With longer days, lighter evenings and blooming blossom trees, we've found ourselves spending more time outdoors, or, if you will, al fresco.
The late afternoon light is almost irresistible and as the working day comes to a close, we follow the ebbing sun, heading to local parks and heaths or even just into our own giardini. The joys of outdoor dining are many; throwing together a hamper of delights, grabbing a brightly coloured rug and skipping off into the evening is blissful indeed.
However, sometimes the reality of the ‘perfect picnic’ is a million miles away from the idyllic scene that we imagine for ourselves. Leaky tupperware, lukewarm crudités and the fact that you somehow neglected to pack vessels from which to drink your Prosecco, have their way of dulling the mood. But worry not, we're here to help.
We’ve learnt that the key to perfecting the art of al fresco dining, is to follow two rules; the first is simplicity and the second authenticity. In many ways, these directives can be applied to all Italian culinary endeavours, not only those that take place outdoors, and we guarantee that they will elevate your experience.
When we talk about simplicity, we mean making things as easy as possible for yourself. No one needs five different courses for dinner in the park, so choose two or three tasty options that can be made in advance and transferred to your destination without damage. To keep things really straightforward, we recommend using fresh bread or a simple pasta salad as the bulk of your meal, and then taking a few side dishes to spruce things up without needlessly complicating the whole affair. A fresh Italian ciabatta will never be out of place on a picnic or if you fancy something bolder, a rosemary focaccia will be sure to hit the spot. Try making your own, if you’ve got the time, with our simple recipe.
Italian cheeses will always be a winning picnic option, we love Pecorino Romano if you’re after a hard cheese or Burrata or Mozzarella if you prefer something soft and creamy. You could even throw together a make-shift Italian cheese board in a large tupperware if you’re feeling fancy. Serve with grapes for a simple but sublime dining experience, or, if you’re feeling a little more extravagant, take some fresh figs, which can be quickly prepared on location (you can even use your cheese-knife to save you taking countless cutting implements). Olives or tomatoes will also pair well with most Italian cheese varieties and are perfect to pick at.
Charcuterie makes a delicious addition to any picnic worth its salt (as long as your guests aren’t vegetarian). We recommend a few carefully chosen cured meats that can be enjoyed on fresh Italian bread, or as a stand-alone dish, for an al fresco feast to be remembered. Some of our favourite charcuterie options include Soppressata, a dry salami with two famous variations: a cured sausage originating from Apulia and Calabria and an uncured salami that comes from Tuscany and Liguria, Prosciutto, a delicious dry-cured ham served in very thin slices, originating from a town in Emilia-Romagna, and Bresaola, a salted, air-dried beef that is aged over a period of several months. Prosciutto is delicious on its own but it can also be enjoyed with chunks of fresh cantaloupe melon for the ultimate indulgence. For more charcuterie options, see our ultimate guide.
Taking a dessert like a tiramisù on a picnic is a no go, it’s bound to create a mess and no one wants to be faced with a mushy, melted pudding when they’re wearing a pale pastel-coloured ensemble. We’ve found that packing a selection of fresh fruit is a crowd-pleaser and tossing some summer berries into a bag is certainly fuss-free and easy. However, if you prefer something a little sweeter picking up some tasty cannoli from your local Italian deli is a wonderful option. Alternatively, you could make your own and take them in a tub, try Roberta’s delicious cannoli recipe.
It’s easy to forget to think about drinks when you’re rushing to get out of the door, but always take a moment to think about this when planning your picnic. If you’re taking a bottle of Prosecco, don’t forget some cups or flutes and chuck it in a cold bag, or wrap it in icepacks, to keep it as chilled as possible. It’s also worth considering a non-alcoholic option too, a cloudy lemonade or freshly squeezed orange juice will go down a treat.
Now that we’ve covered simplicity, you may be wondering what we mean by authenticity. This basically means making sure that the cheese and the meats and the fruit that you serve is as fresh and delicious as it can possibly be. Italians love to cook with few ingredients, but all of the ingredients they select will be the finest quality, and we encourage you to do the same.
For bread and cannoli we recommend finding a local bakery that makes their loaves and pastries fresh everyday, the bread will be deliciously soft and the cannoli perfectly crunchy. We also suggest that you buy bread in excess, so that no one is left without and people can keep coming back for more, particularly if this is forming the backbone of your picnic.
As far as cheese and charcuterie go, a local deli is always a good option. As well as supporting local businesses, buying your picnic food from an authentic delicatessen is a great choice as it will be sure to take your al fresco experience to the next level of culinary wonder.
Lastly, do a quick check before you leave the house that you have everything you need. A few must haves are: a picnic rug, plates, cutlery, ice packs (to keep things cool), glasses/ cups to drink out of and maybe some napkins to keep everything nice and tidy. Then you’re good to go and embrace al fresco!