There are Sydney picnic spots areas and BBQs, tennis and basketball courts and two lovely little children’s playground featuring beautiful, hand-crafted rides. I love a good picnic. I’d much rather host my friends on a blanket under a cool, leafy tree than stress over a dinner party. Maybe it’s my days spent picnicking in Europe when I lived there, maybe it’s because I prefer chill over fussy dinners, but there is something about packing up a loaf of crusty bread, a hunk of good cheese, and a bottle of wine, plus the picnic blanket, that just makes my day. (The fact that I live near a beautiful, sprawling park and own an adorable and smartly insulated picnic backpack doesn’t hurt either.)
But the best thing about picnics is that when it gets hot, as it does this time of year, the easiest way to eat without having to turn on the stove (and let’s face it, without having to do any work), is picnic-style. A few springs ago, I found myself in Paris at one of the best butcher shops I’ve ever been in (as one does in Paris, natch). After I scarfed down a ham and butter sandwich, I picked out a selection of pâté, salami, and rillettes. With a few baguettes in tow, I wandered the city with my makeshift picnic for the next few days, stopping to enjoy my snacks whenever the mood struck.
I’ve been mimicking those Parisian picnics ever since. They’re a great way to clean out the fridge—use up of the last of your pea butter, spiced olives, or salmon rillettes, whatever you’ve got laying around—and the fastest dinner you’ll ever prepare, since the only prep work is slicing and spreading. Here’s how to do it right:
Start With Good Bread
The French are known for their bread, and any good picnic includes a loaf or two. For a picnic for two, I prefer to keep it simple with a crusty baguette, sliced thin and ready to be spread with cheese or piled with meat. For a larger party, I’ll add a loaf of sourdough or a dark pumpernickel, plus a few good cracker options.
Add A Few Delicious Meats
Next, you’ve got to have something to put on that bread. Even for a smaller picnic, it’s nice to have a selection. I usually head to my local gourmet shop, where I’ll choose at least one of each of the following: a firm salami or sausage, a thinly sliced prosciutto, a rich pâté, and/or creamy rillettes. Most grocery stores also offer some of those items—just pick out the highest quality you can find.
And Some Rich Cheeses
Even though it was that Parisian butcher, with his delicious ham and oh-so-rich rillettes, who inspired my picnicking tradition, I think good cheese is even more vital to a picnic than meat. I like to have at least two cheeses on board: a soft goat cheese and a firm cheese, such as aged gouda (my personal fave) or cheddar. For a larger picnic, add a few more, such as a creamy camembert or Brie, a semi-firm blue or Gruyère, and another firm cheese, like Parmesan. And don’t forget to pick up a good, salted European butter.
Nuts and Olives
You’re going to want to have a break from spreading during your picnic, and that’s where nuts and olives come in. If you have leftover spiced nuts or marinated olives, pack those. If not, skip the cooking, and pick up a container of spiced or caramelized nuts (I prefer pecans, or Marcona almonds for a splurge). For olives, look for a store that has an olive bar, and grab a good mix of the small, salted black briny ones and the meatier green Castelvetrano olives.
Plus A Dip or Two
Meat and cheese (plus nuts and olives) is more than enough dinner for me (and for two people, it’s a nice little picnic spread), but for a larger group, fill out the spread—with some spreads! Pick up pesto or roasted eggplant, tomato, or olive spreads at a gourmet grocer; you can eat them as is or make a creamy dip by stirring herbs and a spoonful of a spread into plain yogurt. A bowl of nutty hummus is also easy to find and delicious to dig into.
And don’t forget the crudités! Cherry tomatoes are the easiest—no prep necessary—but if you take a minute to slice up a cucumber, red bell pepper, and a carrot or two, you’ll have plenty to munch on.
Don’t Forget The Drinks
Last but not least, don’t forget something fun to drink. Keep it easy with a bottle of wine or bubbly, or add a pitcher of this easy 4-ingredient punch (you just need lemon juice, lemon zest, rum, and sugar) to your tote. Want to keep your picnic booze-free? You can still make it feel special with a non-alcoholic cocktail: simply add herbs, fruit, or citrus to a bottle of sparkling water.