My Life in Food: Tuscan "Staycation" Picnic

By , Contributor

The Mona Lisa, a bottle of Chianti, and day old bread: my idea of the perfect picnic... in Tuscany, that is. Picnic season is here and no one does it better than the Tuscans. From the elegant but simple buffet table to the rustic style - who can refute that they have turned simplicity to an art and science?

It feels as if I am the only person on earth who is not in a state of frenzy to "get out the old barbecue" since Memorial Day has now come and gone. Is it some kind of Pavlovian dog signal that sets off once summer arrives? Time to take out the hot dogs and hamburgers and break out the barbecue, the same old boring fare.

Maybe my different take on the holiday comes from living a trans-Atlantic lifestyle between Italy and the U.S. Tuscany is never far from my heart or mind, even if I am not always there in body. It is the place that seems to have invented the very idea of the casual but elegant, simple but sophisticated picnic.

Grilling is part of the summer fare, but where else could day-old bread be so chic? Used in a panzanella salad it is so uber tasty with a dash of Tuscan olive oil, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and paired with a glass of Chianti. But you don't have to venture to Tuscany to eat Tuscan.

Try a Tuscany home "staycation" and create the same relaxed feeling: try a rustic vase with a few sunflowers, brightly colored plates, no tablecloth to simplify the setting, and hope for a sunny day. Make this a summer to picnic in style. To quote the man who practically invented the Tuscan lifestyle, Leonardo Da Vinci, "Simplicity is an art."

Tuscan Panzanella Salad

(from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking)

12 slices day old crusty bread

4 tbsp (60 gr) white wine vinegar

1 cup (100 gr) extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lb (250 gr) red ripe tomatoes

1 red onion

1 cucumber

1 handful basil leaves

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Slice bread into 12 slices. Place bread in bowl with ¼ cup water and 1 tbsp (15gr) vinegar. Leave for 3 minutes. Remove and squeeze water out from bread. Place wet slices on bottom of salad bowl. Top bread with tomato slices, sliced cucumber, sliced red onion. Drizzle in olive oil, 2 tbsp (60gr) vinegar. Pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper. Toss gently.


Grilled Porcini Mushrooms

(from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking)

8 large porcini mushroom caps

2 cloves of garlic

1 handful fresh parsley

4 tbsp (60 gr) extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Clean the mushroom caps with a wet paper towel. Do not put under water, but clean delicately with damp paper towel. Chop fresh parsley and garlic. Place mushroom caps, olive oil, chopped parsley, garlic, salt, pepper to taste to marinate in a bowl for 3 minutes. Turn over and marinate for another 3 minutes. Place on hot grill for about 10 minutes - 5 minutes for each side. Serve immediately.

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Celebrity chef and award-winning author Maria Liberati is considered one of the foremost experts on Italian cuisine and culture in the United States. Winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for her best-selling recipe novel series The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and her blog. Maria divides her…

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