It's in the Basket

When planning a picnic, certain items are considered staples - in a blanket, sunshine, good company and, of course, the classic picnic basket.

But what differentiates your picnic from others is what's inside the basket.

Central Ohio Home & Garden magazine consulted local food experts Ian Rough and Rick Lopez for their recommendations on putting together the perfect picnic. Their advice is keep it simple, and if possible, let someone else take care of the cooking, which is exactly what they did for us.

For the most part, cold dishes, such as salads and sandwiches, are the items of choice for these two chefs. 

Rough, regional chef for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, prepared an incredible spread at Marcella's in the Short North, which features lots of fresh meats and cheeses that are picnic-ready.

"The first thing that comes to mind for food that would be good for a picnic is antipasti, like the fresh meats and cheese we have, because they are easy to serve and delicious," Rough says.

Marcella's offers a cured-meat plate that features prosciutto di parma, mortadella, bresaola, capicola, sopressata and salami. The cheese plate includes taleggio, mozzarella, aged provolone, aged goat cheese, pecorino di pienza and gorgonzola. 

"For a picnic, I also like some of our antipasto salads with our giardiniera vegetables. you can just snack on that," Rough says. "Also, the caprese salad, the peppers and mushrooms, and I like the Sicilian caponata, a roasted eggplant salad with olives and capers."

"Those are great for picnics because they don't have to be freezing cold or extremely hot, so that's appealing," he adds.

Rough's personal favorite for picnics is his homemade sausage. "As a family, me and my dad have been making our own sausage for 20 years," he says. "With the bratwurst. I'll parboil it at home with some beer, and then I take it to the park and fire up the grill and get them all nice and crisp."

Lopez, who owns Knead on High, also located in the Short North, is known for using local products and ingredients and for his made-from-scratch dishes.

Lopez recommends incorporating different textures and colors when putting your picnic plans in motion.

"When I have a picnic, I'm definitely going to do some sort of roasted vegetable salad with the type of vegetables I use depending on the season we are in," Lopez says.

Although, sandwiches are an easy grab-and-go for picnics, Lopez advises.

"You don't want to have something messy, and you don't want a type of sandwich where the bread gets soggy. Cold sandwiches are good for picnics, but you have to make sure you have something that keeps the bread dry."

Asparagus is great for picnics, adds Lopez, who likes to wrap it in prosciutto and stuff it with mascarpone cheese. 

"We do our lentil salad different than most, because we use whatever vegetables that are in season."

Picnic season mirrors Downtown Columbus' festival season. So whether you are headed to an outdoor event or simply to the nearest park, grab your picnic basket, and stock it full with these refreshing picnic-ready goodies.

you can't control the weather or the ants when it comes to a picnic, but with the advice from some of the area's top culinary minds - the picnic fare is certain to be a hit.