Going for a picnic, what a delightful activity. Spending the day outdoors, in the countryside and enjoying some hearty homemade food in great company. Now it's the last good moment for a proper picnic, soon it will be too cold, but this early October is so warm and lovely that it really invites us to stay in the open air.
The last time I went for a picnic, I was with Vito and we went to the north lagoon. We took an early boat and went to Torcello first (I wanted him to see how beautiful the island is when it's lightened by the soft morning hues), but then we had our takeaway lunch on the nearby island of Mazzorbo, on a bench along the street that brings to the convent of Santa Caterina. The street is called Strada del Cimitero, as it leads to a local cemetery. Don't imagine anything creepy, it's actually quite beautiful: a wide stone street sided by trees and with lots of red benches from where you can enjoy the view of the colourful houses on Burano, the lagoon and Venice's skyline in the background. Anyway, it was just the two of us, so I fitted everything into one single bag and didn't bring any fancy table setting. I opted for a practical, yet filling, lunchbox.
If I had a boat, I would load it with beautiful tablecloths, napkins and cutlery, choose an isolated island and arrange a magical table for an unforgettable experience, but because I don't, I prefer to have lighter weights to carry on my way out, and almost none on my way back. And this is why when preparing food for a picnic, I always try to make things that can be eaten with the hands and don't require dishes, cutlery, or to be heated.
For our outing in the Venetian countryside, I prepared a shortcrust based lunch. My addiction for shortcrust started a while ago, when I discovered a super simple butter and sugar free recipe on an Italian website (for my Italian readers, here's the link). The recipe takes nothing, only flour (I use whole wheat, but you can opt for any of your choice), water, oil and salt, a bit of kneading and a night in the fridge. That's it. Easy and soft to roll, the shortcrust results light and crunchy, and it's very flexible, great for many kinds of preparations.
I like to use it for tarts and savoury cookies and, with regard to the fillings, you can really choose whatever you like. I made two tarts, one with mushrooms and ricotta and the other with rapini, anchovies, chilli, and pecorino, while to stuff the biscuits I used mashed baked pumpkin, mozzarella and black olives, but you can really go for whatever you wish. I find this basic preparation great to have in the fridge, especially when you are short of time. A roll of pin, a topping of choice, 30 minutes in the oven and dinner is solved. When at home, I like to accompany the tart with a side of chopped rocket salad dressed simply with oil and lemon.
Overall, I had made quite a lot of food for two people, so I divided the tarts in halves and pre-prepared the slices. I wrapped them separately in pieces of foil and put them in a paper bag. As for the biscuits, I just put them in another paper bag and kept them vertically at the side of the tarts. A couple of napkins, some water and we were ready to go. Once finished, we didn't even have any garbage or leftovers, as we always keep our bottle to re-fill it with fountain water (surprisingly, a lot of people ask me if in Venice the water is drinkable... Yes, always, unless it is specifically written).
In case you are wondering where to go for a picnic in Venice, let me suggest the islands. I like to go to the Lido, and if I stay near the centre I usually choose a bench along Riviera San Nicolò or go to the public park with playground in front of the Zona A beach, otherwise I head to the opposite direction, either to Murazzi or Alberoni. Other great destinations for a picnic in the country are the islands of Sant' Erasmo, only 30 minutes boat from Venice (see timetable), and Certosa (see timetable).
As for central Venice, unfortunately in recent times eating hideous take-away pasta on the sitting streets and bridges has become a sort of trend, but personally I would never advise you to do the same (the streets are really dirty and most of that food is of very bad quality and not even cheap! On average, for a take-away pasta you'll be charged 8 euros, if you have it seated at a restaurant maybe 9 or 10...). Instead, I would suggest to opt for the areas of Sant'Elena and San Pietro in Castello, the benches overlooking the lagoon in Sant'Alvise or Tre Archi in Cannaregio and the area of Santa Marta and San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in Santa Croce. Whichever you'll choose, you will love it and it will be so easy to combine your fun day with a historical/artistic visit too! Hope you will enjoy the tips, the tarts and the cookies and, if you have any picnic recipe to suggest, I would love to learn about it!
Savoury Tarts and Cookies for an outdoor picnic
Prep. Time: 10' + overnight rest Cook Time: 40'
Ingredients for 1 tart (multiply by 3 for 3 tarts*):
- For the shortcrust:
250 gr flour
100 ml water
80 ml olive oil
a pinch of salt
*P.N.: the ingredients above are for 1 ball. If you want to make both tarts and the cookies, you will need 750 gr. of flour!
- For the filling:
200 gr fresh ricotta
1 small mozzarella
pecorino and smoked ricotta to grate
300 gr mushrooms
a bunch of rapini
Butter free shortcrust base
- Sift the flour in a bowl, add a pinch of salt and pour the previously amalgamated olive oil and water.
- Work the shortcrust with your hands (don't overdo it) and form a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and put in the fridge.
- Leave it in the fridge overnight. The following day, divide the dough in two. Prepare some parchment paps with a little bit of flour and roll with a rolling pin. - Roll two round shaped bases for the tarts and a third base for the savoury biscuits. Use a ravioli stamp to prepare the biscuits.
- wash and roughly chop the mushrooms. Heat a pan, add oil, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and cook at low/medium heat for about 8 minutes. When ready, combine with 3 spoons of fresh ricotta, grind some pepper and stuff one of the tarts. - wash the rapini, chop roughly and cook in a hot pan with chilli, 2 garlic cloves and 2 anchovies for about 8/10 minutes. When ready, combine with the grated pecorino, an extra anchovy (optional) and stuff the second tart.
- slice the pumpkin, remove skin and wash. Grease a baking pan, put the pumpkin, add a pinch of salt, pepper, cinnamon and olive oil and bake at 200° for about 45 minutes. When ready, mash with a hand blender and let cool. Use to fill the ravioli-like shortcrust cookies, adding a little piece of mozzarella (tear with your hands) and a small olive (taggiasche are the best, but any black olive will do).