375 degree oven until softened and browned on the edges. Test with a fork for tenderness.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.