Get the idea: Spring picnic
In her book Picnic: The Complete Guide to Outdoor Food, Claudia Roden writes “Everything tastes better outdoors. There is something about fresh air and the liberating effect of nature which sharpens the appetite and heightens the quality and intensity of sensations”.
I agree. Maybe this is because eating outdoors always seems to have a sense of adventure about it. Or it can do, if you decide rather than knotting your hanky on your head, rolling up your trousers and eating ham and cheese sandwiches on the beach, you would like to make an effort and take something that represents a simplified meal outdoors as your next moveable feast.
A well-planned picnic is an event everyone can join in, and if they do, of course the labour is shared. Picnic food, as it is eaten away from the dining room, is by nature more relaxed. But it also brings an almost prehistoric sense of enjoyment perhaps hard-wired in us from the days when we ate with the clan around a fire.
Contemporary picnics can simply be takeaways on the beach; a very Kiwi way to eat. However, if you want more elaborate home-cooked food, the following ideas may appeal. Like any good meal, a picnic needs organisation — what many of the dishes entail is pre-preparing as much as possible with final assembly at the picnic venue.
Pack up the ingredients to make a paella, a picnic dish meant to be cooked over a fire. The thin, wide surface area of a paella pan is perfect for this sort of cooking. Find a place that allows barbecues and proceed. Slow frychopped onion, garlic, chilli, thyme, diced carrots, celery, parsley and red capsicum in extra virgin olive oil. Add paella rice, let it “toast” by stir-frying the mixture for a few minutes, add some wine then let it bubble away. Add stock to cover, simmer 10 minutes, add seafood and or chicken and sausage. Simmer a further 10 minutes or until the rice is tender and the seafood or meat is cooked. Serve drizzled with aioli.
Poach some free-range boneless chicken breasts or thighs in water with a little ground turmeric, peppercorns, a bay leaf, a halved onion, a stick of celery and a sliced carrot, until the chicken is cooked through. Drain, cool and slice thinly. Stuff into fresh pita breads with anchovy fillets, rocket leaves, extra virgin olive oil and crushed garlic brushed grilled eggplant slices, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced red onion, and plain unsweetened naturally thickened yoghurt mixed with tahini and lemon juice.
Split a whole Turkish pide bread through the middle and fill with plenty of lightly boiled, cooled asparagus, prosciutto, quartered soft boiled egg (let the yolk run on to the filling), capers, pitted kalamata olives, finely diced peel of preserved lemon, ripped up iceberg lettuce and mayo laced with hot sauce. Cut into portions and wrap in greaseproof paper.
A pasta salad can be an ugly thing! But it can be done. Fry plenty of diced pancetta with garlic until crisp, place in a bowl and add lemon zest, sliced spring onions, thinly sliced semi-dried tomatoes, chopped parsley, roasted almonds. Toss with cooled short pasta and cover. When you get there, toss with a generous, well seasoned salsa verde dressing of extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, a few anchovy fillets, a large amount of parsley and some capers pureed in a blender until smooth and placed in a separate container.
Get yourself a multi-layered Chinese bamboo steamer and a wok, line with baking paper, load it up with your favourite homemade or bought dumplings and cook them. Cool and transport in the steamer to your favourite barbecue venue. Fill the wok with water, bring to the boil and place the steamer on top for a thorough reheat. Serve in bowls with chopsticks and with soy and chilli sauces on the side. Bought Chinese roast duck, pancakes and sliced cucumber wrapped in pancakes and hoisin sauce for dipping as well. Fruit to follow.
An extravagant amount of club sandwiches filled with paper thin cucumber, watercress sprigs, lemon zest and poached chicken mixed with mayo and finely diced celery are often all you need — apart from some champagne.
Rub extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and plenty of cracked black pepper over some skirt steak. Cook on the barbecue or a ridged pan over very high heat until medium rare. Remove from the heat, rest, cool and slice thinly across the grain of the meat. Place in a container with gherkins, parsley sprigs, sliced roasted red capsicums, red onions, quick-pickled in white wine vinegar, a little sugar and salt for 30 minutes until bright pink, halved multi-coloured cherry tomatoes, black olives and rocket leaves. Drizzle everything with extra virgin olive oil. Pack a bowl of seasoned sour cream mixed with plenty of bought grated horseradish cream. Serve at the venue, between slices of rye bread.
Grill or roast pork cutlets that have been rubbed with extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and wild dried oregano, until crisp and browned. Cool and serve with a salad of halved cherry tomatoes, diced rock melon, mint, coriander and basil leaves, finely chopped red onion, cold steamed basmati rice, extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Crusty bread on the side.
Roll out two 30cm diameter discs of made-with butterflaky puff pastry. Place one on a baking paperlined oven tray. Brush the edge with beaten egg. Place a thick layer of well-seasoned, peeled, boiled, coarsely crushed agria potatoes inside the egg-brushed border, sprinkle with sliced spring onions, diced bacon, lemon zest and plenty of crumbled boneless, skinless hot smoked salmon. Cover with the other disc of pastry, crimp the edges together, brush the top with egg, make slits in the top to let the steam escape and bake at 200C for 30 minutes or until well-cooked. Take warm to the venue and serve in wedges.
Marinate small thin lamb cutlets in crushed garlic, fresh thyme leaves, a dollop of yoghurt, some chilli flakes and some extra virgin olive oil. Fry quickly over high heat (or do this at the venue) and serve with a country salad of crumbled feta, diced tomatoes, black olives, diced cucumber, tender celery leaves and rocket, dressed with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Fresh pita breads on the side.