So when I found out that the challenge for the May 5-Star Makeover cooking group - led as ever by the lovely and talented Natasha of 5 Star Foodie and the prolific Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! - was to come up with a a gourmet version of picnic food, I immediately knew the direction I would take, if not the specific dishes I would make. I would create a lovely picnic that one would want to eat at a comfy table, in a garden, mere steps away from hot and cold running water. And that's exactly how Poppa Trix and I enjoyed this little feast. (You can have a picnic in your own backyard, right?)
To me, sandwiches are perfect picnic food, in that they are self contained bundles of goodness that need no silverware or special tools to eat. And one of my favorite sandwiches of all time is the New Orleans muffaletta, a masterpiece of Italian deli meats, cheese, olive salad, and round Italian bread.
Here's a 2007 shot of Poppa Trix and yours truly, enjoying a muffaletta at Central Grocery in NOLA ... some might say we're enjoying our sandwiches a little too much:
Putting it together is easy as pie (sorry, couldn't help it), and if you make extra crust you can throw together a full-size tart, as I did, and enjoy slices for lunch throughout the week. I began with a basic whole wheat olive oil crust - I doubled the recipe from Olive and Zucchini, and weighed all of my ingredients for accuracy. Doubling the recipe actually left me with enough crust for a future tart, so I froze the extra. Once you get the crust into your tartlet molds, place them in the fridge to rest for about 30 minutes. The olive oil crust doesn't get mushy with a wet filling, so there's no need for blind baking.
For the filling (just for the tartlets) you'll need 2 oz. each of: mortadella, capicola, Genoa salami, and provolone. At the deli, have them cut the meat and cheese into blocks so that you can cut them into a small dice when you get home. (And make sure to get extra for your big boy tart!) In addition, slice a big handful of green pimiento-stuffed olives. Evenly divide the ingredients among your tartlet shells:
But no muffaletta is complete without a proper olive salad - that magical combination of hand-smashed green olives, giardiniera, capers, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and other good things. I followed (more or less) the proportions set out at Nola Cuisine. Note that you should make this at least 24 hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to marry. This made a perfect accompaniment for my tartlets:
For my picnic potable, I made a hibiscus lavender lemonade, inspired by a homemade hibiscus martini that Poppa and I had at Commander's Palace on our first anniversary trip to New Orleans. (If you ever go, you must have a drink made by Jenni the bartender - she is a mixologist genius!) First I made a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water (3/4 cup) in which I steeped 3 tbsp dried hibiscus and 1 tbsp culinary lavender. Meanwhile, I squeezed one cup of lemon juice. When the simple syrup cooled, I combined it with the lemon juice and added 6 cups of water. This was delicious, but it needed some gin ... which of course I added!
You can check out everyone's picnic on Friday when Natasha and Lazaro post a round up on their blogs. Until then, happy picnicking!