Foodbuzz Challenge #6- An Italian Picnic

written by cookeatlove on October 23, 2010 in Blogalicious Thoughts and Featured Articles with 26 comments

When contemplating what to do for this next Foodbuzz challenge I knew almost immediately that I wanted to do a picnic.  I live in Vancouver, B.C., and we are nearing the end of our sunny season.  As the end of October approaches, I know that our city is switching gears and getting ready for our colder and rainier weather.  What a better way to say goodbye to the last days of fall than with a picnic  in the last streams of sun?  Having read the weather forecast for the next while, this challenge could not have come at a better time.

Lately I have been exploring some of our fantastic Italian delis on Commercial Drive, which is the location of our own ‘Little Italy’.  The idea of taking the Foodbuzz cooler on an Italian picnic was so inspirational that I was flooded with ideas.

When contemplating the menu, there were a few things that I really needed to consider to ensure that the picnic was beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat.  The food needed to be easy to assemble at the destination and I wanted to pick food that tastes better the longer it waits.  For the containers, I had two thoughts in mind, gorgeous to look at as I pulled them out of the cooler and also environmentally responsible.  Minimum waste, maximum flavor and presentation.  This was a challenge for me but after some deliberation I thought of how cute those Chinese food boxes are and what great storage containers they would make on an outdoor picnic table.  They are also made of paper and are completely recyclable.

I then thought about how to store the more liquid items such as olives, artichokes and others sides so that they were spoon ready and completely sealed for when I was ready to set the table.  While shopping in Little Italy, I was inspired by a collection of jars I saw at a kitchen supply store.  They were amazingly inexpensive and totally fit the picture I had in mind of this Italian picnic spread.  I could re-use them for future picnics and they would look so nice with just a spoon in them and sitting on the table.  Yes, containers done.  Now to the menu.

For the starter dish, there was no question in my mind (not sure why) that I wanted to make a chilled lobster salad.  Maybe I have watched too many romanticized picnic movies but this seemed like such a decadent dish to assemble and eat as a first course on a gourmet picnic.  I stuck with the flavors of Italy and made this simple salad with a killer sauce using very basic ingredients.   I used lemon, tomato, fresh tarragon, oil, vinegar, pepper, and salt.  I wanted the sauce to enhance the flavors of the lobster and bring this salad together in a yummy, succinct bite.  I put the salad and lobster into two of the Chinese boxes and used one of my delicious looking jars to hold the sauce until I was ready to plate it.  It was a fantastic start.  YUM.

As I said before, the menu needed to be something that not only can sit in a cooler but something that gets better the longer it sits.  I began doing some research and got an idea that has always piqued my interest every time I see it in photos or cookbooks.  So, for the main, I decided on the Sicilian muffuletta.  It originated in New Orleans and was made for the working class as a way to put all the specialty Italian meats and cheeses into one big sandwich instead of eating them separately.  The muffuletta tastes better the longer it sits because all the wonderful flavors of the olive tapinade have time to soak into the bread creating more flavor and marinating the sandwich together.  It was also fun shopping for all the delectable meats and cheeses that go into this taste treat sensation.  The main was done and could wait in the fridge while I continued to assemble.

Here is my assortment of jars that I transferred from their original containers.  I thought it resembled, in a small way, an Italian deli set up.  This was something that we could nibble away on as a start to the picnic.

I had two drinks that I packed for the occasion.  I knew the yacht had some wine glasses so I picked up some San Pellegrino as well as a bottle of sparkling lemon water.  This bottle matched the jars and amazingly fit into the cooler .  I still had room for some more..not much more, but I wasn’t sitting on it to close it.

Now for the dessert.  A few weeks ago I was wondering where I could buy the best cannolis.  I know this is all personal preference but my Google search came up repeatedly to ‘Italia Bakery’ in Vancouver.  Sam Pero, the baker, is known as the cannoli king.  I picked up five for the occasion.  There were four for the picnic and one to eat on my drive home.  While I was on my way home eating my  ricotta cannoli I said, “Holy, this is good”.  It then occurred to me, perhaps this is why the phrase, “Holy Cannoli” came about.  Maybe everyone says “Holy” when they bite into a perfectly made cannoli, but then people also say, “Holy Mackerel”, so perhaps my reasoning falls short.    The cannolis came in a very large box and although pretty, I knew it would not fit into my cooler.  I wanted to keep the look and feel of the bakery box so I went out and purchased this little box from a baking supply store to make the cannolis compact but still have that fresh bakery feel.

Now to assemble.  It seemed like a daunting task but here is the before and after shot.  It all fit nicely…whew.

So, where to have this luxurious picnic?  We are lucky enough to have friends that have a yacht that is docked in North Vancouver and overlooks the Vancouver city skyline as well as the beautiful mountains of the North shore.  Although for me, the yacht never leaves the dock, it is a beautiful spot to enjoy the beauty around me and soak up the smells of the ocean.

The art of disassembling the cooler.

I started by pulling out the jars of olives, artichoke, eggplant, balsamic vinegar and bread for us to eat while I prepared the lobster salad.

After our lobster salad (it was delicious by the way), we dove into the main course, the muffuletta.  It was so tasty.  It was stacked with Italian meats and cheeses and the olive tapinade soaked nicely  into the bread.  It was however, a very…large….bite!

Holy cannoli!!   La piece de resistance.  I tried the hazelnut cannoli this time and it was superb.  This was the perfect way to end an amazing meal.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  After a fantastic picnic, we packed up and went home.  Today it is pouring rain and the forecast calls for more rain in the coming weeks.  What a great memory for the final days of sun.