Are your picnic dishes getting sort of routine, even boring? If you and your family like to enjoy picnics often, the menu may start repeating itself, over and over and over. Pasta may not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to think of new foods to put in your picnic basket. Perhaps pasta seems too heavy, or it takes too much preparation, or it seems like it would be a difficult dish to pack. Of course, another concern is the safety issue. Can you really transport a pasta dish and keep it cool enough to keep it safe?
Here are a few ideas that will get you thinking of pasta dishes in a whole new light so you can pack that picnic basket full of surprises.
One of the most overlooked features of pasta is its purely delicious flavor all on its own. Cook it with a slight ‘bite back’ or al dente texture and be sure to salt the cooking water, and you’ll have pasta that can easily stand alone with just a drizzle of oil and a little seasoning. Make classic cold pasta salads using just a few fresh vegetables and a drizzle of high quality olive oil. Try tossing some rotini or fusilli with olive oil, halved cherry tomatoes, a few sweet bell peppers, and spring onions. These salads are delicious and refreshing, and they contain no dairy products or mayonnaise to worry about on a hot day.
Pesto is another great way to create a pasta dish for a picnic. Pesto is a blend of olive oil, basil, pine nuts or walnuts, garlic and sometimes a little feta or Parmesan cheese. The combo makes a thick green paste-like sauce for your pasta. This is a healthy choice that tastes great cold and is very safe and easy to pack. You won’t have any spoilage worries since your pesto doesn’t need to stay refrigerated, just cool. And because the pesto is olive oil based, it coats the pasta nicely so you won’t end up with a sticky gob of noodles. Instead, you’ll be treated to a bright, flavorful, and nutritious meal as you enjoy the great outdoors.
The best pasta salads for picnics are made with a vinaigrette dressing. The reason vinaigrette dressed salads are the hands-down winner for a summertime soiree is, again, no dairy products to spoil. Well, that, and the fact that a good vinaigrette just brightens any salad. A super simple salad made with cooled pasta, diced sausage, fresh chopped herbs, and some crunchy vegetables will be a welcome sight at any picnic. Try experimenting with different types of vinaigrette to see which one your family likes the most. And if you find a vinaigrette you love, but it’s a bit too strong on your pasta salad, just whisk in some olive oil into the vinaigrette to calm the flavor down a bit. You can’t go wrong with a good vinaigrette.
Food Safety Reminders for Outdoors
Again, when thinking of pasta salads for your picnic, it is important to stay clear of mayonnaise or other dairy based dressings as they can, and do, spoil. It doesn’t take much warmth to start the spoilage process. Instead, stick to your olive oil based vinaigrette style dressings. Even a tiny bit of a tummy ache can ruin your day, and it could be so much worse. Take this simple precaution and your family will thank you for your consideration of their digestive tracts.
It should also be noted that although you aren’t using any dairy products in your salads, you should still pack them in a cooler with ice and keep it in the shade. If you’re using a picnic basket, choose a frozen gel pack and add it to the basket along with your food. Even so-called ‘safe’ food needs to be kept cool, if not cold.
One trick for packing ice with food is to freeze drinking water in plastic bottles, then use those for the ice in your cooler or picnic basket. That way, as the ‘ice’ melts, you have a supply of drinking water – dual purpose ice.
Are you starting to see pasta less as a hot, heavy, red meat sauce smothered dish and more as a bright, light, fresh, and healthy picnic salad? Good. Now go out there and whip up a cool, refreshing pasta salad, and head out for that favorite picnic spot and enjoy the day… and the salad!