I don’t know why they always say “Summer’s short”. If you ask me Spring is much shorter; One moment there are new sprouts on the trees, the other they’re filled with green leaves and in a blink of an eye you need a fan whenever you walk, you’re drenched with sweat under the hot sun and going out without a strong sunscreen (and maybe even a shade?) would be considered madness.
Well at least that’s how it feels like in Rome. The Roman summer always arrives in a rush. And oh this city looks so good in her early warm evenings, still lit by the pink & orange light of late summer sunsets. Magical hues as if they were copied and pasted right from Impressionist paintings, leaving long shadows of the typical Roman street lamps on the ochre, old buildings. It’s a splendid season.
The warm season in Rome (and around) is quite long. So it’s no wonder that people have picnics in parks and by the beach from April even until October. The picnic season in Italy officially inaugurates in Easter Monday, where the tradition demands having lunch all’aperto. But So often rain and cold get in the way. In a very similar way, and almost in the same period (early April) the Persian “Sizdeh-beh-Dar“, or the thirteenth day after Norouz, the Persian new year, or the last day of holidays must be spent in nature otherwise it would bring bad luck. But I believe we Iranians are not very practical picnic people. On Sideh-beh-dar we drag our heavy pots of herby pilafs (for the whole extended family) and lots of marinated Kabab meat to barbecue later, all the way from home to the green areas out of the city. We need to figure out light and practical picnic food.
1. The Big Tuscan Picnic AKA the Fettunta Party
My first picnic of the year was on my birthday; a lucky day I’d say. April 3rd was surprisingly sunny & warm this year, but it didn’t last until Easter Monday which was only a couple of days later. Another classic Italian picnic date is April 25th, The Liberation Day, or when the Facio-Nazi occupation ended at the end of WWII. This year on this holiday, Juls’ Kitchen‘s Giulia invited food bloggers, friends and family to her beautiful home in the faiy-talish Tuscan country side for a Fettunta Party and I was more than happy to attend. Giulia and her lovely family were extremely kind and hospital. I can’t even begin to describe the amount and the variety of food that there was. Apart from the endless quiches and dessert that guests had brought, Giulia and her family also prepared pizza from scratch and baked in the wooden oven. Such a wonderful day spent in the hills of Tuscany. Watch all of my photos of Juls’ Fettunta Party here.
Traveling all the way from Rome, I needed to think about a food simple and easy to transport, that wouldn’t lose its shape and consistence during the not-so-short journey. I came up with the ideas simple dips and spreads, that would work perfectly not only for the fettunta (which means bruschettas or grilled bread in the Florentine dialect), but also for pieces of crunchy vegetable. These three recipes of vegan dips I’m sharing here with you —my special hummus, fresh pea & mint dip and roasted carrot and ginger dip— are exactly the ones I took the party, and I’m really happy people seemed to love them.
2. The Creative Roman Picnic
Somewhere towards the end of May I attended a very particular picnic. A creative one, in which I got to know three very talented girls. Veronica, the owner of WE Factory, who creates events and experiences based on food and design (crazy cool, isn’t it?), came all the way from her home in Veneto to Rome, to be interviewed for a podcast by Muse Radio. Muse Radio, which interviews creative people and talks about creative living, is hosted by two lovely and young women based in Rome; Kat, a video and photography creative, and Marta, a florist (whom I had been following for a long time on Instagram actually).
We first went to the market to pick up some fresh picnic food. It was just the right moment for some raw Fava beans and Roman Pecorino cheese (a classic snack for the Labour Day picnic here in Rome). We found fragrant local strawberries and crunchy bread from a traditional bakery. I had also whipped up a healthy, no-butter pound cake the night before, and Kat & Marta had brought Churchkhela, a typical fruity candy from Georgia. We gathered in a national muesum in the heart of Rome, I made some infused water with strawberries and basil, Veronica and I took care of styling the table, Marta arranged the flowers and Kat shot us, while we styled, chatted, ate & drank. Another amazing day, focused on creativity, beautiful things and good food.
Watch the beautiful video Kat has made of our beautiful and creative picnic and expect to hear more of these girls on this blog.
3. Tips for Eating Out at Picnics or at the Beach
- Stay light. Enjoying a day in a park, or at the beach is all about having fun outdoors. So It’s important not to eat so much that you couldn’t move from you’re blanket or bed on the beach. Think vegetables and healthy snacks. Sliced, crunchy vegetables such as carrots, fennel bulb, celery, or even apples can be very handy. If you a have a market around, buy local, fresh fruit and vegetable in the place.
- Stay hydrated. Warm days outside can dehydrate you very quickly. Bring fresh water. Avoid sugary sodas such as cola. Try infusing water with lemon, strawberries, peaches or various herbs such as mint or basil. This is a genius idea in oder to use strawberry tops to make infused water but you could basically use any fruit or herb and you’ll easily have a refreshing drink with no sugar.
- Don’t make sandwiches ahead to bring to the picnic. The humidity of the food will make the bread mushy and unpleasant. Bring the bread, uncut vegetables (specially if tomatoes), and the rest of filling for your sandwich and make it on the place of picnic.
- Prepare, salsas, dips, and condiments and bring them in mason jars. Dips and spreads are easy to share and you can have them on breads, crackers and vegetables. With no need for a plate, they’re easy and perfect for a picnic. You can also prepare basic salad dressing such as olive oil and lemon juice and dress your salad right at the place.
- Travel light and stay green. Don’t bring along many dishes and avoid plastic plates as they are almost impossible to recycle. There are all sorts of multi-use plastic or enamel plates you can bring around. Make sure your one good knife and a bottle opener. If you organize your picnic for food to be eaten by hand (pizza, bread and spreads, veggies, etc) even napkins would be enough. Remember to bring wet wipes too and do not dispose anything around. Bring a bag for the trash. If possible sort your waste.
4. The Dips
The only real secret to making a great spread, dip or hummus (which comes in various types, not just chickpeas) is a great food processor! The stronger your food processor, the smoother your dip will be. Another great tip is to add the liquid first. That liquid happens to be (a considerable amount of) extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes a splash of water helps a lot in loosening the paste, specially for drier ingredients such as chickpeas. For vegetables that contain more water (such as the roasted carrots) extra water is not needed. In other cases, and depending on the flavor of the dip, a dollop of yogurt could also help. But these recipes are vegan (and gluten free), so I didn’t use any.
In my opinion there is no real or standard recipes for these dips. You just mix, taste and add ingredients and adjust them the way you like them. My middle-eastern self likes to accentuate on spices and herbs.
- chickpeas. 2 drained cans (450/480g boiled and drained or 2 cups)
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (and more for covering)
- 1 tsp whole sea salt
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3/4 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste),
- 2 heap tsp cumin powder,
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder (or 1 tsp chili flavored olive oil)
- sesame seeds for garnish
- Combine all the ingredients except the chickpeas in a food processor until you get a smooth marinate.
- Add the chickpeas, in 2 or more steps and pulse until you get a smooth cream. This can take some time. If necessary, scrape down the chickpea off the walls of the food processer.
- If the paste is really too thick to smooth, add a splash of water, but 1 tbsp at a time. Don't wash down your hommus. I like my hommus very rich in flavor and consistance.
- When the cream is smooth, spoon it into a bowl and cover it with some olive oil in order to prevent it from drying out.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of cumin powder and sesame seeds.
- raw peas, fresh or frozen, 500g (about 2 cups)
- salted boiling hot water
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or more, if desired)
- 1 heap tsp whole sea salt
- 1 tbsp dried/powdered mint leaves
- a handful of fresh mint leaves
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the peas and watch the pot until the water comes back to boil. (Naturally this takes more time if your peas are frozen, about 5 mintues; 1 to 2 minutes for fresh peas.)
- Drain the peas immidiately and run under cold water to stop the cooking.
- In the food processor mix all the ingredients except the peas.
- Add the peas to the wet mixture, at 2 or more steps and pulse until you get a smooth paste.
- You could add more olive oil or just a splash of water to loosen the cream, but don't exagerate.
- Serve in a bowl, with pita bread, bread sticks (grissini), or fresh cruncky vegetable.
- A looser version of this dip could be used as a pesto to dress pasta.
- carrots 1.5 kg/ 3 pounds
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 5 cm/ 2 inch fresh ginger root
- 1 tsp whole sea salt
- a dash of freshly ground pepper
- 4/5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and more for roasting
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/ Gas mark 6
- Peel and chop the carrots into small chunks.
- Crush the garlic cloves and add them to a big bowl. Add the carrots, half of the salt, black pepper and about 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.
- Mix eveything very well.
- Cover an oven tray with a baking parchment and put the carrots on it.
- Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft and they edges brown and caralamize
- Peel and chop the ginger root.
- Add the rest of the olive oil, the chopped ginger root, the rest of salt to the food processor and pulse until you get a smooth marinate.
- Add the roasted carrots in two or more steps into the wet ingredients in the food processor and pulse until everything is well combined and the dip is uniform.
- Serve in a bowl with bread and crunchy vegetables.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.