The sun is shining, the weather is warm—let’s go on a picnic! We may not be able to travel to France this year, but we can still add some French style to our pique-nique. How? Let’s take a look.
While your menu can be as varied as your imagination, there are three indispensable ingredients for any French-style picnic.
Bread. No French meal is complete without bread, and the ideal bread for a picnic is a crusty baguette. Or two. Or three.
Cheese. A few choice “morsels” are an essential ingredient of a classic French picnic. I love to include a soft cheese like St. Marcellin, one that gets nice and runny when it sits outside in the warm sunshine—so good!
Wine. French, of course. Any color you’d like. And don’t forget the corkscrew!
While not absolutely necessary, adding a bright tablecloth is always a nice touch.
The Three Courses
While a traditional French meal might have half a dozen courses or more, a French picnic usually has just three—an aperitif, a main course, and dessert.
It is said that French social life “revolves around the table” because meals are central to French socializing. And they aren’t rushed affairs, but rather an opportunity to spend time with friends and family. A social meal often begins with an aperitif, or apéro, to start it off right.
An apéro doesn’t have to be fancy and there are usually just a few things to eat—olives, nuts, that sort of thing. Crudités with a dip like tapenade or anchoïade is also popular. If you want to add some pizzazz you can spread pâté on slices of baguette and top them with cornichons (little French pickles). Then open up your wine, maybe a brisk white wine like a Sancerre. Or a rosé, perfect for warm weather.
The Main Course
A French picnic’s main course is usually made up of several small dishes rather than one big one. They can be as simple as a nice selection of charcuterie and a frittata. Or you can add salads, like a green salad or a rice salad—something refreshing in the heat. And now’s the time to dig into that cheese!
You can move on to red wine if you’d like, something to go with the heartier fare. A perfect picnic wine is Beaujolais, served lightly chilled. Beaujolais goes well with just about any food and is especially delicious on a warm day.
As you plan your meal, remember this secret: The French don’t cook as much as you think. They want to enjoy time with their friends, not play Top Chef. So, you’ll often find them cooking one or two items themselves and buying the rest from a traiteur (like a deli). A traiteur is an essential part of French life, a place where you can get tomato tarts, prepared salads, pissaladière, and much more. Desserts at a French meal usually come from a patisserie. And some dishes, like olives and charcuterie, don’t need any preparation at all.
On the other hand, if you are an enthusiastic chef who’d like to try something new, check out these recipes from Provence, where the warm weather invites picnicking during much of the year.
Before you move on to dessert, consider getting up and stretching your legs. Stroll around and enjoy your surroundings. “French style” is more of an attitude than a formula. The French really appreciate the pleasure of small things, so don’t rush your picnic. Instead, relax and enjoy the time together with your friends.
The French like to finish their picnics with fresh fruit. It’s summertime, after all, the peak season for all sorts of delicious fruits. If you like, you can add some cookies or chocolates. And if you want to get fancy, do like the French and bring a selection of little pastries. That way everyone can choose their own.
Le Grand Finale
At this point you are comfortably full, nice and relaxed, and maybe sleepy from all that wine. Could it be time for a nap? Or maybe a trip to a café for a cup of coffee? Or…you can do both, savoring each one like the French do.