Picnic's charms accompany the orchestra's harmonies

Entertaining: A wild-rice salad makes an elegant centerpiece for al fresco dining while the symphony plays.

July 25, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

During the many years I lived in Ohio, I always looked forward to summer, when I could prepare picnics to take to outdoor concerts in Columbus.

Occasionally, my husband and I would travel to Blossom, an outdoor music festival near Cleveland, and enjoy a picnic on the sprawling lawns there, or we'd share a picnic supper with friends while en route to the Cincinnati opera.

Now that I live in western Massachusetts, I continue this summer ritual and pack food in baskets to enjoy at Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony plays from June to August, or at the Mount, Edith Wharton's former home, now the site of summer Shakespearean productions.

When a couple called early this month to invite us to join a large group going to the Mount, I was delighted. The plan was to have a potluck picnic before the performance on the beautiful grounds of the estate. My friends asked what I could bring, and I mentioned a Wild Rice Salad With Smoked Salmon and Asparagus. I knew that it could be made in advance and would travel well.

This dish, a combination of wild and white rices, sliced asparagus, chopped fennel, toasted pecans, bits of smoked salmon and fresh tarragon, is tossed in a lemon-olive oil dressing and makes a sophisticated yet uncomplicated main course for al fresco dining. The recipe can be increased easily for large gatherings.

Wild Rice Salad with Smoked Salmon and Asparagus

Serves 6


3 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed

1 cup wild rice

1/2 cup converted white rice

3/4 pound slim asparagus, tough stems discarded, stalks sliced on diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups chopped fennel (lacy stems discarded and bulbs cored before being chopped)

1/2 cup chopped pecans, preferably toasted (see note)

1/3 cup finely chopped green onions, including 2 inches of green stems

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus several sprigs for garnish

4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into 1/2 inch squares


1/4 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (color portion of rind)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

To prepare salad, bring 3 cups chicken stock to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Add wild rice. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until almost all stock is absorbed and rice kernels have cracked, 50 to 55 minutes. Watch carefully, and if stock is absorbed before rice is done, add extra stock. When done, drain rice well.

Meanwhile, prepare white rice and vegetables. Bring 3 cups water to boil. Add white rice and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Bring 2 quarts lightly salted water to boil. Add asparagus and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain and pat dry. To same water, add fennel and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

In large nonreactive bowl, place rices, asparagus, fennel, pecans, onions, tarragon and salmon. Stir gently to mix.

To prepare dressing, whisk together lemon juice and zest, mustard, salt and pepper in small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss well. Taste salad and add more salt if needed.

To serve, mound salad in shallow serving bowl and garnish with bouquet of fresh tarragon sprigs.

This salad will hold up well for 2 hours if kept covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated or left at cool room temperature. However, when asparagus spears sit in the lemon dressing longer than about 30 minutes, they will lose their bright green color. To prevent this, when making salad ahead, toss all ingredients together except asparagus and stir them in just before serving.

Note: To toast pecans, place nuts on rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees 5 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.

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