Following Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 publication of Walden, Americans, being their ever rebellious selves, moved what was once a noble indoor lively feast festooned with ladies and gentlemen dressed in layers of silk and velvet, into an “outdoor flight from civilization.” In America, the picnic always has been and forever will be a romantic getaway from the world entrenched in rustic outdoor idealism and easy to assemble and easy to eat food. Sometimes, however, it is just too cold to spread a blanket on the ground. So, why not do as they did in the early days of the picnic and bring the moveable feast indoors? When parts of the United States begin sharing tomatoes on the vine and fresh bunches of rainbow carrots with their brilliant green tops still intact with their Northern neighbors, it is the perfect time to invite friends over for a simple spread designed for sharing. Some homemade (store bought if you must) white bean dip and BASIL PESTO, a selection of Italian salumi, and some prepared olives compliment freshly roasted carrots, tomatoes, and heads of garlic. Inside, it is so easy to take the weather with you—do remember fresh bread and a bottle of wine!
ingredients for the italian bean spread1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil Juice of 1/2 a lemon 4 cloves garlic, peeled 1 teaspoon minced rosemary 1 teaspoon thyme leaves 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the Basil Pesto (Nut-Free):
for the basil (nut free)2 cups densely packed basil leaves, stems removed 1/2 cup densely pack spinach leaves, stems removed 2 large garlic cloves, peeled 1 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup ground pecorino romano cheese 1/4 cup ground Parmesan Reggiano cheese
for the vegetables1 bunch of small rainbow carrots, peeled with 4” of the stems intact 1 package of small tomatoes on the vine 2 heads of garlic, tops cut off
to plate1 cup green olives 1 cup black olives 1 cup prepared artichoke hearts A selection of Italian salumi: prosciutto, genoa, finocchiona
directions for the italian bean spread
- Put the beans, olive oil, lemon juice, 4 cloves garlic, rosemary, thyme, and red pepper flakes into the bowl of a food processor.
- Whir until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle olive oil over the top to prevent a skin from forming. Cover and reserve or refrigerate until ready to use.
for the basil pesto
- Put the basil, spinach, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse twice.
- Begin slowly adding the olive oil through the feed tube and pulse until the basil mixture reaches the desired consistency.
- Place in a glass container with a lid, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the cheeses. Taste for seasoning, stir in a bit more olive oil if the pesto is too thick or too dry.
- Finish with a thin layer of olive oil over the top, cover, and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Keeps one week refrigerated, or six months in the freezer.
for the vegetables
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Put each head of garlic onto a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and place on the top rack of the oven. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and the cloves slip easily from their papery skins.
- Put the carrots and the tomatoes on separate quarter sheet baking trays and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the vegetables in the oil making certain that the stems and flesh are coated in oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Place the sheets in the pan, tomatoes above the carrots (both below the garlic), and roast for 10 minutes, or just until the tomatoes have softened slightly (they shouldn’t burst). Roast the carrots 5 minutes more until they are just starting to caramelize but are still a bit crunchy. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- Begin with a large dish with high sides. Put the bean dip and the pesto into small bowls.
- Arrange the carrots at an angle across the dish so they are easy to grab.
- Pile the tomatoes opposite the carrots.
- Begin filling in around the vegetables with the heads of garlic, olives, and artichoke hearts. Finish by piling each salumi in opposite areas on the plate.
Olive oil matters—splurge on the best extra virgin olive oil for finishing possible. A quality drizzle of olive oil gives a boost to the finished plate, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Find a good quality, neutral tasting extra virgin olive oil to use for cooking and roasting. Castelvetrano are the sweetest of the Italian green olives and their buttery flavor the reason they are the most popular snacking olive. Rich and fruity deep purple, almost black, kalamata olives, although Greek in origin, are an important staple in Italian kitchens. Using kitchen items such as a paella pan or other large double handled skillet in new ways ensures that the cost of the best quality one can afford is put to good use.