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It’s time to get your al fresco on

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7 easy recipes to jazz up your summer picnics
Photo by Jim FlintThis perfect picnic pasta salad is full of fresh ingredients and packs a flavorful punch and a little crunch. Best of all, it's easy to make.
These skewers transform a caprese salad into portable bites on a stick with a surprise ingredient. [Photo by Jim Flint]
Photo by Jim FlintLayer filling ingredients on the bottom third of a large tortilla, fold in the sides, and roll tightly from the bottom up.
Photo by Jim FlintWhen you get to the picnic table, cut wraps in half diagonally for a smart presentation. Wraps are portable, tasty, and require no utensils, great for summer picnics.

Picnic season is here!

Whether you’re planning a bang-up Fourth of July, a reunion or a family outing, one thing is certain: If it’s yummy, portable and easy to make, it’s worth adding to your picnic repertoire.

Here are some great ideas that combine all three. Included are recipes for wraps that will get the tastebuds dancing, a picnic-perfect pasta salad, a salsa for the chips that Uncle Bob always brings, and salad skewers with a wow factor.

Wraps are an easy way to wrap up a picnic. Roll up tortillas with a variety of tasty, healthful fillings combining creamy, crunchy and tangy with bright textures and flavors.

Try some of the recipes below or swap out veggies, sauces, spreads and other ingredients to make them your own. Slice your veggies into thin strips so you can get a little of each in every bite.

Use large flour or spinach tortillas, and go easy on the filling. It takes less than you think. Spread the filling on the bottom third of the tortilla, fold in the sides, and roll up tightly from the bottom. You can cut them in half at the picnic table if you wish.

Place in plastic containers, pack in a carry-all, and top with an ice pack or frozen juice boxes.

Thai Chicken Wraps

Peanut Sauce:

1/2 cup natural crunchy peanut butter

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons chili sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon ginger root, grated

2-4 tablespoons warm water

Filling for 8 wraps:

2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded

3 green onions, chopped

2 carrots, shredded

1/2 cup or so English cucumber, unpeeled, cut into little sticks

Iceberg lettuce, shredded

Combine all sauce ingredients except water. Whisk until smooth. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until consistency is like a thick ranch dressing.

You can cook the chicken or pick up a couple of oven-roasted chicken breasts at the deli. Shred with your fingers or with two forks. In a bowl, toss the shredded chicken with the peanut sauce until thoroughly mixed.

Divide the chicken mixture between 8 wraps, using large flour or spinach tortillas at room temperature. Place filling on the bottom third of each wrap, an inch from the sides. Top with chopped green onions, shredded carrots, cucumber sticks, and lettuce. Roil up tightly.

NOTE: If all you have is creamy peanut butter, add crunch with a few chopped peanuts in each wrap.

BLT & Avo Wraps

3 ounces softened cream cheese

6 large tortillas

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 avocados, chopped

3 green onions, chopped

10 slices cooked crisp bacon, crumbled

1/3 cup ranch salad dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 cups mixed greens

Spread a thin layer of softened cream cheese on each tortilla, leaving an uncovered margin of about an inch.

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, avocado, green onion, cooked bacon crumbles, ranch dressing and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Place filling on bottom third of each tortilla and top with salad greens. Fold sides in and roll up.

NOTE: When using tomatoes in a wrap, always seed them first unless you’re going to eat the wraps immediately. Otherwise, wraps can get soggy.

Veggie Wraps

Hummus

Lemon juice

Freshly ground pepper

Kosher salt

Toasted nuts

Roasted red pepper

Radishes, chopped

Cucumber, diced

Feta cheese, crumbled

Red onion, thin sliced

Baby spinach

Large flour or spinach tortillas

For the nuts, use chopped walnuts, slivered almonds or pine nuts. Toast in a dry pan over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice to a store-bought container of hummus and mix well.

Spread lemon hummus on each tortilla, leaving a margin of about an inch all around. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt and a grind of black pepper. On the bottom third, add a small amount each of roasted red pepper, chopped radish, toasted nuts, diced cucumbers, feta cheese, red onion and baby spinach. Fold in sides of tortillas and roll up.

Salad Wraps

Here’s an idea that gets you some delicious, no-fuss wraps in a hurry. If you have leftover quinoa or tabbouleh salad, use that for your filling. If the salad is quite juicy, let it drain a bit in a colander before using.

Put a schmear of hummus or pesto on each tortilla, top with some salad on the bottom third, and roll up. (You can add a few pickled onions for pop.)

Perfect Pasta Salad

Every picnic needs a perfect pasta salad. And this one comes together in no time. It’s full of fresh ingredients and it packs a flavorful punch. This recipe is inspired by Jeanine Donofrio, author of the best-selling cookbook “The Love & Lemons Cookbook.”

Dressing:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3/4 teaspoon salt

The salad:

3 cups uncooked rotini pasta

2 heaping cups halved cherry or grape tomatoes

2 cups arugula

1 cup English cucumber, sliced into thin half-moons

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup basil leaves, torn

1/2 cup parsley, minced

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, just past al dente, but not mushy. You don’t want the pasta too firm in a chilled salad. Use the higher time range on the box instructions. Let pasta cool completely before tossing with salad.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients.

In a large bowl, add pasta and the rest of the ingredients and toss with the dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lemon or salt if needed. Just before serving, top with a few whole basil leaves.

Skewers Caprese

Another idea from cookbook author Jeanine Donofrio suggests adding the surprising sweet contrast of peach to the traditional ingredients of a caprese salad of tangy tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

Here we put them all on a stick for grab-and-go picnic treats that are flavorful and fun. They can be made a few hours ahead of time.

Cherry tomatoes

Baby mozzarella balls

Basil leaves

Fresh peach chunks

Extra virgin olive oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Short wooden skewers

On each skewer, thread a cherry tomato, a mozzarella ball, a folded basil leaf, and a chunk of fresh peach. If your skewers are the longer ones, shorten them by breaking off the nonpointed ends.

Drizzle the loaded skewers with olive oil, spritz with lemon juice, and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Some of the seasoning will slide off the skewers, so be generous with the oil, salt and pepper.

Tropical Salsa

We make this bright, tangy salsa with either mango or papaya as a side for white fish. But it’s also great for dipping sturdy chips.

1 cup papaya or mango, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons minced shallot

1 two-inch jalapeno, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced fresh coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

In a bowl combine well the papaya or mango, the shallot, jalapeno, coriander, salt and 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. You can substitute minced cilantro for the coriander. Cover and chill for at least an hour and up to three hours.

When you’re ready to pack the picnic, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice. And don’t forget the chips!

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.