“Everything tastes better outdoors,” begins Claudia Roden’s classic cookbook Picnic: The Complete Guide to Outdoor Food. And what couldn’t in nature’s grand setting, the first dining room of man?
The object of Picnic is to inspire those who like to eat well, and who love to be out among the trees. It’s an aim, and a book, that this month these pages embrace. So here’s a rugful of recipes to get you reaching for your hamper and plastic cutlery, whatever the weather may be like outside, as is the great British tradition.
I shall leave you with the picnic prose of French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy: “Seating themselves on the green sward, they eat while their corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and the perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature’s special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings.”
Smoked mackerel pate and gooseberry sauce
Other fish can be used to make this pate too, such as trout or kipper – which first needs immersed for a few minutes in boiling water.
2 smoked mackerel; 150ml sour cream; 150g cottage cheese; juice of half a large lemon; salt and pepper.
Remove skin and bones and flake into a blender. Add sour cream and cheese and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and lemon juice. Press into a pot, and, for magnificent results, cover with a layer of gooseberry sauce.
To make this, top and tail the gooseberries, and put them in a heavy pan. Moisten with a few tablespoons of water, port or leftover white wine, and let them soften very slowly until they are easily mashed with a fork. If too acid, add a sprinkling of sugar; if too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon or orange juice. Also try a few drops of the juice of fresh ginger pressed in a garlic press. [From Picnic by Claudia Roden]
“In Spain”, writes Sam Clark in Moro, “gazpacho is a legacy of the New World when Colombus returned from his travels with tomatoes and peppers.” This iced soup, as popular in Portugal as it is in Spain, is deliciously refreshing on a hot day.
3 garlic cloves; 1kg sweet, ripe tomatoes, halved; 1 green pepper, seeded, cored and sliced; ¾ cucumber, peeled and sliced; 2 rounded dessertspoons finely grated onion; 2 handfuls slightly stale white bread, with crusts removed, roughly crumbled; 3 dessertspoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar; 4 dessertspoons olive oil; sea salt and black pepper.
Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a good pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste. Using a blender or food processor, puree all the vegetables and the bread until smooth. Now put three-quarters of the mixture through a sieve or mouli, to give a finer texture. Finish by seasoning the soup with the garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and black pepper. If you want a thinner or lighter soup add four ice cubes. For a creamier version, also blend in hard-boiled egg yolk. Now put in the fridge for 2 hours to cool. [From Moro, by Sam and Sam Clark]
In India people drink yoghurt diluted with iced water, and it is called lassi. With added cucumber, the drink becomes another cooling soup. In Iran they may also add a handful of raisins or sultanas.
1 litre natural/plain yoghurt; 450ml water; salt and pepper to taste; 1 cucumber (peeled and chopped); 6 fat spring onions (finely chopped); a sprig of mint and a sprig of parsley (finely chopped).
Sprinkle the cucumber with salt and let the juices drain in a sieve for an hour. Beat the yoghurt and water together with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and add the other ingredients. Chill, then pour into a cold vacuum flask, adding a few cubes of ice.
It was not until 1762 that a filling was first pressed between two thin slices of bread, when John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, during a 24-hour gambling session discovered a clean and handy way of eating without soiling the playing cards. But the ideal picnic bread is surely the pitta, which, split in half, makes a perfect pocket for these Indian, Arab and Italian fillings from Picnic:
An Indian mashed potato filling: Fry half a chopped onion in a little butter and mix with two boiled mashed potatoes. Add a few chopped coriander leaves or a little parsley, a good squeeze of lemon juice, a quarter teaspoon of paprika, a pinch of cayenne, another of ground ginger, 1 teaspoon of crushed coriander, fennel or aniseed and half a teaspoon of garam masala. Add salt to taste and stir well.
Lahma bi ajeen: An Arab minced meat filling. Soften 500g finely chopped onions in a little oil. Add 750g lean minced beef and fry, stirring, until it has changed colour. Add a large tin (800g) of peeled tomatoes, drained and mashed, 1 small tin of tomato puree, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of allspice, the juice of half a lemon, a small bunch of parsley (finely chopped), salt to taste, a pinch of cayenne pepper and Worcester sauce.
Aubergine filling: Put a layer of thin, fried aubergine slices over a layer of thin slices of good melting cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar. Sprinkle with black pepper and a touch of grated nutmeg.
Carrot puree with caraway and feta
750g carrots, scrubbed; 4tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling; sea salt and black pepper; 1 level teaspoon caraway seeds, roughly ground in a mortar; 2tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint; 100g feta cheese.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Slice the carrots into rounds no more than 2cm thick. Toss with half the olive oil and some salt and pepper, and place in a roasting tin. Cover with foil and roast for about 45 minutes, or until completely tender. Remove and cool a little before putting through a mouli or mashing by hand or whizzing in a food processor. Transfer the pureed carrot to a bowl, stir in the caraway, half the mint and the remaining olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. To serve, spread the puree on a plate, crumble the feta on top, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and finally sprinkle on the remaining mint, and serve with pitta. [From Casa Moro, Sam and Sam Clark]
Chicken liver pate
225g chicken livers; 125g butter; pinch of cayenne or thyme or mixed herbs; salt and pepper; 1 clove garlic; 3 tablespoons brandy or Madeira.
Clean the livers, and sauté briefly in 2 tablespoons of sizzling butter until they just turn colour. Add a sprinkling of herbs, salt and pepper, a clove of garlic, crushed, and cook for about 5 minutes longer. While they are still pink inside, remove from the heat. Blend to a smooth paste in a blender or food processor with the rest of the butter and the brandy or Madeira. Put into a pot and seal with a layer of melted butter. A variation is to make a lovely cream by mixing the liver paste with 150ml double cream, stiffly beaten, instead of the remaining butter.
Quails’ eggs with cumin
Hard boiled eggs go perfectly sprinkled with cumin too, but quails’ eggs are an elegant combination.
1 dozen quails’ eggs; 1 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground; 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted.
Boil the quails eggs for four minutes. Remove and cool. Mix the sea salt and cumin in a mortar and pestle and grind. As you peel each egg, dip into the salt and cumin mixture for every mouthful. [From Moro, by Sam and Sam Clark]
An Italian omelette with the flavour of fresh basil.
Beat the eggs lightly with a fork until yolks and whites are just blended. Add salt and pepper and a good amount of grated cheese if it is a mild one, less if it is sharp. If you do not have fresh basil, add another herb. Melt a little butter or oil in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan. When it begins to foam but before it becomes coloured, pour in the egg mixture by the ladleful and turn the heat down as low as possible. When the eggs are firmly set, turn the omelette over to cook the other side or finish the top under the grill.
A variety of fillings may be added to the egg mixture: cooked asparagus cut into small pieces, sautéed onions with peeled and chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced fried or boiled courgettes or chopped ham or diced bacon. Prepare a batch to hand out. [From Picnic, by Claudia Roden]
Hummus with ground lamb and pinenuts
200g chickpeas, soaked overnight; 6tbsp olive oil; ½ large onion, very finely diced; 1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon; juice of 1 lemon; 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with salt; 3-4 tbsp tahini paste; 170g lamb, minced; 2tbsp pinenuts, lightly toasted; 1 medium bunch fresh parsley; a sprinkling of paprika; sea salt and black pepper.
Rinse the chickpeas under cold water, then place in a large saucepan, fill with 2 litres of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum as it builds up, and cook for one-and-a-half to two hours or until the skins are tender. Remove from heat, pour off excess liquid until level with the chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil over a low to medium heat and fry the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and sweet. Remove and add the ground cinnamon.
To make the hummus, drain the chickpeas, keeping the cooking liquid, and blend in a food processor with a little cooking liquid. When smooth, add the lemon juice, garlic, tahini and the rest of the olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and some more liquid if necessary. Taste for seasoning and spread the hummus into a bowl so it is ready to receive the lamb.
Place a frying pan over a high heat and when it is hot, add the caramelized onion and its oil followed by the lamb. Use the back of a fork to break up the lamb as it sizzles and season with salt and pepper. When the lamb begins to crisp, add the pinenuts and transfer to the hummus. Serve with parsley leaves and paprika sprinkled on top, pickled chillis and pitta bread. [From Moro, Sam and Sam Clark].
An apricot puree for lamb or chicken
Simmer dried apricots with water to cover until they are easily mashed. Put through a blender or mash with a fork. You may add a squeeze of lemon juice if the fruits are not sharp enough and a pinch of cinnamon or allspice.
Fruit is the happiest conclusion to an outdoor meal, and nothing is more delicious than fruits of the season at their best.
Blackberries, gathered or bought, must be very ripe. Sprinkle generously with sugar and leave them in the hot sun to give up their juice and soften for as long as possible. They need only their fragrance to enchant.
Peaches are one of the most delicious fruit desserts. Skin and cut into eight pieces, removing the stone. Sprinkle with castor sugar and a little lemon juice and cover with a sweet wine, a red Bordeaux or a rose and leave for an hour or longer.
For strawberries and cream with a wee twist, fill half a bowl with cream, and whip it lightly. Drop in as many strawberries as it will hold, stirring gently, and then leave to stand and chill for an hour, after which the cream will be an elegant pale pink. Dredge with sugar before serving. An alternative is to serve them sprinkled with sugar and covered with a raspberry puree.
Mash fresh raspberries with sugar and a little cream, moistening if you like with a sprinkling of wine.