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Picnic panache: Celebrate Bastille Day outdoors with a portable French feast |

Picnic panache: Celebrate Bastille Day outdoors with a portable French feast

Independence is something to be celebrated. Americans celebrate their freedom on the Fourth of July. For the French, the celebration comes a few days later on July 14.


Bastille Day recognizes that day in 1789 when an outraged group of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a fortress and prison. The French recognize Bastille Day as the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the modern republic. The day is celebrated with a grand military parade up the Champs Elysees, festivals, food and a few uncorked bottles of wine.

The celebration of Bastille Day is not limited to France. Here in Milwaukee, Bastille Day is celebrated with a three-day festival from July 13 through July 16 centered upon downtown’s Cathedral Park. One of the largest French festivals in the nation, Milwaukee’s Bastille Days observance annually attracts more than 250,000 visitors, who enjoy live music, food, wine and entertainment presided over by a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel tower.

Enjoy Bastille Day at Milwaukee’s festival, a local park or your own backyard by creating a French-themed picnic. With a mixture of homemade and purchased items, putting together this picnic basket is as easy as “un, deux, trois.”

Un (One)

Haricot verts, those thin green beans that are often found at farmers markets throughout the summer, make a great addition to a vinaigrette-based potato salad. Roasted red bell peppers and tomatoes give the salad color. Capers and kalamata olives add a briny salty flavor. Finish the salad with a simple Dijon mustard olive oil vinaigrette dressing and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs.

A pan bagnet is a classic stuffed French sandwich. Think Italian muffuletta meets French baguette.

Slice the baguette horizontally, removing some of the bread to create a hollow area. Make a chunky spread of artichoke hearts, chickpeas, red bell peppers and olives and then stuff the mixture into the hollowed-out baguette top. Layer turkey, cheese and watercress or arugula on the bottom half of the baguette and give it a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the two pieces together, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight to meld the sandwich filling flavors. On the day of your picnic, simply unwrap and slice.

Deux (two)

Make something that looks fancy but is really simple. Madeleines are a traditional French shell-shaped sponge cake. Though most often served as a sweet, madeleines also can be prepared in a savory version.

Include a batch of shallot, Gruyere cheese and fresh thyme madeleines as part of your French picnic. The batter can be prepared in less than 15 minutes, making them an easy day-of recipe to prepare. The shell-shaped madeleine pans are available at most specialty cookware stores. If you don’t have a madeleine pan, you can use muffin pans.

Troix (three)

Make a few French-inspired desserts. Lavender, a staple of the Provence region of France, is the perfect addition to a tender shortbread cookie. Make the cookies a day ahead and store in an airtight container between layers of parchment paper. Storing the cookies in a tin keeps them fresh and makes transporting them to the final picnic destination easier.

Make a simple French fruit tart by using pre-packaged puff pastry as the crust coupled with a variety of fresh stone fruits. Stone fruits are those with a pit — think plums, nectarines, peaches and even cherries. These fruits typically keep their shape better when baked, making them a perfect addition to a summer tart.

Rest the sliced fruit on puff pastry squares that have been topped with an almond filling that has been made in a food processor. Don’t worry if you have more filling than needed. Just store in a plastic freezer bag and thaw at room temperature for several hours before whipping up another batch of tarts.

Recipes

 

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

 

Pan Bagnat

 

Fresh Thyme and Gruyere Madeleines

 

Individual Puff Pastry Fruit Tarts

 

Haricot Vert and Baby Potato Salad

 

Terri Milligan is a professional chef and culinary instructor who lives in Door County. For additional recipes, visit chefterrimilligan.com.

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