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Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: An Italian Picnic

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I know the French like picnics, and if The Sound Of Music taught me anything, Austrians like picnics so long as there is music and matching outfits. But do Italians like picnics? They must, right?

I've never been to an Italian picnic, but I imagine that a real one would consist of plenty of great cheese, wine, and bread; a few pieces of salumi; perhaps some preserved vegetables or fresh fruit; and a bit more of that wine please, just a splash, no make that two splashes, grazie mille.

And that'd be a perfectly wonderful way to have a picnic. But we're not Italian, which means that we get a bit more leeway in our fare. Here's what I'd take with me if I were planning an Italian-themed picnic (which, as it turns out, I guess I am!).

Appetizer: Grilled Polenta with Marinara, Parmesan, and Basil

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[Photograph: Joshua Bousel]

I love my polenta in two ways: creamy and moist like the best cheese grits, or cooled, cut into slabs, and grilled or pan fried. The latter is the method of choice for a picnic, as the polenta comes out in neat little finger-friendly wedges, ready to be dipped into a hearty marinara sauce.

Get the recipe for Grilled Polenta with Marinara, Parmesan, and Basil! »

Salad: Grilled Asparagus, Zucchini, and Bread Salad with Olive-Caper Dressing

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[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

The key to a great picnic salad is to pick a recipe that not only travels well, but actually gets better as it rests. Panzanella-inspired bread salads top my list in that category. But there's no need to stick with the traditional tomatoes, particularly when we haven't quite hit tomato season yet. This version uses grilled zucchini and asparagus, punching up the flavor of the bread with a olive and caper-based dressing made with plenty of good olive oil.

Get the recipe for Grilled Asparagus, Zucchini, and Bread Salad with Olive-Caper Dressing! »

Main Course: Stromboli with Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ham, Salami, and Cheese

[Photograph: Deborah Mele]

I was thinking of taking a simple sandwich made with cold cuts and good bread, but Italian Easy columnist Deb Mele's recipe for a Stromboli with Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ham, Salami, and Cheese is just so darn cute and appealing. Best of all, it comes baked into its own neat little packaging. Just bake it off, let it cool, then pack it up whole. Slice it into wedges once you've got your blanket set and the wine poured.

Get the recipe for Stromboli with Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ham, Salami, and Cheese! »

Dessert: Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti

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[Photograph: Carrie Vasios]

Let's keep things simple with dessert, ok? These Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti are crisp, lightly sweet, and totally packable, making them the ideal snack for a picnic dessert.

Get the recipe for Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti! »

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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