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Picnic in the Park: Tuna Salad Niçoise, Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, & Macedonia di Frutta

Not only has the weather started staying consistently nicer, but it seems to have gone from a pale imitation of spring, right into summer. What a rare treat for the holiday weekend to have three nice, picnic-perfect days in a row. Fortunately, I was able to get together some friends I haven’t caught up with in a while for a lazy holiday Monday in the park.  So, I packed up containers of homemade Tuna Salad Niçoise, Rosemary-Garlic White Bean Dip, and Macedonia di Frutta (Italian-style fruit salad) and headed over to the park.

It wasn’t until I moved to this city that I realized that picnicking is, in itself, a separate level of planning. It’s almost like working out the movements of a small army: organizing logistics for food, drink, blankets, plates; exchanging coordinates for where to meet in the park (behind the backstop on the west side closest to the ice cream cart); swapping cell phone numbers and sorting out just whom will camp out at the chosen site until the other guests get there.  Still, it’s all worth it in the end, I feel, to get outside in the cool green solace of the park.

Doubtless that Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux didn’t have my social life in mind when they put together the design for Central Park, but New Yorkers have enjoyed the respite from their overheated apartments there for years.  There’s a series of concerts, plays, even the opera and the Philharmonic put on productions in the park during the warmer months.  It’s an annual rite of passage: bringing food and drink and eating alfresco.

As some of these events are still a few weeks off, today was a perfect excuse to test-drive some new recipes I’d put together for just such picnics.  I was looking for portable food that could keep its flavor and still stay fresh and refreshing, even if it had been an hour or more since it had seen the refrigerator.  My friends enjoyed these and appreciated that nothing was heavy or weighed down with lots of mayonnaise.

Tuna Salad Niçoise

Prep Time: 30 minutes Serves: 4-6 people

Ingredients: 2 6-oz. cans Italian Tuna in olive oil 2 Eggs, hard-cooked 20 Green Beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched 8 small, Red New Potatoes, cubed and cooked 1 cup Tomatoes, chopped 1/3 cup (about 20) Niçoise Olives, pitted and chopped 1 Tbsp Shallot, finely minced grated zest of one Lemon

Dressing: 1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil juice of one Lemon 2 small cloves of Garlic, finely minced or put through a press 1/4 tsp. Black Pepper

Assembly: Chop the tomatoes and the olives.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Add the shallots.  Hard-cook the eggs; set aside to cool.  In the meantime, boil a pot of water.

Put the potatoes into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the green beans to the potatoes and cook together for another 3-4 minutes, until the green beans and potatoes are just tender enough for a fork to go through.  Drain the pan and rinse under cold water to stop them from continuing to cook.

Add the vegetables to the bowl with the tomatoes, olives and shallots.  Mix together the items for the dressing.  Drain the oil from the cans of tuna and add to the other ingredients in the bowl.  Pour the dressing over the tuna and gently toss everything together.

Cut the hard-cooked egg into 1/4-inch cubes.  Set aside.  Sprinkle the tuna mixture with lemon zest and top with the chopped egg.  Serve at room temperature with mixed greens and a baguette.

Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip

Prep time: 15 minutes Serves: makes about 2 cups dip

Ingredients: 1 19-oz. can Cannellini Beans 2 large cloves of Garlic 1 Tbsp fresh (not dried) Rosemary juice of 1/2 Lemon extra virgin Olive Oil Salt Pepper

A selection of vegetables to serve (carrots, peppers, etc.)

Assembly: Drain beans and rinse.  Put in food processor and pulse until puréed.  Add garlic and rosemary and mix until combined.  Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil and juice of 1/2 of a lemon and blend until creamy and garlic and rosemary seem to be incorporated.

Taste.  To finish, add 1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Pulse again.  Place in serving bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil.  Serve with chopped vegetables.

Macedonia di Frutta

Prep time: 15 minutes Serves: makes about 3 cups fruit salad

Ingredients: Can use any fresh, seasonal fruit 1 cup Blackberries, halved 4 White Peaches, cubed 2 Apricots, cubed 1 cup Cherries, pitted and halved 3 Plums, cubed 2 tsp. White or Cane Sugar juice of 1/2 Orange 1/4 cup Brandy

Assembly: Chop all of the fruit and put into a bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Pour orange juice over fruit.  Add brandy.  Toss together and put in refrigerator to macerate for at least an hour.

Serve on its own or with ice cream, brownies, sponge cake or anything that can also soak up the syrup.

“Shameless Brownies”

This is my all-time favorite brownie recipe.  After discovering how easy and delicious it was to make these, I never went back to the box again.  This recipe has been internationally road-tested and the results devoured on a multi-national level.  It is always a hit when I make it.  Today was no exception.

It is from the March 1990 issue of Food & Wine magazine and was named “River Oaks Brownies.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the recipe on the website for the magazine.  Also, due to copyright issues, I don’t feel as though it is appropriate for me to type it in and re-publish it here.  It isn’t my property to do that.

So, I will leave you with one last longing look at them.  If you’d made it to our picnic today, you could have had some, too.  They are now nicknamed “shameless,” because when trying to decide who got to take them home, we each, in turn, confessed that we’d eaten at least three apiece.

Buon appetito!

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