The perfect picnic. Surely it’s outdoors, in a natural, relaxing setting. Perhaps, there is a lake nearby. Maybe some music. But, let’s face it. It’s about the food, right?
Whether it’s BBQ, hearty sandwiches or fried chicken, food just tastes better outdoors.
To that end, About Town reached out to Canton chef and creative catering guru Elaine Howland, to discuss what makes the perfect — Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or any summer day in between — picnic.
AT: So, what are the special touches that make a perfect picnic?
EH: My trademark picnics always include: colorful cloth napkins; real silverware; clear, heavy plastic plates; and a colorful, (material), tablecloth. And, always finish your dishes by garnishing them with herbs and/or fresh flowers.
AT: What are some basic planning tips that you would recommend?
EH: Keep the menu simple so you don't overwhelm yourself. Create one delicious WOW dish. And, let people help by bringing a course.
AT: About Town was lucky enough to taste Elaine’s Shrimp Paella Salad — on real plates no less — several years ago. So, what makes it a great picnic recipe?
EH: Shrimp Paella Salad is a take off on paella, but it’s picnic-friendly. You can make it ahead of time. It can be served at room temperature, because of the vinaigrette. And, it’s lighter than the traditional paella, but just as colorful, delicious and beautiful. And, it’s even easier in the ‘to go’ version.
AT: What should be served for an appetizer and dessert?
EH: For hors d'oeuvres, you could serve 3 different cheeses - Hard (Manchego or Cheddar or Piave); Soft (Goat or a Brie); and Blue (try a Spanish Blue). Include a French baguette and water crackers to have with the cheese and a fresh bunch of red grapes.
You could also add a salad of mixed spring greens with a vinaigrette, if you like. For dessert: fresh strawberries served with the grapes and cheeses with the addition of a dip made of sour cream or Greek yogurt mixed with brown sugar to taste. That would be perfect!
SHRIMP PAELLA SALAD
- 2 ½ pounds shrimp (26-35 count), shelled & deveined
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ½ cups long grain converted rice
- 1 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads or turmeric
- 5 cups low sodium chicken broth
- ¾ pound green beans (or haricot vert-thin green beans), cut into 2 inch pieces, blanched
- 1 large red pepper (or yellow), cut into julienne strips
- 1 large orange pepper, cut into julienne strips
- 5 scallions, including green part, cut diagonally into thin slices
- 6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Toss the shrimp with some olive oil, kosher or sea salt, and freshly ground pepper; set aside.
- For dressing: mix together lemon juice, salt and mustard. Whisk in olive oil, adding oil slowly to emulsify the oil into dressing. Taste dressing to correct seasoning.
- Heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over moderately low heat. Add onions and stir, cooking until softened.
- Add rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in saffron or turmeric and the broth. Increase heat to medium high and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover saucepan and lower heat to medium low, simmer for 18-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.
- Add the peppers and fluff the rice with a fork. Remove from heat and let rice mixture stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Blanch green beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes or until tender but still crunchy. Drain and rinse to cool to keep the green color. Dry beans on paper towels. Add green beans to rice mixture. Toss rice mixture with 1 cup dressing. Chill.
- Heat 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a 12 inch skillet. Cook shrimp in batches, without crowding, turning once until pink, 3-4 minutes total. Put shrimp in a bowl and add ¼ cup dressing tossing to coat.
- Add shrimp and dressing to rice mixture and toss. Put in refrigerator if serving later. Sprinkle the salad with scallions before serving.
Here’s the Deal
ELAINE’S TABLE: Elaine Howland: (860) 693-2258.