- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

We went recently to a late-afternoon picnic hosted by the president of Amherst College in Massachusetts. It was a crisp cool beautiful day, and the minute I arrived, I noticed how much fun everyone was having.

The guests, the faculty and staff at the school, as well as their spouses and children, gathered in groups all over the sprawling lawns, eating al fresco and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

It reminded me that autumn, when the leaves start to turn and mild days replace the hot, humid ones of summer, is the perfect time for a picnic. I went home inspired to plan a smaller-scaled version myself.

As an anchor for my autumn outdoor gathering, I’ve decided to serve a delectable potato salad studded with slivers of smoked trout, accompanied by sliced green beans.

This trio of ingredients will be tossed in a white wine mustard vinaigrette and seasoned fresh dill and lemon.

To go with the salad, there will be a small selection of cheeses, some crusty baguettes and plenty of fresh cider. Ripened pears and homemade maple chocolate chip cookies will end our meal.

You can pack the salad in a single or individual containers. At a party store, I found some Chinese carry-out boxes in autumn hues of orange and sage and am planning to mound single portions in them.

Like me, you can choose a bucolic spot, then call a group of friends and invite them to your picnic on the lawn. Or you can pair a picnic meal with a special activity. Plan a hike or organize a biking excursion, then follow that with a delicious outdoor spread.

For football fans, what is more appropriate than a scrumptious tailgate picnic? Just don’t let the fall fly by without finding a reason to have a picnic.

Fall potato salad with smoked trout and green beans

DRESSING:

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup olive oil

SALAD:

Water

2 pounds small (1½- to 2-inch diameter) red skin potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

½ pound tender green beans, preferably very small, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths

8 ounces smoked trout, skin removed, and trout cut into pieces 1 inch long by 1/4 inch wide

1/4 cup chopped dill plus 6 dill sprigs for garnish

2½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

6 lemon wedges for garnish

For dressing, combine shallots, vinegar, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper in a nonreactive mixing bowl, and whisk to blend. Whisk in the olive oil. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt and the potatoes. Cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 12 to 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove potatoes to a large nonreactive bowl.

Add the green beans to the same pot in which the potatoes were cooked, and cook until they are tender, 5 to 6 minutes for small haricots verts, or about 8 minutes for larger green beans. Drain beans in a colander, and refresh under cold running water to stop cooking. Pat beans dry and set aside.

When cool enough to handle, quarter potatoes and return to the bowl, wiping out any excess water that may have collected in bowl.

Pour half the dressing over the potatoes and gently toss to coat. Marinate potatoes at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

To assemble salad, toss beans and trout with the remaining dressing in a separate bowl, then add them plus chopped dill and lemon zest to the potatoes. Toss mixture gently so that the potatoes don’t break. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

If using for a picnic, spoon salad into one large container with a lid or into 6 individual containers such as Chinese carry-out cartons or plastic containers with lids.

Garnish each serving with a dill sprig and lemon wedge. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the salad before eating. (If not using the salad for a picnic, you can mound portions on salad plates and add lemon and dill garnishes to each.)

Makes 6 servings.

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