Whether you’re enjoying the first rays of summer in a city park or loading your basket for a sunset meal on the beach, a picnic is always welcome. Plus, eating outside—with the sun on your skin and the breeze in your hair—just makes things taste better. But traditional American fare, like sandwiches and potato salad, can get boring as summer rolls on. So why not choose fresh foods and quality ingredients for a French fare take-along spread?
The French Pastry
Many French foods lend themselves well to a picnic basket. The first and the most famous being the croissant. Stateside, they are usually enjoyed as a breakfast item. But in France, they're a daylong indulgence. Slice them, toast them, and add a pat of goat cheese and some fresh heirloom tomatoes or fill them with cheese and ham before baking. For a no-frills side to a main-course salad, the croissant, with its flaky, light texture, can't be rivaled. Impress your friends by making your own or pick some up at your local patisserie.
Salads are a versatile item for the picnic basket. They can be sophisticated or rustic and they don't have to contain typical ingredients like lettuce or greens. One such classic French dish is the lentil salad. Made of cooked lentils, herbs, and a light citrus dressing, it travels well and adds a vegetarian protein to your meal. If you don't have time to cook your own lentils, buy them pre-cooked and vacuum-packed at most specialty grocers.
The Cheese Course
Why do the French eat their cheese towards the end of the meal? Well, nutritionists argue that the richness of cheese takes a ramped up digestive tract to properly digest. Hence, placing it after the main course of your meal primes the pump. The French agree wholeheartedly and expand on that notion by pairing rich alkaline cheeses with the complexities of an acidic wine. Chill a bottle of rosé to take along on your picnic. It makes the perfect choice for the novice sommelier, as it won't overpower any cheese you serve and it's a typical French summertime refreshment.
Desserts are perhaps the most difficult to pack for a picnic, but there are many different variations on dessert. Of course, you could add sweet French pastries to the menu. But with croissants already packed, this option seems heavy. So in typical French style, why not opt for fruit as a dessert instead? Mendiants chocolat au noir (or "chocolate covered dates") appeal to any sweet tooth's palate and pair well with an iced café au lait. The recipe uses coconut flakes to garnish the dates, but candied orange peel or crystallized ginger can be substituted instead. Just make sure to pack them in the cooler so the chocolate doesn't melt.