Life's a Picnic

When the weather is glorious and a trip to the beach or park beckons, make a day of it with an outdoor meal you can linger over for hours. We've created three picnic spreads that put the mmm in summer—and a premium on your time. Whether you're heading out with family, a few friends, or a hungry crowd, we'll show you what's worth making yourself and how to put delicious personal spins on store-bought finds. Now, let's get out the basket and start packing.

Text By Michelle Shih
Photos by Linda Pugliese Recipes by Shira Bocar
2 min

The Italian Escape

This unexpected menu easily feeds a crowd. We used porchetta as a starting point and built a buffet of flavor-packed small bites around it.

Make a Main

Give pulled pork a break from barbecue sauce. An herb-spice paste infuses the meat as it braises in the oven until fork-tender. (To transport it, we love Stanley's Adventure vacuum crock.) Cut the ciabatta rolls before leaving home, then let guests pile on the pork and top it with crisp, thinly sliced fennel.

Pick Up

Buy an assortment of antipasti for people to spear with toothpicks. Here, we offered roasted artichokes, meaty Castelvetrano olives, spicy Calabrian chiles, and chunks of Grana Padano cheese. Potato chips are a no-fail side; look for ones fried in olive oil to complement the theme.

Add a Twist

Instead of hauling a cooler filled with cans and bottles, premix a simple, refreshing punch of ginger beer, lager, and Campari that scales up well, and pour it from a thermos or large Mason jar.

Serve With Style

Pour ice into a bowl and pile fresh cherries on top. End the feast with “ice cream” sandwiches that won't melt. Instead of the cold stuff, spread creamy mascarpone cheese between two cookies—we highly suggest Jules Destrooper butter waffles, which taste like sugar cones and get a little soft from the filling, just like the classic freezer-case version.

Italian Pulled-Pork Sandwiches

If you're making the pork ahead of time, store it whole in the pan juices for up to three days in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then rewarm and shred before serving. We used a Japanese Benriner mandoline to cut the paper-thin slices of fennel.

Active | 45 min Total | 6 hr Serves | 10 to 12

  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 boneless pork shoulder (7 pounds)
  • 2 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • ½ cup fresh sage leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small dried red chile pepper, crumbled
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 10 to 12 ciabatta rolls, for serving
  • 1 head fennel, quartered and thinly shaved, for serving
  1. Toast fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 300°. Using a sharp knife, score fat (but not meat) on pork in a diamond pattern. Pulse herbs, garlic, and fennel seeds in a food processor until combined. Slowly add oil and continue pulsing until a thick paste forms. Stir in 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, chile pepper, and lemon zest; rub mixture all over pork.
  3. Place pork, fat-side up, in a roasting pan or a large Dutch oven; add 1½ cups water. Cover and roast until meat is starting to become tender, about 3 hours. Remove lid and continue cooking until meat is fork-tender, 1 to 1½ hours more. Carefully transfer pork to a large bowl, leaving juices in pan. When cool enough to handle, use two forks to shred meat into bite-size pieces, discarding any large pieces of fat. Transfer shredded pork back to pot and toss with juices. Serve on rolls with extra pan juices, topped with shaved fennel.

Ginger-Campari Lager Punch

Active | 5 min Serves | 8

  • 4 bottles (each 12 ounces) cold lager
  • 2 bottles (each 12 ounces) cold ginger beer
  • ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces Campari
  • Ice and lemon wedges, for serving

Combine lager, ginger beer, juice, and Campari in a pitcher. Serve over ice with lemon wedges, or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 hour.

Butter-Waffle Cookies and Mascarpone

Active | 5 min Serves | 6

  • 6 tablespoons mascarpone
  • 12 butter-waffle cookies, such as Jules Destrooper

Spread 1 tablespoon cheese on one side of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie; repeat with remaining cheese and cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 hours.

The Mediterranean Mixer

Light, bright mezze skew more elegant than all-you-can-eat. Bring them to an outdoor concert or movie with another couple or two.

Make a Main

Spanakopita—savory spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo—transforms nicely into a more portable slab pie. We used store-bought pizza dough and added mozzarella to make it more substantial. For a hearty salad, salt zucchini and squash slices for half an hour, then drain. (The salt draws out excess moisture.) Toss with honey-mustard dressing, pecorino, and basil.

Pick Up

Bring unique snacks, like oversize Spanish corn nuts, or quicos, and fried fava beans; you'll find them in the cheese section of grocery stores or in specialty shops. Pair them with a canned (yes, canned) wine, such as Underwood, which is crisp and should be served lightly chilled—even the Pinot Noir ($28 for 4, unionwine For dessert, break up some halvah, a sesame-based con-fection that comes in lots of flavors; pistachio flavor suits this spread (from $7 for ¼ lb.,

Add a Twist

Dress up store-bought hummus with a surprising condiment, and pair it with a rainbow of carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes. Our favorite mix-ins are Zia Green Chile Company Hatch green chiles ($10, ziagreen, Southport Grocery Smoked Onion marmalade ($8, south, Brooklyn Delhi Roasted Garlic achaar ($9, brooklyn, and Tobagi Sliced Cabbage kimchi ($9.50,

Serve With Style

For oven-to-blanket ease, dole out the spinach pie directly from the pan you baked it in.

Spinach-Feta Pizza Slab Pie

Letting the pie cool on a wire rack keeps the bottom crust from getting soggy. Once it's cool, return it to the baking sheet for transport.

Active | 25 min Total | 1 hr 5 min Serves | 12

  • 2 bunches spinach (1 pound, 6 ounces), tough stems trimmed, washed, with water still clinging to leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1 pound store-bought pizza dough, divided in half
  • 8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella, such as Polly-O, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces feta, crumbled (⅓ cup)
  • Kosher salt
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  1. Place spinach in a large pot over high heat; cover. Steam until just collapsed, about 3 minutes; transfer to a colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water; roughly chop.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°, with a rack in lower third. Brush a 9½-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out and stretch one piece of dough into a thin 10-by-13-inch rectangle. (If dough is springing back, let stand 5 minutes.) Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Arrange mozzarella over dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with spinach and sprinkle with feta. Season with salt and red-pepper flakes. Roll out and stretch remaining portion of dough into a 10-by-14-inch rectangle. Drape over filling. Pinch edges to seal; slash a few vents in top. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  3. Bake until golden brown all over and filling is bubbling through vents, 40 to 45 minutes. (Check color of bottom crust by lifting corner with a spatula.) Immediately slide pie off sheet onto a wire rack. Let cool completely. Before serving, cut into squares.

Zucchini-and-Squash Salad

Active | 25 min Total | 55 min Serves | 6

  • 2 zucchini (1 pound total), cut into thin slices
  • 2 small yellow squashes (1 pound total), cut into thin slices
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 ounce Pecorino Romano, coarsely grated (¼ cup)
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Generously sprinkle zucchini and squash slices with salt; let stand in a colander 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry, then transfer to a large bowl. Whisk together oil, lemon juice, Dijon, and honey. Drizzle mixture over slices. Add pine nuts, cheese, and basil; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or let stand at room temperature up to 2 hours.

The New All-American

When you're planning a family-friendly picnic, the key is to satisfy the pickiest palate without sacrificing flavor. Our finger-licking winner: extra-crunchy Korean-style fried chicken and classic sides like potato salad and watermelon.

Make a Main

The chicken is double-fried in a rice flour–based batter, which results in supremely crispy skin, even at room temperature. Transport it in a brown paper bag lined with waxed paper to absorb oil. A vinaigrette-tossed potato salad is creamy but light. Finish with the perfect one-hand dessert, a chocolate-chip cookie and brownie hybrid, aka the “brookie.”

Pick Up

Pickles are a bright, vinegary companion to the chicken, and they're guaranteed to stay crisp in the summer heat. We went for pickled okra, a nod to the southern roots of the main dish (Rick's Picks Smokra, $10 for 15 oz.,

Add a Twist

Cucumber juice takes lemonade from expected to exciting. You can make the juice a few days in advance; just bring it in a jar, and let guests mix it in their lemonade to taste (or splash some in seltzer for an even lighter sip).

Serve With Style

Cut watermelon into fingers, instead of half-moons, so you can hold them by their ends—no muss, no fuss, no sticky cheeks.

Art Direction by Jaspal Riyait; Food Styling by Shira Bocar; Prop Styling by Tanya Graff.

The Crispiest Fried Chicken

Inspired by Korean-style fried chicken, we tossed ours in rice flour, dipped it in batter, and fried it not once but twice for extra crunch and an even, golden color.

Active | 45 min Serves | 4

  • 1 whole chicken (3 pounds), cut into 10 pieces (breasts halved crosswise)
  • ½ cup rice flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil, such as safflower, for frying
  • ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle chicken with rice flour; season generously with kosher salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Pour oil into a large pot to a depth of 2 inches. Place over medium-high heat until a thermometer registers 350°.
  2. Whisk together both flours, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Whisk in ¾ cup water until a smooth, thin batter forms.
  3. Working in batches, dip pieces of chicken into batter, allowing excess to drip off. Transfer to oil and fry until pale golden, 6 minutes. Remove and shake lightly in a colander to drain; transfer to paper towels. Bring oil temperature back to 350°, then return chicken to oil and fry a second time until golden brown and a thermometer inserted into thickest parts (avoiding bones) registers 160°, about 6 minutes for small pieces, about 8 minutes for large. Transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet; season with flaky salt. Serve warm or room temperature.

Herbed Celery-Potato Salad

No cloying mayonnaise for our outdoor-friendly potato salad. Make this a day ahead to let the flavors meld, and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you're using larger potatoes, boil them longer, and quarter or cut them into one-inch pieces after cooking.

Active | 35 min Total | 1 hr 5 min Serves | 6

  • 1½ pounds peewee potatoes, scrubbed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 teaspoons apple-cider vinegar
  • 1½ cups mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley and basil, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced (¼ cup)

In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with 2 inches of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and season generously with salt; cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, halve and transfer to a large bowl. Add oil, vinegar, herbs, scallions, and celery. Toss to combine; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.

Chocolate-Chip Streusel Brownies

When you can't decide between a cookie or a brownie, make a combo! Here, cookie dough is dotted over brownie batter and baked until the edges are cakey and the interior is fudgy.

Active | 35 min Total | 2 hr 15 min Serves | 16

Cookie Dough

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup packed light-brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Brownie Batter

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  1. Cookie dough: Preheat oven to 350°. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with butter; line with parchment, leaving a slight overhang on long sides. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter with both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in egg. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture; beat until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate.
  3. Brownie batter: Melt butter and chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pot of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; whisk in granulated sugar. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Whisk in cocoa and salt. Fold in flour until combined.
  4. Pour brownie batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with an offset spatula. Crumble cookie dough evenly over batter. Cover with parchment-lined foil; bake until just set, 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center (avoiding chocolate chunks) comes out with moist crumbs, 27 to 30 minutes more. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Lift brownies from pan using parchment; cut into 16 squares. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Cucumber Lemonade

The juice can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to three days.

Active | 5 min Serves | 6

  • 2 English cucumbers, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 quart homemade or store-bought lemonade

Purée cucumbers with ½ cup water in a blender. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids. Combine cucumber juice and lemonade. Serve over ice.

Watermelon Fingers

Cut a whole watermelon in half crosswise. Position each half, cut-side down, on a cutting board. Cut 1-inch slices crosswise. Cut each slice into “fingers,” leaving rind at ends.