Forget seasons. In Florida, we mark the passage of time a bit differently. Summer is when homeowners have to mow their lawn twice a week. Winter is when you can wear a sweater the entire day even in direct sunlight. Fall is really just summer but with festive lattes.
And spring means perfect dusky evenings that practically require you to eat dinner outdoors.
One of my favorite places to do that this time of year is Demens Landing, the St. Petersburg park that hosts the annual American Stage in the Park outdoor musical. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see live theater in a different setting, and a great excuse to put together an elaborate picnic.
This week, we’re recommending food for three different kinds of baskets: the budget picnic, the themed picnic and the elegant picnic.
The recipe below is inspired by this topic, too.
This year’s play in the park is Mamma Mia!, set in Greece, which means at least one of your baskets must include Greek food.
I wanted to include a recipe for baked feta, but it’s decidedly not picnic-friendly. (For that, we went with a feta dip.) So I’m sharing it here instead. It would be perfect for a spring brunch or a dinner party appetizer. Or, let’s be real, a lazy weeknight. Just you, a block of cheese and a box of crackers.
The recipe, which involves slathering feta cheese with olive oil and honey, is best served right out of the oven while it’s still slightly warm. Ideally you want to use a block of feta cheese here, not the precrumbled stuff.
What to serve it with? Wine, for sure. The Greek would want you to have wine. Grapes are an ideal accompaniment, as is dried fruit like apricots or figs.
Try pickled vegetables for some crunch. I like snappy carrots, the classic cucumber or cauliflower. To pickle any vegetable, simply add the raw veggies to a bowl and top with 1 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 30 minutes (the longer, the better), then serve.
Or you could go with pita bread. If you want to make it yourself, here’s a recipe: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together 1 ½ cups warm water, 4 teaspoons sugar and 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes, then add 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 ½ teaspoons salt with the mixer running on low speed. Add 2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, plus 1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour.
Mix on medium high for 7 to 10 minutes, adding just enough additional flour so that the dough no longer sticks to the bowl. Lightly coat a clean large bowl with oil or cooking spray and place the dough in the bowl, turning it once or twice to coat it in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces, then mold each piece into a ball. Place the balls 1 inch apart on a piece of parchment paper, cover them with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Roll out the balls of dough on a floured work surface into ¼-inch-thick circles. Place them on the lined baking sheets and bake until cooked through and puffy, about 5 minutes.
Honey Roasted Feta
1 (8-ounce) block feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Fresh thyme, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Find a small dish that can go from the oven to the table. Place the feta in the dish and cover with the olive oil and half the honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake until the cheese is soft to the touch but not melted, about 8 minutes.
Preheat the broiler. Remove the feta from the oven, then top with remaining honey. You can microwave the honey for a couple of seconds first to make it more liquid, then brush it onto the feta with a pastry brush or spread it with a spatula.
Place feta dish back into the oven and broil until the top of the cheese browns and just starts to bubble. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh thyme and serve immediately with pita, pickled vegetables or whatever you’d like.
Source: Adapted from the New York Times