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 avocado

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.

Panzanella Salad

For grilled garlic bread:

3 cloves chopped garlic

½ cup olive oil

Day-old baguette, crusts removed

For baba ganoush:

1 eggplant

Lemon juice

Extra-virgin olive oil

For salad:

Local heirloom tomatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar



Kosher salt and pepper


Parmesan (or other hard cheese)

For garlic bread: Gently heat garlic in some olive oil until fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic. (Reserve some garlic oil for the baba ganoush to follow.) Spoon garlic oil over the bread on both sides and let it soak in. Toast the bread on both sides in a saute pan over medium heat. You want a nice crisp golden-brown toast. Remove and set aside.

For the baba ganoush: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut eggplant lengthwise and score in a crisscross pattern just to the skin. With the reserved garlic oil, brush both sides of eggplant. Cover with foil and roast in oven about 20 to 30 minutes, until soft. Scoop flesh from skin and puree with a squeeze of lemon and extra-virgin olive oil.

To build the salad: Cut tomatoes and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add chopped herbs, season with salt and pepper and let sit a few minutes. Spoon baba ganoush onto the bread and put tomatoes on top, reserving some of the liquid. Toss arugula with reserved liquid and put on top. Top with shaved Parmesan to finish.

You can make this chopped salad with vegetables you have on hand. Amba is a popular Middle Eastern spiced mango condiment that’s common in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Chopped Israeli Salad with Amba Sauce

Amba Sauce (Spiced Mango):

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon fenugreek

1 teaspoon sumac

2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

2 very ripe mangos, diced

Pinch cayenne

For salad:




Roasted peppers



Blackberries or peaches

To finish:

Pita chips (from store)

Red wine vinegar

Extra-virgin olive oil

Parsley, chopped

Mint, chopped

Small eggplant, skinned, sliced and sauteed in olive oil

Hard-boiled egg, peeled and sliced

For Amba Sauce: In a small pan, saute chopped garlic, fenugreek and sumac until fragrant. Add vinegar and mango and let simmer a few minutes until flavors come together. You may need to add a splash of water if it is getting too thick. Remove from heat, stir in cayenne, puree and set aside.

For the salad: Use whatever is available, in roughly equal parts. Spector likes to blend chopped tomato, cucumber, radish, roasted peppers, feta and olives with fruit such as peaches or blackberries.

Toss all the chopped veggies, feta, fruit and pita chips with a bit of vinegar and olive oil and the herbs.

Place sliced egg on plate and top with sauteed eggplant. Put veggies on top and drizzle with Amba Sauce.

Hobbs ham can be found at Oliver’s and Molsberry market in Santa Rosa, Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol, Big John’s in Healdsburg and Sonoma Market in Sonoma.

Ham & Brie Sandwich with Apricot Mostarda

For Apricot Mostarda:

1 cup Champagne vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 piece star anise

1 small cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

Pinch dry thyme

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

For the sandwich:

Dijon mustard

Acme Sourdough Baguette, cut into sandwich-size portions and sliced in half

Hobbs Flat Tavern Ham

Brie, cut into thin pieces


For the Mostarda: In a pot, combine all ingredients except apricots. Bring to a boil and let simmer until reduced by one-third. Once reduced, add the apricots and let simmer until softened. Remove from heat and chill.

To assemble sandwich: Slather Dijon on one side of the bread and Apricot Mostarda on the other. Add slices of ham and Brie and top with arugula.

This recipe is from Sonjia Spector, co-owner of Zoftig restaurant with her husband Matt. The brownies are best when baked in a quarter sheetpan (9 by 13 inches) in a still oven rather than a convection oven. The recipe may be doubled by using a second quarter sheetpan.

Truffle Brownies

Makes a dozen brownies

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup sugar

6 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt chocolates together over double boiler and set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer with a paddle, cream butter with both sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Add vanilla and continue beating until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the cooled chocolate and mix well. If the butter begins to melt when the chocolate is added, stop pouring and let the chocolate cool further. The finished mixture should be glossy and smooth.

Add flour and mix just until blended.

Pour into a sprayed quarter sheetpan. Do not line with parchment. Bake just until set in the middle, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and let cool on rack.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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