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Sonoma chefs share French-inspired spring picnic ideas with pizazz

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It’s an incontrovertible fact that the French have mastered the art of le pique-nique, whether it’s a simple repast of bread and cheese or a more elaborate feast.

Just add a few good friends, a bottle of dry rosé and some fresh, seasonal fruit, and you’ve got all you need for a veritable “déjeuner sur l’herbe” this spring in Wine Country.

At Frenchie Picnics and Provisions, opening soon on Broadway just south of the Sonoma Plaza, chef/owners Sarah Pinkin and Elizabeth Payne are hoping to lure both locals and tourists alike with a menu of delicious French picnic fare to go, from cheese and meat platters to salads, sandwiches and dinner entrees.

“The French have really perfected the art of picnics in keeping it simple yet really delicious,” Pinkin said. “In our cooking, we stick to the basics — to what’s in season — and not overdoing it.”

Customers will also be able to stock up on beverages like beer and wine, fresh bouquets from Tesoro Flowers and all kinds of picnic supplies, from wine openers to picnic blankets. It’s one-stop shopping for those who want to maximize their time à table, with friends.

“You can grab snacks, lunch, dinner, wine and flowers for somebody,” Pinkin said. “You can even build a picnic gift basket as a hostess gift.”

Decorated in modern hues of navy blue and gold, the shop will offer a stand-up bar for a quick bite and open-air refrigerators to store the prepared foods to go, which the women will cook at their off-site catering kitchen.

“We’re trying to get people excited about picnics again,” Pinkin said. “We want to encourage people to go outside, bring your blanket and go sit down and enjoy nature.”

The business partners — both busy moms who have lived in Sonoma for nearly a decade — also plan to stock kids’ sandwiches and veggie cups, plus all kinds of yummy snacks.

For desserts, they plan on carrying two of their favorite cookies from Crisp Bakeshop — the blueberry oatmeal and chocolate chunk sea salt.

For those yearning to go on a warm-weather picnic this spring, the chefs came up with an appetizer and a couple of menus that include two tasty salads and two sandwiches.

To kick off the munching and crunching, the chefs chose a vibrant, spring option: a Golden Beet Dip with fresh crudités.

“The dip is gorgeous, and it’s vegan,” Pinkin said. “This time of year, we’ll do blanched asparagus and beautiful spring carrots, snap peas and radishes.”

The women also shared their healthy recipe for a simple Salmon Nicoise with haricots verts, hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes and potatoes dressed with a simple Champagne vinaigrette.

“It’s a classic salad from France,” Pinkin said. “Here, we can source better salmon than tuna, so we went with salmon.”

If you’re looking for something more exotic, they suggested heading to North Africa for their Moroccan Salad With Turkey-Quinoa Meatballs, sweet potatoes and a Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette.

“Moroccan food is so flavorful and amazing,” Pinkin said. “The meatballs are gluten-free, with quinoa instead of bread ... it’s the perfect lunch.”

For sandwiches, you can go stupidly simple with a French Ham Baguette Sandwich, made with high-quality ham, brie cheese, mustard, butter and lettuce on a baguette. The popular street food fills the tummies of tourists on every street corner in Paris.

“It is the perfect example of food that is simple but perfect,” she said. “It’s so unbelievable, between the ham and the bread and the butter and Dijon mustard. There’s nothing better.”

For the vegetarians in the crowd, the chefs suggested slapping together a hearty yet light sandwich of eggplant jam, goat cheese and arugula. The eggplant jam was inspired by a recipe developed by Mediterranean cookbook author Paula Wolfert of Sonoma.

“You take fried eggplant and canned tomatoes, let it simmer and reduce it down,” Pinkin said. “The goat cheese has some earthiness that brings out the meatiness of the eggplant, and the arugula brightens it and gives it pop and crunch.”

Although both women had worked in San Francisco at the same time, they didn’t meet until they moved to Sonoma, where they finally crossed paths through a shared babysitter. Both have been working in the culinary world for 15 years.

After attending boarding school in France during high school, Pinkin went to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then worked at Globe in San Francisco, a favorite late-night spot for off-duty restaurant workers. She moved to Sonoma nine years ago with her husband, who works for Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, and started cooking, first as opening chef for Mondo in Sonoma, then for Murphy’s Irish Pub.

After having two kids, she wanted a part-time gig so she launched her own meal-delivery service, Sonoma Meals, offering pre-cooked foods to local folks who do not have time to cook.

Payne, who went to pastry school in Los Angeles, studied in France for a year when she was 23. She moved to Sonoma about nine years ago with her husband, who works for Deutsch Family Wine and Kunde Family Winery. She landed a job at Ramekins culinary school, then served as opening chef for the newly reopened Williams Sonoma store in Sonoma.

The idea for Frenchie was inspired by Payne’s father, who owns a classic 1967 Citreon car in mint condition. Payne imagined using the car to serve up some authentic French food at catered events and called up her friend to see if she was game. Frenchie was launched about a year and a half ago.

The two chefs didn’t end up using the car, except as an occasional prop, but they did buy a cart and a tent to take to festivals such as Huichica at Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma.

Their new space on Broadway, a former wedding studio where they have done pop-up events, became available last year, so they decided to lease it for the brick-and-mortar version of Frenchie, scheduled to open in late May or early June.

Having their own storefront will allow the chefs to not only highlight their own food but source condiments like honey and jam made by some of their favorite food crafters.

“We’ll have cheeses and salamis, and we’re finding really neat purveyors and artisans that we love and want to bring to Sonoma,” Pinkin said. “Most of the stuff we’re bringing in you can’t find around here, like the pork rillettes from Olympia Provisions of Portland.”

Frenchie Picnis and Provisions will be located at 521 B Broadway in Sonoma. Salads cost from $12 to $15; sandwiches from $10 to $12.

Golden Beet Dip

Makes about 2 cups

4 medium golden beets; quartered

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon cumin

¼ cup water

— Salt to taste

In a medium sauce pan, boil quartered beets in slightly salted water for 30ish minutes, or until fork tender. Strain beets and allow to cool. Next, peel the beets and toss into a food processor or blender. Add vinegar, olive oil, turmeric, cumin, water, a pinch of salt and blend until smooth. Add more water if necessary. Taste the dip and adjust seasoning (more salt, spices or vinegar) as needed. Serve with crudités, chips or crackers.

Salmon Nicoise Salad

Makes 1 serving

6 ounces wild salmon

4-5 baby potatoes

— Handful Nicoise olives

— Handful cherry tomatoes

— Handful of green beans, trimmed

1 hard-cooked egg (cooked to desired doneness, 9-12 minutes)

3 small handfuls of mixed greens (or other lettuce of your choice)

— Champagne vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Liberally salt and pepper salmon. Squeeze one half of lemon over salmon and place on a foil rimmed sheet pan, skin side down. Roast for about 15 minutes or until salmon is medium rare and not raw in the middle. Remove from oven and let cool.

Fill one pot with water. Salt it heavily and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Pull potatoes from water and let cool.

Bring water back to a boil. Add green beans and cook exactly 4 minutes. Remove from water and drop into ice bath.

To assemble salad: Place mixed greens on plate. Add tomatoes, cooled potatoes (halved if big), olives, hard-cooked egg sliced in half, green beans. Dress and serve.

Champagne Vinaigrette

Makes about 2/3 cup

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

3 tablespoons champagne vinegar

— Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup good quality olive oil

Whisk first 4 ingredients together until combined. Slowly add olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Alternatively you can use a Vitamix or blender using the same method, adding the olive oil last.

French Ham Baguette Sandwich

Makes 1 to 3 servings

3-4 slices Fra’mani Little Ham (or other good quality ham)

6 slices d’Affinois cheese (or other brie)

— Dijon mustard

— Salted butter (softened)

1 good baguette (from a bakery such as Model Bakery)

1 head of lettuce (or other leafy green)

Cut baguette in half. Then cut one half again lengthwise. Save the other half for later or double the recipe.

Spread Dijon on one side (we like quite bit.)

Spread salted butter on the other side (we like quite a bit of this, too.)

Layer ham on one side, then brie. Add lettuce. Close sandwich and enjoy.

Eggplant Jam, Goat Cheese and Arugula Sandwich

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 loaf Della Fattoria Semolina bread (8 ½-inch slices cut from the loaf)

1 small bag arugula

½ lemon

8 ounces spreadable goat cheese (Chevoo is our favorite)

1 medium eggplant

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

— Kosher salt

Olive oil

For eggplant jam: Using a peeler, strip your eggplant lengthwise. Slice eggplant into 1-inch rounds. Place eggplant slices on a plate with a few layers of paper towels, season eggplant rounds very generously with kosher salt. Allow the eggplant to sit in salt for at least 15 minutes.

Once the eggplant has sat long enough, heat about an inch of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Using more paper towels, pat the rounds dry and gently place in the hot oil. Turn the heat down to medium high and allow the eggplant to get a dark golden color on both sides. (Most of the oil should be soaked up by the eggplant.) Finally add the can of crushed tomatoes, turning the heat down to low. Allow the eggplant and tomatoes to slowly cook for 1 to 2 hours ... or until the eggplant has fallen apart. Use a whisk to help break up the eggplant as it cooks.

For sandwich assembly: Line up the bread slices on a large cutting board or counter, applying cooled (or cold) eggplant jam to one slice of bread. Spread the goat cheese on the other slice of bread.

Toss arugula with some lemon juice, a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Taste arugula and adjust seasoning if needed. Place arugula salad on one side of bread and put slices together, slice in half to serve.

Another delicious option is to do this sandwich open faced!

Moroccan Salad

Makes 4 servings (as main course)

For Turkey-Quinoa Meatballs:

1 pound ground turkey (dark meat preferable)

1 cup cooked quinoa (½ cup dry cooked with 1 cup water)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped fine

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon salt

1 large egg

For the salad:

1 can chickpeas strained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato, peeled, medium diced and roasted in a 400 degree oven until soft

1 head butter lettuce, cleaned and sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 small bag baby spinach, cleaned and sliced into 1-inch pieces

— Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Mix everything for meatballs in a large mixing bowl. In a small sauté pan, cook a small patty of the mix and taste to test seasoning. Adjust seasoning if needed.

To make the meatballs, use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, or large spoon to make golf ball-size meatballs. Line up the meatballs on the sheet tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Touch the meatballs to make sure they’re firm before taking from the oven. If not, continue cooking longer until they are. Allow the meatballs to cool before serving.

To dress the salad: Place the greens, sweet potatoes and chickpeas in a big bowl then toss with half of the dressing. Add more dressing if it needs more. Arrange the salad on a beautiful platter, put meatballs on top and serve.

Cumin-Orange Vinaigrette

Makes 3/4 cup

1 orange, juiced

½ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients with a small whisk or fork. Alternately you can put all of the ingredients into a jar and shake with the lid on. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.