“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When spring comes, promising sunshine in the skies and the budding of fresh flowers in the garden, I am exuberant. There’s a magical aura surrounding the first season that comes after the chill of winter. Warm soups are replaced with salads. Fresh fruit and vibrant vegetables flourish at the farmers’ market. And folks gather together to eat outdoors and celebrate the invigoratingly magical spell of the equinox with spring parties of all sorts.
When the blossoms bloom and the garden becomes green and lush, I love to round up my friends and family to throw a picnic foodie party outdoors. I keep the menu simple, fresh and colorful—the perfect items for dining alfresco with a glass of something bubbly.
In my southern California surroundings, the scents of fresh lavender and plumeria flowers waft through the air, carrying the hums of laughter, and I’m reminded of the power of simply sharing a meal with the ones you love, a gift from the bounty of spring. Between Caprese boats, cucumber salad, grilled prosciutto e melone, avocado deviled eggs, and a refreshing dessert of lemon bars, your guests will be sure to picnic-dine underneath the sun with happy souls and happy taste buds. Read on, to get your springtime picnic party on.
Sail into Spring with Caprese Boats
I love making Caprese boats on idle weekday spring evenings—or for a weekend crowd! Between the colors of the tomato, the balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, and the basil that holds it all together, it’s a twist on a traditional Caprese salad, simple to create and sure to stir up a reaction—a picnic favorite in boat form.
My real secret to making this dish sublime is fresh black pepper, sea salt, quality olive oil, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. This classic combination is what gives it that ever-so-fresh feel of springtime. The recipe below serves 4.
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- 16 cherry tomatoes in red, orange, and yellow
- 8 small mozzarella balls
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Using 8 mini wooden skewers, pierce one end of each of the basil leaves, then a tomato, followed by a mozzarella ball, and another tomato to create your boat.
- Then, pierce the other end of the basil leaf through the skewer so that the tomatoes and mozzarella are being cradled by the leaf.
- Drizzle evenly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Light but Hearty Cucumber Salad with Crumbled Feta and Pine Nuts
This cucumber salad is light but hearty, the perfect base for a spring meal eaten outdoors. It could quite literally be the only thing you serve at your picnic to fill your guests up! The first time I threw this salad together, I made a big batch and ate the leftovers for dinner the next three days alongside grilled chicken, toasted bread, and fresh salmon. It’s quickly become a staple in our household; we just keep making it over and over again. And don’t forget the fresh parsley! It’s the best part. This recipe serves 4.
- 2 medium hothouse cucumbers, cubed
- 3 whole green onions, chopped
- 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, or 1 1⁄2 cups home cooked
- 1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1⁄2 cup pine nuts
- 3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Gently mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, seasoning with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
- Divide the salad among four small bowls or mason jars.
- Garnish with extra olive oil and add more sea salt and black pepper to taste, if desired.
The Sweet (yet Smoky) Grilled Prosciutto e Melone
Prosciutto e melone is a common appetizer staple in most Italian households, especially popular in spring when melons become juicy and full of flavor. We like to put our own spin on the classic and throw the pieces on the grill once they’re assembled. There’s a smoky taste that comes across when the prosciutto meets the charcoal grill and combines with the sweetness of the melon. It’s divine.
Alternatively, you can leave out the prosciutto for a vegetarian option as the melon, basil, and other ingredients will still taste wonderful. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, slice a thick baguette and throw it on the grill alongside this appetizer. Your guests may never leave their spot underneath the tree out back. This recipe serves 4
- 1⁄2 medium cantaloupe, sliced into 8 wedges
- 1⁄2 medium honeydew melon, sliced into 8 wedges
- 16 large basil leaves
- 16 slices prosciutto
- 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- Black pepper
- Balsamic reduction
- Heat a grill to medium-high.
- Cut each melon wedge in half, then place one basil leaf on each piece of melon, wrapping with one piece of prosciutto. Skewers are not necessary, although you can stick them through the melon if you’d like.
- Drizzle each slice with olive oil (making sure to coat both sides), and top them with a sprinkle of black pepper.
- Throw them on the barbecue and sear until you see grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
- Add more black pepper as well as a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
If you’ve never made balsamic reduction before, it’s super simple. Pour the balsamic into a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens like a glaze and reduces by about half. Try not to bring it to a complete boil. Remove the glaze from the heat and allow it to cool. Set aside.
*If you don’t have a grill, serve the wrapped melons raw or cook them in a skillet on high heat and sear until golden.
A Protein-Packed Snack: Avocado Deviled Eggs
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up on a whimsical, 6-acre avocado farm in rural San Diego. Everything we ate had some sort of avocado accompaniment and these green-hued beauties constantly make their way into my picnic soirees. I like to keep spring picnic foods light, vegetable or fruit based, but the avocado combined with boiled eggs provide an often-needed bite of afternoon protein. I’m known amongst friends for always throwing a bit of handmade hot sauce on my deviled eggs, so to jazz these babies up, I give them a sprinkle of red chili flakes. This recipe makes 12.
- 6 eggs
- 1 large avocado
- 2 Tbsps minced parsley, plus leaves to garnish
- 1⁄2 cup minced red onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 1⁄2 tsp red pepper flakes
- Place the eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat.
- Once the boil is reached, turn off the burner and let the eggs sit for about 7 minutes, with the lid on, before running them under cool water.
- Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise.
- Discard 3 of the yolks and spoon the remaining yolks into a mixing bowl.
- Add the avocado, parsley, onion, garlic, then salt and pepper to taste. Mash with a fork until well combined and smooth the mixture with a spoon.
- Spoon the mixture back into the egg white halves and sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly among them. Garnish each egg with a leaf or two of parsley before serving.
Forever Yellow Lemon Bars
There is nothing in this world as reminiscent of springtime as simple yellow lemon bars. Over the years, creating this dessert has turned into a sort of therapeutic kitchen dance for me: the blending of the butter, flour, and sugar; the whisking of the eggs and lemon juice; the smells as they permeate the kitchen in harmony with the blossoming trees outside.
I tend to make this treat in the warmer months to eat outdoors while catching up on conversation with a group of friends, the sun staying high in the sky later than we’re used to after the long winter season. Sweet, tart, and fruit-forward, these bars are the absolute perfect ending to a picnic. Take time to relish in their beautiful simplicity, spring after spring.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 Tbsps lemon juice)
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, mix the butter, 2 cups of flour, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
- Using your hands, form into a dough ball and press into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. Bake the bars for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the rest of your sugar and flour.
- Then, whisk in your eggs and lemon juice.
- Pour this mixture over your baked crust and pop the bars in the oven for another 20 minutes.
- Let cool for an hour before sprinkling with powdered sugar and cutting into squares.
Whether you’re making these spring fresh dishes, a family favorite, or stretching your creativity with something altogether new, the essence of a simple springtime picnic will always remain the same: to be together, to laugh, to enjoy and appreciate the changing of the seasons.
My hope is that some of these party foods, near and dear to my heart, have given you inspiration for your own gathering. So pour those bubbles, sit back, unwind, and let the sun shine. May your heart and your soul laugh among the flowers—and tasty tidbits, too.
Elfster wishes you a bright, sunshine-filled springtime ahead. Explore our food and drink gift guide, or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more inspirations for this sensational season.
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