Picnic Food Ideas for a Crowd

focaccia Italian sub

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching, the unofficial mark of summers end. If you’re going to a picnic or a family get together for your last hurrah, here’s a couple of things you can bring along and not worry about it spoiling from sitting around in the heat.

We recently had a big family picnic and although there were grills on site, we didn’t feel like grilling, so I was thinking what I could bring to share that would be big enough to feed a bunch of people, Italian sub sandwiches of course!

round focaccia

I decided I would switch it up this time and make them on focaccia bread, and although the picture may not show it well, these were huge, like the size of a 14 inch pizza.

Living in the Chicagoland area I’m fortunate to have access to many places where I can easily go and pick up some of these delicious breads, some are round, some are rectangle, all shapes would work for this, and of course you can always make your own.

focaccia Italian sub

I love this type of focaccia with the tomatoes stuck into it, it lends so much flavor to the sandwich but it does takes a little patience when slicing it in half horizontally.

You’ll need a small pairing knife and a large serrated knife. You’ll also want to make sure your focaccia is at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Use the pairing knife and score the center of the outside edge all the way around, this will just be your guideline so be careful not to cut into it too deep.

Then take the large serrated knife and SLOWLY cut through the focaccia, pressing on the top ever so slightly with your hand as you move back and forth until you reach the other side using your pairing knife marking as the guide, then gently separate the halves.

Italian sub ingredients

The sky’s the limit as to what you want to fill your subs with, I opted for swiping basil pesto on each side of the bread with a nice drizzle of olive oil all over, then I layered with slices of aged provolone cheese, mortadella, salami and a handful of arugula. Like I said before, the tomato focaccia has so much flavor so you really don’t need much more of anything else!

focaccia Italian sub

The best part is they make a great presentation on the table placed on a couple of round Party Store platters that I picked up.

I couldn’t cut them fast enough, needless to say they were a hit!

caprese pasta salad ingredients

I also brought along this Caprese Pasta salad which I like to make this time of year with the abundance of cherry tomatoes that still have their intense flavor.

I cooked my pasta the night before, ( 2 lbs.) cooled it down, drizzled it with olive oil and put it into a zip bag overnight and also cubed up a log and a half of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The morning of the picnic I quartered all my tomatoes, a t least 2 big containers, dowsed it all with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Let it sit a bit so the juices can mingle, then tossed in your pasta and cheese adding more oil, basil and salt if needed.

caprese pasta salad

Both are easy to do, a nice presentation, and feeds a crowd, oh and of course taste amazing!



Zucchini Roll Ups with Ricotta and Summer Corn

zucchini roll ups with ricotta and summer corn

I’ve been taking full advantage of all the summertime produce I can get my hands on, soon it will be gone and we’ll move on to more cooler weather veggies, but I’m not ready for that yet.

Zucchini is still in abundance along with yellow squash and sweet corn which I pick up at the farmers market nearly every week.

I recently made some eggplant rollatini which I posted on my Instagram account last week, so I thought why not try it with zucchini!

zucchini roll ups with ricotta and summer corn

To put a little summer twist on it I mixed fresh corn into the ricotta, spinach and cheese filling and I’m so glad I did, we loved it!

ingredients for zucchini roll ups

This is pretty easy to make so I’ll just tell you what I did. Slice your squash up fairly thin, you want to be able to roll it up, if it’s cut too thick you won’t be able to bend it easily. I used a grill pan inside to cook it down slightly on each side to get it limp enough to roll.

In a bowl I started out with a cup of well drained ricotta, the kernels of one ear of corn, a handful each of romano cheese, shredded mozzarella and fresh spinach that I chopped, you could sub out fresh basil for the spinach if you prefer.

I added 1 small smashed garlic clove, salt, pepper and an egg. Before you add the egg taste everything to your liking. Depending on how many roll ups you make, you might need to mix up a little more filling. Keep in mind you’ll only need a heaping tablespoon on each, that is if your squash ribbons are normal size and not huge.

zucchini roll ups with ricotta and summer corn

Roll them up, placing them seam side down into a pool of marinara sauce. I like to spoon a little extra sauce down the center of each roll so as not to cover the whole thing because I like seeing all the different colors peeking out. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes at 350 or until ricotta is heated through and set.

zucchini roll ups with ricotta and summer corn

Take a bite into some of the last days of summer using up the abundance of zucchini available with this healthy, easy and delicious meal!


Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Basil and Blistered Tomatoes

gnocchi with brown butter, basil and tomato

This is a summertime version of a brown butter sauce, no sage leaves used here, I’ll save that for the fall, instead I’m using fresh basil leaves tossed into hot, nutty tasting browned butter, just until crisp, then blistered cherry tomatoes complete with their juice get stirred in and around to complete the sauce.

It’s a killer combination, so quick and easy to make and the perfect flavor profile to top off your summertime pasta dishes.

frozen ricotta gnocchi

I for one love it with gnocchi, I’m partial to ricotta gnocchi, it’s my favorite, little fluffy pillows of cheese that melt in your mouth!

I normally make my own (just omit the kale if you want them plain in the link I’ve given you)  but once in a while I’ll buy some from my favorite Italian market and keep a few bags handy in the freezer, it makes for a very quick dinner that I can whip up in no time.

This sauce is also amazing spooned over cheese ravioli, if you’re not a gnocchi fan.

gnocchi with brown butter, basil and tomato

Very simple components, the only thing you have to do is roast the cherry tomatoes ahead of time and have them ready to go.

brown butter and basil

The basil leaves get frizzled and the juice of the tomatoes mingle nicely with the browned butter.

brown butter, basil and blistered tomatoesgnocchi brown butter, basil and tomatoes

Top it off with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, I’m serious, every bite is to die for!

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Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Basil and Blistered Tomatoes
The perfect summertime brown butter sauce to spoon over your pasta, using basil and blistered tomatoes!
  • 12 oz.to 1 lb of cooked ricotta gnocchi, with or without spinach, kale, or swiss chard added to the recipe,or just straight up plain or even cooked ravioli
  • 1 pint of colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half and pre-roasted plus olive oil
  • ½ stick of unsalted butter
  • a good handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Grated parmesan for finishing
  1. Roast the tomatoes beforehand, you can even do it a few days ahead and leave them in the fridge.
  2. Place sliced cherry tomatoes on a foil rimmed sheet pan, drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 375 until they blister and juices start to flow.
  3. Remove tomatoes and place into a bowl making sure to save and scrape all juices off the foil.
  4. Get your water boiling for the pasta, gnocchi takes only about 3 minutes, In the meantime start making your sauce.
  5. In a large skillet on top of stove heat butter on medium high until golden and starts to foam, toss in the basil leaves, let them frizzle for a second or two then stir in tomatoes and shut off the heat.
  6. Get your pasta into the pot, when gnocchi rise to the top gently scoop them out with a hand strainer and place them carefully into the skillet, spoon and make sure the sauce is all over them.
  7. Finish with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano.