Sit back and chill with some lighter fare for the beach

By on July 31, 2017

Fruit tarts provide a nice finish. (Rosie Hawthorne)

This column is for all you beach-goers who love to spend all day soaking up the rays, splashing in the water, and digging your toes in the sand.

At some point, you need nourishment. Nothing heavy, mind you, but enough to keep you going throughout the day — snack food that’s sustainable itself and that sustains you.

I have just the ticket! Everything is easily made the day before, then pack all in a cooler, sit back, and chill.

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For a day at the beach, I recommend light offerings, with a focus on flavors and an emphasis on textures. I opted out on meat proteins — too heavy for beach fare and there’s always that spoilage factor involved with the heat and improper and inadequate refrigeration.

I’m going for three types of salads — grain, pasta, and fruit — showcasing their unique qualities and tastes.

For the vegetables, if you don’t have a garden, the next best thing would be the produce department at Fresh Market in Nags Head, which showcases a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

For a sweet finish, there’s nothing better than a fruit tart with fresh fruit from Fresh Market.

My grain salad is light, nutty, and perfect for packing on a picnic. You can serve it wrapped in lettuce leaves or on a corn chip scoop.

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Tabbouleh Salad
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 cup mint, finely chopped
1 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced

Pour bulgur in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water to cover. Cover bowl and let sit for an hour. Drain off any excess water.

Combine rest of ingredients with bulgur.

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Dressing:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil (I prefer a neutral-flavored oil that doesn’t compete with the other flavors here.)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Slowly pour the oil into the lemon juice, whisking constantly, until you have a nice emulsion. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour dressing over bulgur mixture; toss to coat.

Yield: 6 cups tabbouleh

For the pasta salad, I’m going with Pasta Pesto. My pasta of choice is rotini, or corkscrew pasta. The shape of the pasta invites the pesto sauce to adhere to it and get trapped in the screw threads. More surface area means more pesto flavor.

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, then toss with the pesto. Two cups dried pasta will produce about four cups cooked pasta. Count on using 1 cup pesto sauce to a quart of cooked pasta.

Basil Pesto
4 garlic cloves
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed, stems removed
1 cup pecans
1 cup Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt pinch
In bowl of processor, pulse garlic cloves a few times. Alternatively layer basil leaves and nuts and pulse. With motor running, pour in olive oil. Add cheese and pulse to combine.
Makes 1 pint.
Any leftover pesto can be frozen. I use ice cube trays to freeze the pesto, then store the pesto cubes in freezer bags for individual servings later.

My fruit salad uses an assortment of fresh fruits which can be mixed on site with a sweet and tangy poppy seed dressing that pairs perfectly with the natural sweetness of the fruits. The dressing can be made and stored in a twist-top jar which is perfect for easy transport and cooler storage. I like to pick and choose my own fruits, but if you don’t want to bother, Fresh Market offers convenient, packaged fruit assortments.

Simply pick off the shelf, pack in the cooler, and you’re good to go.

Fruit Salad
Pineapple
Strawberries
Kiwis
Red and green grapes
Blueberries
Blackberries
Combine fruits. When ready to serve, toss with dressing.

Poppy Seed Dressing
Makes 1 cup.
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp ground mustard
juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup canola oil
1 heaping TB poppy seeds
½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
few grinds of pepper

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard, and lemon juice. Whisk to dissolve sugar. Drizzle in oil in slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, to make a nice emulsion, or you can combine everything in a mini-processor and have a go at it. Stir in poppy seeds and season to taste with salt and pepper. Shake vigorously before pouring.

While at Fresh Market, you might also want to load up on quick snacks for your beach picnic. Their antipasto bar offers customizable quantities of colorful bites of marinated vegetables, stuffed grape leaves, and salty olives, perfect for replenishing lost sodium from a hot day at the beach.

Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and snack mixes, excellent choices for rounding out your picnic basket, are also available in Fresh Market’s bulk department.

Since all my picnic offerings are light salads, there’s going to be room for dessert — a sweet finish in the form of miniature fruit tarts. I was inspired by one of the dazzling dessert presentations I saw in the display case at Fresh Market and, if you know me, you know I had to make it myself.

My fruit tart consists of three components — a sweet pastry crust, or pâte sablée, a vanilla flavored custard, or crème pâtissière, and fresh fruit.

I made the pastry crust the day before, since it needs at least 2 hours in the fridge. I specifically chose pâte sablée because this pastry behaves quite nicely: it doesn’t slump in the pan during baking. As a bonus, sablée, in French, means “sandy” so it goes perfectly with my beach theme.

For pastry crust (pâte sablée)
9 TB (1 stick + 1 TB) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
⅛ tsp kosher salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 ¾ cups flour

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, and salt at medium speed until smooth. Mix in egg until smooth. Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl with spatula, then add flour all at once and mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Divide pastry dough into 2 equal balls. Flatten each ball into a ½-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the disks ⅛ inch thick, working quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm. Dust with flour as needed, lifting and rotating dough every few strokes. Cut out 2 ½ inch circles of dough and place in mini-muffin tins, gently pressing into place. You should have enough dough for 24 mini-tartlet shells, with some dough left over. Place muffin pan in refrigerator to chill dough for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Heat oven to 325°. Prick bottoms of tartlet shells with a fork and lightly brush with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water). Bake 12-15 minutes, turning halfway, until shells are lightly browned. Pop out onto wire rack to cool before filling.

For pastry cream (crème pâtissière)
1 cup whole milk
½ vanilla bean (readily available at Fresh Market)
⅛ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
2 TB cornstarch
1 egg, room temperature
2 TB unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Beat in egg until smooth.

Pour milk into heavy saucepan. Add salt. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds from pod into milk. Toss in the beans for infusion. Place over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, and bring milk to just under a boil. Slowly pour about a third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so as not to curdle. Pour egg-milk mixture back into hot milk and whisk constantly over medium heat until the custard becomes thick, about 2 minutes. Do not allow to boil. When thickened, remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Let cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, to the pastry cream, whisking until smooth before adding the next piece. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate to cool.

To make tartlets:
Fill tartlets with pastry cream, then top with assorted fruits. I used sliced strawberries and kiwis, blueberries, and blackberries, all from Fresh Market.

Enjoy and bon appétit!

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