Evan Kleiman’s Picnic Ideas

Evan Kleiman is a major contributor to the culinary landscape of Southern California. As proprietor and chef of Angeli Caffe for 28 years, author of eight cookbooks on Italian cookery, frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times food section, and host of Good Food on KCRW since 1997, Evan is the ultimate L.A.-based authority on chefs, farmers, and cooking. In 2017 she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. 


We asked Evan for an inspired way to create a simple, but sophisticated “moveable feast” for the spring and summer picnic season – and she did not disappoint. Some of her favorite easy picnic staples are Cypress Grove Haze Goat Cheese and Fiscalini Bandage Cheddar with a rustic bread like a ciabatta from an artisanal bakery or from the farmers’ market. Add fresh strawberries and light and fruity wines such as Rosé, Beaujolais or Lambrusco. 

For those who want to cook, Evan shares four recipes that can stand alone or be prepared together for the ultimate al fresco lunch or dinner. Most of her recipes and their components can be made the day before. Keep refrigerated and bring to room temperature to enjoy.

Basket by Pottery Barn. Flatware and picnic knife by Williams Sonoma. Glass storage containers by Sur la Table. Plates and acrylic wine glasses by Crate and Barrel Home Store.


Peach-Tomato Salad with Burrata

The salad comes together when peaches and tomatoes are both at the peak of season.  Look for full flavored peaches and tomatoes. No low-acid varieties please. Tomato vinaigrette and basil oil can be made the day before.

2 peaches, cut into thin wedges
2 medium ripe yet still firm tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
2 small balls of burrata, cut into wedges

Tomato vinaigrette
1/2 small shallot, minced
1 small very ripe tomato
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Throw everything together in a blender and mix until smooth and emulsified. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Basil oil
5 large basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Blanch basil for 10 seconds. Drain, rinse under cold water and gently pat basil dry. Transfer to blender, add oil, puree until smooth. Transfer to small bowl and season with salt. Infuse for one hour, strain. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before using.

Assemble salad before serving: Gently toss peach and tomato slices with tomato vinaigrette to taste. Put peach and tomato salad in the center of a plate. Arrange burrata wedges around the salad. Drizzle basil oil where you will. Accompany with good bread. Serves 2-4. Recipe may be doubled.


Balsamic-Basil Marinated Eggplant

This was one of the big antipasto favorites at my restaurant, Angeli in Los Angeles. The important thing is to cook the eggplant slices all the way through. No one likes leathery raw eggplant. You may cook it on an outdoor grill, ridged cast iron griddle, or non-stick griddle or pan over medium-high heat. I use my non-stick panini press to cook the slices.

1 large firm glossy eggplant
½ cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 small bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn into pieces
3 peeled garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup balsamic vinegar

Cut a slice off the stem and blossom ends of the eggplant. Cut into ¼ inch round thick slices.

Make the marinade. Combine the basil with a pinch of salt, the minced garlic and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Set aside until needed.

Drizzle the eggplant with olive oil. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.
Put the eggplant drizzled side down in the pan in one layer. Don’t crowd the pan. Then drizzle more oil on the exposed side of each slice.  Cook the slices until golden brown then flip and cook the other side. Use additional oil if needed. You want the slices to be completely tender all the way through. As they finish cooking remove them and layer them in the dish you’ll be using for transport.

Spoon the marinade atop the eggplant slices. Continue layering with cooked eggplant and marinade. If possible leave at room temperature until ready to eat. If you need to refrigerate the mixture, bring it to room temperature before eating. Can be made up to two days ahead. Before serving, garnish with freshly chopped basil. Serves 4-6 as a side.  

Steak Salad

This is one of those dishes that is more than the sum of its parts. There’s something about how the mushrooms “cook” in the dressing and mix with the mustardy beef that makes this take on a meat salad a surprise.

2 lb. sirloin or flat iron steak
1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed
1 basket cherry or other small tomatoes
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced or grated on microplane
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt and pepper the steak on both sides two hours before you’re ready to cook. Let it sit in the refrigerator while it seasons.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing. Combine the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallot, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together and set aside to allow the shallots to soften.  You can make the dressing the day before.

Cook the steak in your preferred method: using an outdoor grill, a ridged or flat cast iron pan or in the broiler. Cook to desired doneness though I recommend rare to medium rare. Let cool before slicing.

While the steak is cooling prepare the remaining ingredients. Put the sliced mushrooms into a large mixing bowl. Cut the green onion into paper-thin rings, saving the green tops for another use. Add them to the bowl. Remove the tomato green tops and cut them in half lengthwise. Add the tomatoes to the bowl along with the minced parsley. Pour the prepared dressing over the vegetables and toss together.

Once the steak has cooled enough to retain its juices once sliced, cut it against the grain into ¼ inch thick slices. If the slices are particularly long, cut them in half crosswise. Combine the steak and any accumulated juices with the dressed vegetables. Can be made up to one day ahead. Serves 4 to 6. 


Mediterranean Potato Salad

What potatoes should you use? This is a great recipe for those bags of mixed colored potatoes. Don’t worry about peeling them if they’re smaller than 3 inches in diameter. Just remember that cooking time will vary according to size. And when it comes to olives we have so much choice at market olive bars. I love salt cured Moroccan olives in this dish but use your favorites. Just remember to pit them all! 

1 ½ lbs. small boiling potatoes
Kosher salt
2 medium size ripe yet firm tomatoes
½ small red onion, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/3 cup olives of your choice, pitted
1 tablespoon capers, well rinsed
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Start the potatoes in cold salted water, bringing the water to a lively boil then turning the heat down a bit so it still boils but isn’t spitting everywhere. Cook until tender yet still holding their shape, about 15 minutes. Cooking time will vary according to the size and age of the potatoes. Drain and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle peel them or not—it’s up to you. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. If they’re very small that should be enough. If they’re larger then cut in half crosswise as well.

Cut out the stem end of the tomatoes then cut them into ½ inch dice. If you’re using big olives cut them into quarters lengthwise. Combine the potatoes, tomatoes, onion, olives, capers and garlic in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and toss gently to mix. Don’t worry if the potatoes fall apart a little. Adjust the seasonings. May be made a day ahead. Serves 4-6.