Local chefs offer ways to dress up a picnic

Cold fried chicken, potato salad and deviled eggs: Those may have been the ideal of a picnic in Grandma’s time, but surely, in this era of artisanal ingredients and multicultural foods, you can do better. To help, we asked a few Las Vegas chefs what they would take on a picnic.

“The pressure’s always on,” said Yvonne Maatouk, corporate executive chef for PKWY Tavern Taphouse and Grille and PBR Rock Bar, because when you’re a chef, everybody expects you to bring your A game. And so Maatouk has a clever strategy: “There are two things that I typically take because I feel no one will bring them.”

One is a fruit salad, made up of whatever looks fresh and good at the moment, which in the summer might include melons, citrus fruits, peaches, plums or pears.

“And I always put a couple tablespoons of fruit preserves in there, and squeeze an orange on top of that, and it makes the best glaze ever,” Maatouk said.

The other thing, she noted, is fresh homemade pickles.

“You get some fresh pickling cucumbers, throw them in a jar with water, salt, pickling spice, garlic and dill,” she said. “Give them at least three days in the refrigerator, and they’re just fresh and tasty.

“And nobody else is going to bring pickles.”

She also has pickled cauliflower, grapes and sliced onions, the latter of which she said are particularly nice on freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs.

Michael Inginio, executive chef of Carmine’s at the Forum Shops at Caesars, takes an ethnic approach.

“I’m Italian, I work in an Italian restaurant, and who doesn’t like Italian food?” he said.

And so for Inginio, a picnic means Italian meats including mortadella, Genoa salami, soppresatta and capicola, cheeses including provolone, tallegio, an Italian blue such as Gorgonzola and burrata with a little olive oil and black pepper.

He will wrap prosciutto around melon for the classic combination of salty and sweet, or drizzle fresh peaches with fig balsamic. Or he will marinate a variety of olives, including kalamata and Cerignola.

“I would take some really good extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, orange zest, a little bit of red wine vinegar, fresh oregano, parsley and basil,” he said. “Make it the day before and have it marinate so the flavors blend really well. And I just pick on olives all day, along with the meats.”

Another option, he said, is an orzo salad with pesto, olive oil and a variety of grilled vegetables, or a panzanella salad with torn rustic bread, using ricotta salata instead of the more customary mozzarella.

Michael Goodman, executive chef at the Four Seasons, said his picnic foods tend to depend on his mood ’€” whether he’s feeling like a dedicated carnivore or is in a more healthful mood. Lately it has been the latter.

“The mood I’m in right now, I’m tending to eat healthier, so I’m tending to stay away from barbecued foods and stuff,” Goodman said. “Summer is one of my favorite times for all of the different vegetables and fruits that are out there.”

This is a great time of year for watermelon, Goodman said, so he likes to prepare a salad with chilled watermelon, feta cheese, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and basil, drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

“The flavors are fantastic ’€” all the freshness,” he said. “It’s very different than a traditional macaroni salad.”

Goodman also likes to take that picnic staple, cold fried chicken, but it isn’t fried, and he uses a nontraditional breading. Goodman uses boneless chicken, thinly pounded and breaded with a mixture of seasoned rice flour and cornstarch.

“Instead of frying it, pan-sear it in canola oil,” Goodman said.

Because of the “fantastic” corn available at this time of year, he makes a jicama, corn and black bean salad with a lime vinaigrette and cilantro, or marinated grilled salmon with a tamarind-hoisin glaze.

“You have a nice little outdoor picnic,” he said.

Eugene Santiago, executive chef of Carson Kitchen, likes to grill a variety of meats, plus vegetables including squashes, romaine, asparagus and broccolini.

“Break them down to servable portions,” Santiago said. “Get yourself set up so when you get to the picnic, all you have to do is throw it on the grill, pop open a beer and hope you don’t burn yourself.”

He also likes fresh fruit, cut up and easily picked up as a snack or even dessert.

Scott Wheatfill, head pastry chef for Bouchon Bakery and Bouchon Bistro, both at The Venetian, said the bakery sells boxed lunches with sandwich, chips, cookie, fruit and water, which don’t have to be ordered in advance unless it’s a large order. Another summer offering, he said, is house-made lemonade or strawberry lemonade.

“Those are a huge hit in the summer, especially at our express window at the clock tower,” he said.

If Wheatfill is going on a picnic, he might take a boxed lunch, or he might do his own.

“I always take sandwiches, that’s a staple,” he said. “Sometimes I build the sandwiches there, sometimes I will bring them prepared. I think it’s fun to build sandwiches at the park or at the beach. I’m going on vacation next week, and that’s what we do; I build everyone’s sandwiches on the beach in San Diego.”

Wheatfill said he favors turkey sandwiches, or pastrami with coleslaw, or pulled pork.

“PB and J for the kids,” he added. “I’ll bring some raspberry jam I made at the house.”

At Red Rock Resort, where the box lunches are popular with visitors in the Red Rock Adventures Program, executive banquet chef Lloyd Bansil also favors sandwiches when he goes on a picnic.

“I personally like to give people an option,” Bansil said. “Have the bread ready, and have certain condiments ready to go as well. And from that point, have them be interactive and build their own sandwiches, build the combinations.”

He said he likes to tailor the menu to the event ’€” whether it be, for example, a date or family outing ’€” and stressed the importance of planning ahead.

“Have all the proper utensils, plates, trash bags, all that stuff,” he said. “Certain games, like Frisbee.”

Leave messy foods like spaghetti at home, he said.

“Many people don’t think about the cleanup portion of it,” Bansil said. “Baby wipes come in so handy.”

MARINATED OLIVES WITH ROSEMARY, RED CHILI, ORANGE AND PAPRIKA

4 garlic cloves

1 large sprig rosemary

4 to 5 slices whole orange, peel on

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

1 tablespoon Spanish smoked sweet paprika

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 quart large green Spanish olives, unpitted

Combine garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, orange slices, red chili flakes, paprika and extra-virgin olive oil in a saucepan and set over low heat. Slowly warm up to infuse the oil and soften the garlic; do not let it fry. Once hot, about 5 minutes, pour in olives and steep until cool. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Recipe from Tyler Florence/The Food Network

PICKLED VEGETABLES

For the pickling liquid:

2-½ cups distilled white vinegar

3 cups water

¾ cup sugar

5 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

½ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

For vegetables:

1 head cauliflower (2 pounds), trimmed and broken into 1- to 1-½-inch florets (6 cups)

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 carrots, cut diagonally into ½-inch-thick slices (2 cups)

4 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-thick slices (3 cups)

1 cup drained bottled whole peperoncini (4 ounces)

1 cup large brine-cured green olives (preferably Sicilian; 6 ounces)

½ cup oil-cured black olives (6 ounces)

To make pickling liquid: Bring pickling-liquid ingredients to a boil in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a 4-quart nonreactive bowl and cool about 30 minutes.

For vegetables: Bring about 6 quarts unsalted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot. Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water. Add cauliflower to pot and boil until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to ice bath to stop cooking. Cook remaining vegetables separately in same manner, allowing 4 minutes each for bell peppers and carrots and 2 minutes for celery. Drain vegetables in a colander and spread out on two large kitchen towels to dry.

Add cooked vegetables, peperoncini and olives to pickling liquid. Weight vegetables with a plate to keep them submerged, then chill, covered, at least 1 day.

Makes about 10 cups.

Recipe from Gourmet

WATERMELON SALAD WITH PICKLED ONIONS AND FETA

1 cup vertically sliced red onion

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1-½ tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2-½ cups cubed seedless watermelon

1 small cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

¼ cup (1 ounce) crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Combine first three ingredients in a small bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine balsamic vinegar, oil and pepper in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add onion mixture, watermelon and cucumber; toss gently to coat. Arrange watermelon mixture on a platter. Top with cheese, mint, and basil.

Serves 6.

Recipe from Cooking Light

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and bestoflasvegas.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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