As the prime picnic season starts a new form of performance anxiety is gripping hostesses across the country. What should go in the basket? Sandwiches are a major no-no because they are inextricably linked with the one-minute lunch-at-your-desk break during working days. Obvious picnic fare – coronation chicken, scotch eggs and pork pie – is good but perhaps slightly too obvious a choice for a nation where every second TV programme is about cookery superstardom.
But then a cordon bleu repertoire of, say, crème vichyssoise, chickpeas and spinach stew and Pavlova is at
best out of place, at worst a nightmare to eat when balancing plates and forks precariously on your lap.
The easiest solution to the picnic quandary is to plunder other country’s traditional basket fare. What is boring to them will often be news to your guests. And to make sure no one spots the Italian or French origins of your basket you can mix and match recipes from various corners of the world to produce your own brand of fusion picnics. Ideally, you want simple food, which is easy to make, easier to transport and marries well with drinks.
There is only one rule to bear in mind: picnics are as much about the hostess enjoying herself as the guests. Which means making your life easier by cheating and using quality ready-made ingredients wherever possible. Anyone who bakes their own loaves is missing the point – and the fun.
A word of caution
If the weather is warm and the journey long, put as much of your perishable food as possible in a food cooler with ice or a frozen gel pack to prevent harmful bacteria breeding. Anything containing raw meat and raw eggs (including homemade mayonnaise) is better avoided.
What to pack
set of plates
pocketknife or scissors
The perfect picnic fare, with wines and tasting notes from Decanter.com
To kick off:
How about a Prosecco? One of the best is Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut Crede Bisol 2006 75cl
A light (11.5% alcohol), zesty sparkling wine with scents of elderflower, apple and pears and an intense, rich acidity. Refreshing and delicious and perfect as an aperitif
Pancetta and peas pie
3 1/2oz / 90g pancetta in cubes
1lb 2oz / 500g peas, shelled (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp olive oil
2oz / 50g onions
salt and pepper
1lb 2oz / 500g frozen puff pastry, preferably pure butter as it is much nicer
Defrost the puff pastry. Pre-heat oven to 200C / 400F. Put the pancetta in a microwavable dish and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add the olive oil, peas and onions. If the peas are fresh (not frozen), add a tablespoon of water. Don’t add water if you are using frozen peas. Cover the dish with either a microwave-suitable cover or with a stretch of cling film, which you will pierce with the fork throughout.
Cook in the microwave until peas are soft (about 10 minutes depending on the microwave and the peas). Season with salt and pepper. Let the peas cool. Divide the pastry in half and roll out one half to a circle about 1/2cm (1/5in) thick, which must be slightly larger than the baking tin you will be using. Butter the baking tin and line it with the pastry circle, letting any excess pastry hang over the sides.
Fill with the peas and pancetta mixture. Roll out the rest of the pastry. Lightly wet the pie’s edges with water. Place the second pastry circle on top of the peas filling and press firmly on the edges to seal. Trim and crimp the edges. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Let it cool before packing it for your picnic.
Valpolicella Classico – Allegrini ? Laithwaites
Delicious flavours of fresh black cherry and strong, ripe tannins, this is a slick and silky wine with a fine bitter edge that will go superbly with the salty-sweetness of the pie
Assorted Spanish cuts
2 packs serrano ham (about 6.5oz / 170g)
2 packs chorizo (about 5oz / 140g)
6oz / 150g Spanish stuffed green olives
Bring the cuts to the picnic in their own packaging if you can as they will keep better (bring scissors with you to open the packagings and carry the packs in a food cooler). Arrange on a platter a few minutes before serving and decorate with the olives. Serve with olive bread or rosemary focaccia.
Rioja – Marques de Riscal Reserva 2002? Majestic.
Just beginning to show some bottle age ? scents of earth and dark fruit on the nose, while in the mouth it’s supple, rounded and spicy with ripe fruit and lovely elegant tannins. Perfect for strong cold meats
Bulghur salad with tuna, capers and lemon
100g bulghur wheat
9oz / 250g canned tuna
2 tsbp capers
2 tbsp olives, pitted and chopped
handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
2tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
Place the bulghur in a microwave steamer with 24fl oz / 750ml water. Steam until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Cool under cold running water and drain. Add 1 tsp oil to keep the grains well separate. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and add to the bulghur. Drain the tuna, break it into pieces and add it to the bulghur together with the olives, parsley and capers. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Chill in the fridge and definitely carry in a food cooler, especially if the weather is hot.
Jardins de Mailis Jurancon 2004 ? Oddbins
A flinty, mineral nose wit fresh and lively citrus fruit flavours that dance across the palate, the whole underpinned by cleansing acidity
1lb 15oz / 800g courgettes, thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2oz / 50g parmesan, grated
salt and pepper
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. When hot, throw in the courgettes, cooking until tender. Remove from heat and let them cool slightly. Beat the eggs, then add the parmesan and the courgettes to the egg mixture. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Add another 2tbsp olive oil to the same pan where you cooked the courgettes.
When it is hot, pour the egg mixture in. Cook uncovered until the mixture becomes firm and the bottom starts to brown. Flip the frittata over and cook the other side. Let it cool before putting it into the picnic basket.
Peach and blueberries salad
2lb 4oz / 1kg peaches
1lb 2oz / 500g blueberries
Peel and dice the peaches. Add the blueberries and sugar. Stir carefully to avoid breaking up the blueberries. Carry in a food cooler.
Canard Duchene Rose Brut NV, Oddbins
Fresh and ripe with delicious light strawberry and summer fruit flavours, good balance and zesty acids. Dry, but the fruit gives it a hint of sweetness – Perfect accompaniment to a summer fruit salad
1lb 2oz / 500g cherries
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp sugar
6fl. oz. / 175ml milk
Preheat the oven to 200 C/400F. Remove the stones from the cherries. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Stir in the sugar. Stir in the flour, mixing well to avoid clumps. Pour in the milk little by little to obtain a smooth, crepes-like batter.
Add the cherries and stir. Butter an ovenproof dish and pour in the cherries and batter. Bake for 45 minutes or until set and golden brown. The clafoutis can be served warm or cool. Carry in a food cooler.
Victoria Sponge cake
For a 9in diameter spring-fold tin (3in height): serves nine
300g whole organic eggs
300g self-raising flour sieved
300g caster sugar
300g butter, soft
1 vanilla bean split and scraped
200ml double cream
10g caster sugar
50g raspberry jam
Leave all the ingredients at room temperature for an hour; the butter must be soft. Line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper, then smear soft butter onto it. Sprinkle the flour in and tap it around tip the excess flour out (do not use the weighed flour). Break the eggs into a bowl.
Place the soft butter and caster sugar into a mixing bowl with a beater and add half a vanilla bean. Turn the machine onto a medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together for three minutes, then add the eggs slowly one by one, still on a medium speed as you add each egg. Add a tablespoon of the weighed flour. This will help the mix to not curdle and split. Scrape the sides of the bowl now and again. Once you’ve added all the eggs, add the remaining flour to the cake mix.
Pour this into the cake tin and place into the middle of a fan-assisted oven at 180×C for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 170×C for a further 10?15 minutes. To check the cake is ready, insert a knife into the middle and when you withdraw the knife, it should come out clean. Turn out onto a cooling wire and leave for at least 20 minutes.
Whip the cream with the caster sugar and the seeds from the remaining half a vanilla bean whip it up lightly until it’s semi-firm. Cut the cake in half through the middle and spread both halves with jam and then the bottom with the cream as well. Place the other half on top and then dust with the icing sugar.
Peter Lehmann botrytis Semillon ? Oddbins
Citrus, tropical fruit, peach and warm caramel. This is balanced and unctuous with great acidity balancing it. Delicious, and just sweet enough for the sponge.