Gardens and Architecture, Getty Center, Getty Villa, People & Places

The Perfect Summer Picnic

Picnic on the lawn of the Central Garden. Photo courtesy of Michelle Longo

Picnic on the lawn of the Central Garden. Photo courtesy of Michelle Longo

After a cool early summer, toasty picnic weather has finally arrived in L.A. The Getty is a great place for outdoor eats—this weekend, the Center is open Saturday and Sunday, and the Villa is open all three days, including Labor Day.

The ideal meal-in-a-basket is tasty, easy to make, and not too messy. An apple, a wedge of cheddar, and crackers will do, but it’s also fun to go all-out and cook a gourmet feast—check out what these visitors to the Villa put together for a birthday picnic. (Tip: Feel free to bring your own bag or cooler that’s 11 x 17 x 8 inches or less, but no alcohol—there’s wine and beer for purchase once you get here.)

Another great picnic menu comes to us from TV chef Giada de Laurentiis. She recently visited the Getty Center for her Food Network show Giada at Home and with a picnic featuring salmon cakes with lemon-caper yogurt sauce, penne with butternut squash, and apple and mint punch. The recipes are listed below.

Our chef de cuisine, Jeff Krivokopich, cooked the menu for staff to try, and sixty of us gathered to watch the episode in which Giada prepped the food we were devouring. I’m happy to say that the meal is crowd-tested and approved! Some of us thought that the penne could have used even more herbs and Parmesan; others suggested using pine nuts instead of walnuts. That’s the beauty of a pasta salad—you can make it however you like.

At the Getty Center and the Villa, there are outdoor seats practically everywhere, so just grab a spot and a view. At the Villa, there’s the Outdoor Theater if you like a dramatic setting, and a shady area of picnic tables near the redwood grove if you’re in the mood for intimate.

At the Center, head for the vast, sloping lawn of the Central Garden. There’s ample shade cast by the travertine walls, which also serve as impromptu seat backs for loafing. If you want a little seclusion, you can head for the picnic tables just behind the tram station at the bottom of the hill.

Of course, if you’re feeling lazy, you can enjoy outdoor tables at our Cafes or grab a ready-made sandwich from the Cafe or coffee cart—or just forget lunch and do a “picnic” that looks like this:

Visitors sleeping on the lawn of the Getty Center's Central Garden

Getty Picnic by Giada De Laurentiis
All recipes courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.

Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Caper Yogurt Sauce


1 pound skinless salmon filet (see Cook’s Note)

Olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 large egg, beaten

1/3 cup (1/2-ounce) chopped fresh chives

26 saltine crackers, crushed, divided

1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons mayonnaise, plus more as needed

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature


1/2 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Drizzle the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Grill until the flesh is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork, about 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.


  1. Using a fork, flake the salmon into 1/2-inch pieces and put into a medium bowl. Add the egg, chives, 1/2 of the crushed crackers, the corn, mustard, mayonnaise, capers, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Mix gently until just combined.
  2. Form the mixture into 2 1/2-inch diameter patties, about 3/4 inches thick. (If the mixture is too dry to form into patties, add extra mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon at a time.)  Carefully coat the patties in the remaining crushed crackers and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the patties and cook until golden and crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels.


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, capers, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Arrange the salmon cakes on a platter and serve alongside the sauce.

Cook’s Note—The salmon can also be baked in a 350°F oven. Drizzle the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Put in a baking dish and bake until just cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Penne with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (2-pound) butternut or kombucha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
Olive oil, for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup (8 ounces) goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (see Cook’s Note)
1 packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan

  1. Put an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray a baking sheet, liberally, with vegetable oil cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Mix the squash and onion together and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bake for to 40 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. While the squash mixture is cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 2 cups of the pasta water.
  4. Put the pasta, goat cheese and 1 cup of pasta water in a large serving bowl. Toss until the cheese has melted and forms a creamy sauce. Add the squash and onion mixture, the walnuts and the basil. Toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Parmesan and serve.

Cook’s Note—To toast the walnuts, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until lightly toasted, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before using.

Getty Center picnic menu by Giada de Laurentiis

Apple and Mint Punch


2 cups water
4 green tea bags
1 1/2 cups apple juice
1 cup Mint Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 cup sparkling water, chilled

Mint Simple Syrup:

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 packed cup fresh mint leaves


  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat, add the tea bags and let steep for 6 minutes.
  2. Remove the tea bags and cool the tea to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Pour the cooled tea into a large pitcher.
  3. Add the apple juice, Mint Simple Syrup (see directions below), and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. To serve, add the sparkling water and pour the punch into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Mint Simple Syrup:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the mint leaves. Allow the syrup to cool, about 20 minutes. Strain before using.

Makes 5 ½ cups

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One Comment

  1. Beatrice Rice
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing the fresh menu and recipes for a picnic lunch. I am looking forward to trying these this summer. Many blessings to you and your family.

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