With the rest of the world, I’ve always been a little smitten with Ina Garten. Mostly for her ability to pack up everything she’s just made into those perfect plastic containers before meeting Jeffrey at the beach. That’s where she cloaks the sand with a beautiful blanket and speckles it with the prepared food that’s somehow still warm. Is it the magic of TV or Ina? Ina does picnics like no one else.
Becoming a parent has taught me, out of necessity, to sprinkle the everyday with a bit of magic too—like weekday lunches on summer break. Typically, Hal pushes her food around the plate. I nag. She scowls. But when we lay out a picnic blanket, enamel plates, and prepared food in not-so-fancy plastic containers, it’s all irresistible. Even if it’s just three steps outside our front door. Maybe it’s just the magic of picnics.
My little vegetarian is not yet enamored with our Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Picnic Sandwich. Though, it’s more for me and Kev—a reproduction of our favorite sandwich from New Haven. They call it the East Rocker, named after the neighborhood we used to lived in. Pounded grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto, spring mix, and red onions sandwiched between the best toasted bread you can get your hands on. Kev’s been asking me to recreate it ever since we moved away two years ago.
About the bread. I love Dave’s Killer Bread. It’s flavorful and nutrient dense. But I really love their thin-sliced option for sandwiches. I stopped eating sandwiches for a while there when half my lunch-allotted-calories went to the bread alone. I love bread as much as Oprah, but I’m not keen on eating iceberg the rest of the day to compensate. The Thin-sliced Good Seed Bread is only 70 calories per slice. Best part—they don’t compromise on flavor to get that number. Just size. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Sandwich eating now resumed.
Now, to picnic or to picnic? They take a bit of forethought and supplies to run smoothly. But for the most part, everything can be prepped ahead of time. Carrots peeled, cut, and then placed in a container with a bit of water to keep from drying out. Berries washed, dried, and then placed in a separate container with a folded paper towel tucked into the bottom to collect extra moisture. Chicken can and should be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge. Ditto to the pesto. Just before heading out, reheat the chicken on the skillet, toast the bread, and assemble the sandwich. If you’re traveling farther than a couple feet out your front door, wrap the sandwiches in parchment paper as you would a present. A little tape or baker’s twine will hold everything neatly in place.
Now we’re just waiting for Kev to get home for the weekend so we can take this picnic on the road. His bike has the hitch to carry Hal. No one does picnics like Ina. Unless you do a picnic like Ina. We’re just trading sandy shores for grassy river bluffs.
Prepare the pesto. In a food processor or high powered blender, combine all pesto ingredients and blitz until smooth. In a steady stream, add additional oil until pesto comes together (if needed). Store covered in fridge for up to two weeks.
Prepare the chicken. Heat cast iron skillet, griddle, or grill to medium-high. In a freezer bag, pound chicken out until 3/8″ thick. Thin to win! Cut each breast in half. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Once skillet is hot, lightly spray with a neutral, high-heat oil. Place chicken salt side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with more salt plus another spray of oil. Then flip. Cook chicken until thermometer reaches 160°. Remove from skillet. Drizzle with a bit of olive and set aside. This can be done up to a day in advance. Store covered in the fridge.
Prepare the sandwich. Reheat the chicken in a hot cast iron pan. Pour in about a tablespoon or so of water. Cover and steam for another minute or two. Lightly toast bread to stiffen it up a bit. Liberally shmear pesto on one side of the bread. Top with chicken, spring mix, red onion, and a sprinkle of feta. If traveling with the sandwich, wrap in parchment paper as you would a present.