As a kid, I used to do a lot of summer picnicking in Maine. Several families would regularly pile onto a boat and head out to one of the many small islands surrounding Mount Desert for a day of gossiping and tanning exploring and nature appreciation. We would eat a giant lunch on the beach, the grown-ups would sometimes get a little afternoon tipsy, and then everyone would go for a freezing dip in the Atlantic before heading home. It was lovely.
What was not lovely was preparing for these outings. In fact, when reflecting on my family’s picnic preparation, the only phrase that comes to mind is total shit show. The kitchen turned into a disaster zone as my sister and I attempted to make our own sandwiches, while my mom tried to stuff every single thing in our pantry into a 7,000-pound tote bag (“just in case other people don’t bring enough food!”). Someone would trip on the dog, my brother always seemed to be confused/wearing his pajamas (granted he was between the ages of 0 and 7 during this time period, but still), and my dad would “supervise,” aka periodically ask “What is taking so long?!! WE’RE LEAVING HERE IN 15 MINUTES!”
Just as it was time to leave, my mom would decide that she needed to take a shower (which is not a quick process), my Dad would FREAK, and my siblings and I would sit on the porch debating whether or not the boat was actually going to leave without us this time. It was not unheard of for one/all of us to start crying.
I don’t want to say that my parents got divorced because of picnicking issues, but it’s a distinct possibility.
Once we finally got all the food, towels, and my mother into the Jeep Wrangler (those cars are awesome, but WAY too small for a family of five), we’d set off at an unsafe speed for the Northeast Harbor dock. On the way, one of my siblings would inevitably realize that he or she had forgotten a life jacket, which meant my very frustrated father had to turn the car around and go back. None of us are strong swimmers.
When we finally arrived at the dock, the other families would ice us for at least half an hour as punishment for throwing off the picnic timeline. My dad would blame my mom’s inability to be on time, my mom would laugh (because she’s nothing if not self-aware), and then everyone would get over it because Maine is the happiest place on earth and picnics are the best. Duh.
Despite the many positive picnic memories, I still tend to get a little anxious when someone suggests picnicking now. I immediately flashback to my family’s destroyed kitchen, the infighting, and the many smushed sandwiches, and I swear my shoulder starts to ache (traumatic muscle memory from carrying tote bags packed by a hoarder my mother).
I have Picnic PTSD.
However, I’ve recently realized that with a little planning, my picnicking fears could easily be put to bed. Childhood picnics were painful simply because my family lacked organization (and my current fancy culinary skills), and with a few go-to packable meals and desserts, picnic preparation and execution could actually be a breeze. Hallelujah.
With that optimistic thought in mind, I’ve been working on some fabulous, picnic-friendly recipes for this summer, the first of which is Summer Berry Parfaits with Vanilla Bean Ricotta and Toasted Almonds.
Each of these tiered bad boys starts with a dollop of creamy whipped ricotta that’s enhanced with plenty of fresh vanilla bean, a drizzle of honey, and just enough lemon zest to brighten things up. Next comes a layer of golden brown toasted almonds, which is topped with beautifully macerated mixed berries and a little fresh basil for a hint of herbal sweetness. The layers are repeated a second time and sprinkled with the remaining almonds to create a picture-perfect parfait that’s stupidly delicious.
Obviously, the best part about these parfaits is that you can make them well in advance, pop lids on, and keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to pack them in a basket/cooler/purse for your picnicking pleasure. Transportable treats are genius.
Somebody take me on a picnic!
If you don’t plan on picnicking anytime in the near future, that’s cool (I guess). I still recommend that you make these parfaits as soon as possible. They’re perfect for all your summer soirées, and the whole red, white and blue aspect makes them ideal for Fourth of July fiestas. Swap the mason jars for stemless wine glasses and serve them at your next fancy dinner party or bring them as a host(ess) gift to your favorite friends. Maybe eat them for breakfast. You do you.
Get down with this berry bliss, people. You know you want to…
Summer Berry Parfaits with Vanilla Bean Ricotta and Toasted Almonds: (Makes 4 parfaits)
4 cups fresh berries (I used 1 cup each quartered strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, but you can use any combination you like. Duh.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced almonds
For the Vanilla Bean Ricotta:
1½ cups fresh skim ricotta (Yes, you can use whole milk ricotta if you prefer.)
1 vanilla bean, seeded (To seed the vanilla bean, use a paring knife to split the bean in half and scrape the seeds from the pod.)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon honey
Zest of ½ lemon
*I recommend using 4 8-ounce mason jars for these parfaits, but you can obviously use whatever glass/jar you like.
Preparing your Summer Berry Parfaits with Vanilla Bean Ricotta and Toasted Almonds:
-In a medium bowl, combine the berries, basil, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to allow the berries to release some of their glorious juices.
-Heat a medium skillet or pan over medium heat. (Do not put any oil in the pan!) When hot, add the almonds and toast for 3 minutes until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from the pan and let them cool to room temperature.
-Using a hand mixer, whip the ricotta for about a minute until smooth. You can also do this in a blender or food processor (or by hand if you are Amish and have no appliances). -Now it’s time to assemble your parfaits. Start by spooning about 2½ tablespoons of ricotta into each mason jar/glass.
- 4 cups fresh berries (I used 1 cup each quartered strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, but you can use any combination you like. Duh.)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- 1½ cups fresh skim ricotta (Yes, you can use whole milk ricotta if you prefer.)
- 1 vanilla bean, seeded (To seed the vanilla bean, use a paring knife to split the bean in half and scrape the seeds from the pod.)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Zest of ½ lemon
- *4 8-ounce mason jars or glasses of your choice
- In a medium bowl, combine the berries, basil, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to allow the berries to release some of their glorious juices.
- Heat a medium skillet or pan over medium heat. (Do not put any oil in the pan!) When hot, add the almonds and toast for 3 minutes until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from the pan and let them cool to room temperature.
- Place all the ingredients for the vanilla bean ricotta in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, whip the ricotta until smooth. You can also do this in a blender or food processor (or by hand if you are Amish and have no appliances).
- Now it’s time to assemble your parfaits. Start by spooning about 2½ tablespoons of ricotta into each mason jar/glass.Top with a layer of toasted almonds (about 2 teaspoons each). Add about a ½ cup of the berry mixture. Repeat each layer a second time, and sprinkle the top with any remaining almonds.
- Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to eat/take on-the-go.
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