Summer picnic ideas from Santa Rosa’s Zoftig Eatery
Let’s face it — life has not been a picnic lately. But there has been a break in the clouds.
The Green Music Center has opened its back doors for summer concerts, and there’s still time to take a “Road Trip” with Transcendence Theatre at Jack London State Historic Park. The coast tends to be clear this time of year, giving you the perfect excuse to hike to your favorite Pacific perch, from the dunes of Dillon Beach to Salmon Creek.
All are great reasons to indulge in a decadent picnic. We know everything tastes better outdoors, even if it’s just oysters out of the can with some crackers washed down with a cheap rosé.
But if you want to elevate your al fresco menu with some fresh, seasonal salads and a hearty sandwich and dessert, that’s OK, too. With a little shopping and chopping, you’ll be ready for nibbling nirvana.
Matt Spector, chef/owner of Zoftig Eatery in Santa Rosa, serves all kinds of tasty salads and sandwiches at his cafe, along with delicious treats baked by his wife, Sonjia.
“We recently went to Gualala, and we headed out to the beach with a picnic,” Spector said. “We had a ball.”
For a late-summer feast, Spector came up with a couple fresh dips and salads, plus a hearty sandwich. The dishes on Zoftig’s menu this summer showcase all kinds of Wine Country produce, from cucumbers and eggplants to juicy blackberries from Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg.
To serve as an appetizer, Spector suggested a creamy Green Goddess dip and a smoky Chipotle Crema. They are the perfect complement for a plate of fresh veggie sticks.
As a first course, the chef zeroed in on salads that showcase many of the local vegetables available at farmers markets right now: an Israeli Salad studded with slices of sauteed eggplant and a Panzanella Salad with a baba ganoush for dipping.
“People like a Big Salad, like Elaine on ‘Seinfeld’ would say,” he noted. “If we were packing them up to go, we would put the salad dressing on the side.”
Spector calls the Israeli Salad “a nice kind of kitchen-sink dish,” with tomatoes, radishes, cukes, roasted red pepper and hard-boiled eggs. “You can throw it together with whatever you have.”
Traditionally the salad would include breaded and fried eggplant, not sauteed, so Spector throws in some fried pita bread to give it crunch. For ease, just sprinkle some pita chips on top.
As a bonus, he also likes to add seasonal fruit, which right now means peaches or blackberries. Then there’s the secret sauce made of pureed mango that’s cooked down with sugar and rice vinegar, like an agrodolce.
Needless to say, the whole of this simple salad is greater than its parts.
You could say the same for Zoftig’s Panzanella Salad, built around a slab of sourdough bread with the crust cut off. The bread is dipped in roasted garlic oil and toasted on the grill until it’s nice and crunchy.
Spector adds the mashed eggplant dish known as baba ganoush and tops it with heirloom tomatoes, arugula, some herbs and a grated, hard cheese. Then he dresses it with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Simple, yes, but satisfying.
Zoftig’s cafe and catering menus offer a range of delicious sandwiches and wraps, from a Mushroom Banh Mi to a Falafel Wrap and a Classic Italian sub (or hoagie, if like Spector, you come from Philadelphia).
But the Hobb’s Ham & Brie, on a sourdough roll with arugula and apricot mostarda, has a je ne sais quoi feel to it, as if you had stepped inside Édouard Manet’s famous painting, “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.”
After all, what is a pique-nique without a baguette, some Brie and a bit of fruit?
For a sweet finale to a long, leisurely picnic, Sonjia shared her recipe for Truffle Brownies, a dense, fudgy treat that tastes even better with time.
“That makes it good for a picnic,” she said. “We cut it into little squares, and it has dark cocoa powder on top.”
The following recipes are from Matt Spector, chef/owner of Zoftig in Santa Rosa. Serve these two dips with a variety of veggie sticks such as jicama, peppers, cucumber and carrots.
Chipotle Crema Dip
Makes about 1⅓ cups
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 -3 (depending how spicy) tablespoons finely chopped chipotle en adobo
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Green Goddess Dip
Makes about 3 cups
1 pint sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped mint
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup citrus juice of your preference (grapefruit, lime, orange or lemon)
Mix all ingredients in a blender.
This is a casual recipe, meaning you can put in as much of each ingredient as you like to serve as many as you like.