The star of your next picnic: An Italian Pressed Sandwich. Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

I love the fact that I still have in my possession the much-loved picnic blanket and basket our family used on dozens of al fresco dining excursions.

We most often picnicked at Fair Haven Beach State Park on the shores of Lake Ontario, just a few miles from my childhood home in upstate New York. The blanket, a worn woven beige with faded flowers, has held up a bit better than the battered basket with its limp, rusty latch and scratched lid embellished with “Schneider” in my mother’s handsome cursive writing.

Back when I was a little girl, a picnic at the beach often meant German bologna, Kraft cheese and mustard sandwiches on wheat bread, a can of potato sticks, Kool-Aid, and a package of Pecan Sandies.

Although I still enjoy the occasional bologna sandwich, you’ll be glad to know I’ve upgraded my provisions over the years. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite packed lunches is a big Italian pressed sandwich that can be sliced into wedges and shared.

The object here is to place something heavy on the sandwich, allowing it to squish together long enough so all the ingredients will meld together in a friendly fashion. Of course, you can adjust the amount of ingredients to the size of the loaf.

For a crunchy side, I include a batch of roasted chickpeas. Both the sandwich fillings and the chickpea seasonings can be varied in many ways, but the combination of ingredients shared here for these two recipes is the family gold standard.

This decadent sandwich can be put together the night before the picnic. The chickpeas can be made ahead as well, but you’ll have to hide them from yourself so you don’t eat them up immediately.

Homemade Pecan Sandies are infinitely better than the purchased version, although when I was a kid, the Keebler cookies were a real treat because store-bought baked goods of any kind were a real rarity at our house. (I have often wondered if Mom chose to bring these particular goodies along on our outings because if they got “sandy” we wouldn’t notice.)

I’d love to hear about your favorite picnic foods and places. As always, I’m happy to share your recipes here and give you full credit, too.

Italian Pressed Picnic Sandwich

1 rustic bread loaf
1/2 cup black olive tapenade or pesto
2 tbsps. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsps. olive oil
1/4 lb. Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/4 lb. spicy Italian cold cuts (coppa or capocolla), thinly sliced
1/4 lb. prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 whole jarred red peppers
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1 slice onion, separated into rings
6 leaves fresh basil, torn into bite-size pieces
1 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Halve bread horizontally; cutting away part of the middle if it’s very thick. Spread bottom half with tapenade or pesto. Drizzle vinegar and oil on cut side of top half . Layer cold cuts, mozzarella, vegetables and herbs on bread. Sprinkle with pepper and place top half of loaf on filling.

Wrap sandwich tightly with plastic wrap. Place the sandwich in the refrigerator and place a 4-pound flat object on top for at least an hour (I use a couple of thick cookbooks). Unwrap, cut into eighths, and serve. Yield: 8 servings

Roasted Garlic Chickpeas

2 (15-oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsps. olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried rosemary
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat chickpeas dry. Arrange in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until crunchy, stirring every 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a small bowl, stir together olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and seasonings. Toss with chickpeas and store in a glass container or a paper bag. Yield: 6 servings

Pecan Sandies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus a bit more for pressing
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until smooth.

Add egg and vanilla and beat until completely incorporated. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined. Stir in pecans.

Using a cookie scoop that holds 3 tablespoons, scoop dough and place on prepared baking sheet at least 2″ apart. Press a kitchen glass onto a damp paper towel then dip in granulated sugar. Press the glass onto the dough balls to flatten to 1/2 inch thick. Bake about 10 minutes or until edges are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire racks. Yield: 2 dozen