Picnic: It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s a table, it’s a blanket. It’s the warmth of the sun on your shoulders, or maybe an oak’s shady reprieve under a perfectly chosen spot. The word likely comes from the French “pique-nique”, a 17th century potluck meal set inside or out, where guests would bring wine to share. And while not all picnics are potlucks, the act of sharing (and drinking wine)is highly encouraged. Like young onions and tender herbs, picnicking is in season here in Texas. If you’re lucky, you might be joined by scads of wildflowers and the banter of water and limestone.
Please, picnic this spring. When you picnic, simple food that’s been thoughtfully packed is effortlessly elevated, simply by the fact that you’re enjoying it al fresco. If you take the extra step and bring a few picnic accessories - a table cloth, napkins, and maybe a condiment or two, your meal becomes a sweet ritual. Pack up your car, fill it with as many friends as possible, get out there.
1. Vrdnt Farm + Roasted Pepper Pasta Salad
Did you know that you can camp at Vrdnt? Yep! Becky has Vrdnt listed on Hipcamp, a pretty cool website that helps connect private landowners with public, outdoor-loving enthusiasts. The campsite at the farm is tucked away in a forested part of the property so you have a bit of privacy, while also getting to witness our working farm. Want a private farm tour? You can also book that through Hipcamp. The farm is an awesome home base to explore Bastrop and Buescher State park as well as the nearby towns of Lockhart and Smithville. Need some fresh herbs for your pasta salad? Talk to Becky about pick-your-own-dinner options. To make this a camping-friendly salad, precook your couscous and make your dressing at home, then chop veggies and assemble the salad on the Vrdnt picnic table. We recommend using pearled cous cous for this recipe, which are like tiny balls of pasta. You can also sub this with any other pasta shape you have like spiral, bowtie, or even ditalini.
1-2 cups of roasted sweet peppers, sliced into 1 inch strips
1 lb. or one box of pearled couscous (or pasta of choice)
1 cup olive oil
Juice from 3 lemons, plus zest from one
1 heaping teaspoon of honey or sugar
1 bunch of flat parsley, leaves and stems finely chopped
1 bunch of green onions, white and green parts chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
If you have any leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge, these would be a wonderful addition, too.
6 oz. of crumbled feta
1 cup toasted nuts
Salt and pepper
Utensils & bowls
If you’re roasting the peppers yourself, we recommend making a double or triple batch, then packing the peeled and seeded peppers in oil, which will be a great addition to many dishes for the rest of the season.
Cook your pearled cous cous or pasta in salted water according to package directions. Meanwhile, in the container you plan to transport your salad in, make your dressing by combining oil, lemon juice, zest, honey or sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk this up until combined, and taste for salt. Once the dressing is to your liking, mix in the sliced roasted peppers. If you have the time, let this sit for 15 minutes, then stir in the cooked and drained pasta as well as half of the parsley. Let this cool. Once the pasta has cooled to room temperature, fold in the rest of the ingredients except for the nuts. Squirrel these away in another container, and sprinkle them in picnic situ.
2. Greenbelt + Muffaletta-Inspired Veggie Sandwich
There is no better way to enjoy a picnic than to hike to its location, and there is no easier spot to jump on the trail than the Barton Creek Greenbelt. This sandwich is made on one long loaf of bread and is meant to be sliced on location, impressively turning one gigantic sandwich into several smaller ones - a trick that some friends showed me on a trip to the swamp years ago. Wrap a serrated knife in a dishcloth, and secure it with a rubber band to bring along. Here, we’re suggesting you roast cauliflower and carrots for your sandwiches, but many roasted vegetables would work - broccoli, eggplant, squash or peppers. If you’re on sandwich duty, tell your fellow hikers to bring a bag of chips, maybe a piece of fruit to share, and something sweet.
One long loaf of bread like ciabatta, focaccia, or even a large hoagie roll. The bread you choose should be relatively soft so it doesn’t cut the roof of your mouth or prove a chore to chew.
1 head of cauliflower, separated into florets. Cut the big florets in half slice the stem into planks, about ¼ inch thick. ½ to 1 pound of carrots, sliced in half lengthwise.
⅔ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers
⅔ cup of (pitted) green olives
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
3-5 pepperoncini peppers, sliced
Red wine vinegar or lemon juice
¼ lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced. Double up on the cheese if that’s your thing.
Several large handfuls of arugula
Plus: Some fresh basil leaves and thinly sliced red onion, if it’s on hand.
Parchment paper & Plastic Wrap
Preheat your oven to 425, and roast the cauliflower and carrots. Place the sliced cauliflower florets and stems on the largest sheet pan your oven will allow and drizzle with a few generous tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and use your hands to toss the cauliflower in the oil until well coated. Arrange these pieces on the pan, grabbing a second pan if the cauliflower is piling up. Roast in a preheated oven until the cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown, rotating the trays if you’re using two. This should take about 15-30 minutes. Give the same oil-salt-pepper-and-toss treatment to the carrots, and roast until soft and beginning to brown, for 20-30 minutes. Once all of your vegetables are roasted, adjust for salt, then set aside to cool. Toss the cooled veggies with a splash of red wine vinegar or the juice of half a lemon.
Jazz up your mayo. Either by hand or in a food processor, finely chop the capers, olives, and parsley, and then fold them into your mayo. Season the mayo with salt.
Assemble. Cut your loaf of bread in half lengthways, like you’re about to make a long and ginatiantic sandwich, which you are. Put a large sheet of parchment paper underneath. Spread the mayo mixture on both the bottom and top halves of the sliced bread. On the bottom half of the bread, layer the roasted carrots and cauliflower, and don’t be afraid to pile it on. If there are any leftover veggies, save these for another meal. Next, layer the provolone cheese. On top of the cheese place the pepperoncini peppers. Last, pile large handfuls of arugula (or whatever Vrdnt greens you have) on top of the sandwich. These will shrink down as soon as you put on the top, and even more so when you begin to hike. Sprinkle the arugula with a bit of salt, add the basil and onions (if using) and then top the sandwich. Don’t be afraid to inflict a bit of smooshage.
Wrap the sandwich in parchment paper, and then wrap this, as tightly as possible, in plastic wrap. Slip your wrapped sandwich into the bag that your bread came in, and don’t forget your knife. When you're ready to eat, find a flat rock and slice your one long sandwich into several short ones. If you’re feeling very ambitious, do like Subway and combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, salt and pepper in a small plastic bottle with a tight fitting lid. Bring this to you picnic, and pass around for folks to add additional oil and vinegar to their sandwiches.
Picnic responsibly: pack it in, pack it out.
3. Zilker Park + Carrot Hummus for the Ultimate Snack Spread
There is no picnic spot more classically Austin the great lawn at Zilker Park. On any particularly beautiful day, some friends of mine will send out a group text inviting everyone to the lawn, and there is no reason you can’t do this too. Byo-snacks (to share) and byo-picnic blankets. For the ultimate picnic experience, connect everyone’s picnic blankets together to form a loungy patchwork of fun. Instruct everyone to bring a dish to share for the Ultimate Snack Spread… they’ll know what it means.
1 bunch of carrots
1 can of chickpeas, drained
5-6 tablespoons of olive oil
Juice of one lemon + a bit of zest
¼ cup smooth, natural peanut butter
2 garlic cloves, grated
½ - 1 tablespoon honey, more if you’re working with carrots that aren’t particularly sweet
½ teaspoon sriracha or Yellowbird
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Water, as needed
To top: A bit more olive oil, freshly chopped cilantro or parsley, and chopped peanuts
To serve: Fresh pita, pita chips, or any chips.
Roast the carrots as per the directions in the Roasted Veggie Sandwich. This hummus can be made with roasted carrots straight out of the oven (the warmth will help the flavors come together), but would also be a great use of leftover roasted carrots from the fridge. Chop carrots into inch-long pieces.
Combine the roasted carrots with the rest of the ingredients using a food processor or blender, adding a bit of warm water if it seems too thick. Once you’re happy with the texture, taste your hummus and adjust for salt and lemon. Transfer the hummus to the most bowl-like tupperware you have that has a tight-fitting lid. Make a depression in the center of the hummus, and pour a bit more olive oil on top, then sprinkle with chopped herbs and nuts. This is the perfect picnic dish as it’s best enjoyed at room (or Zilker) temp.