Never is the gulf between dream and reality so wide as with the British summer picnic.
We imagine ourselves sprawling relaxed on a gingham rug surrounded by an effortlessly delicious spread of rustic delights, but instead we find ourselves dealing with spillages, arguments, grass stains, unappetisingly tepid food, encroaching rain, and – inevitably – wasps.
I can’t do anything about the rain or wasps, but I can offer you some suggestions for easy picnic ideas that will help you banish soggy sandwiches and enjoy a taste of fine food al fresco this National Picnic Week (June 15-24).
Frittata: quiche without the fuss
One of the easiest savoury picnic recipes is an Italian-style frittata. This is rather like a thick omelette, or a quiche without the pastry, and involves a range of savoury ingredients bound together with egg.
- Using a large ovenproof frying pan, sauté some thinly-sliced onions and garlic until soft and golden.
- Sauté the other vegetables as you wish – strips of red pepper and courgettes are particularly good.
- Pour over enough seasoned, beaten egg to cover the vegetables, onion and garlic, then cook for 5 minutes or so before finishing under the grill for a golden top.
- Leave to cool before slicing into wedges and wrapping in foil for your picnic.
You can add cheese and herbs to your egg mix for more flavour if you wish. Some of my favourite frittata combinations are red pepper, feta cheese and basil or thyme; thinly sliced potatoes, rosemary, lots of garlic and parmesan cheese; and pieces of roasted cauliflower or broccoli, masses of smoked paprika and crumbled smoked cheese.
A good pâté is endlessly useful at a picnic, spread on bread and enjoyed with whatever toppings you choose. You can, of course, buy it, but it’s ridiculously easy to make a very tasty fish version that will far surpass anything in the shops.
- Simply blitz hot-smoked trout, salmon or mackerel in a food processor with cream cheese, a good squeeze of lemon juice, chopped dill, a smidge of Dijon mustard, lots of black pepper and a little salt.
- That’s it! Put in a container and take to your picnic.
It’s lovely with slices of cucumber, handfuls of rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and as good on crackers as it is on bread.
Consider prepping a couple of the following dips in advance, then bringing them along with some good bread and crudités for dipping. Middle-Eastern-style flatbread is the best for this, but a good sourdough or baguette will also be lovely.
- Place 4 aubergines under the grill on a very high heat, turning occasionally until charred and soft all over. Scoop the flesh out from the skin. Mix the flesh with crushed garlic, lots of good olive oil and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. Stir in a handful of mint leaves and some toasted pine nuts. Serve sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and drizzled with a little more pomegranate molasses
- Slip the skins off cooked broad beans (fresh or frozen), then blitz in a food processor with olive oil, seasoning, masses of chopped dill and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Serve topped with crumbled feta and a drizzle more oil.
- Roast 6 red peppers under the grill until blackened all over. Leave to cool in a bowl with cling film over the top before peeling off the skin and scooping out the seeds (discard). Cut the flesh into strips then mix with olive oil, crushed garlic, torn basil leaves and a handful of chopped, fresh tomatoes.
Shortbread is a very forgiving biscuit, and can be jazzed up wonderfully with the flavours of summer.
- Beat 120g soft butter in a stand mixer (or with a wooden spoon) until soft and creamy, then add 70g caster sugar and a pinch of salt.
- At this point you can also add your flavours: try lemon zest, lavender flowers, rose petals, or dried raspberry or strawberry pieces.
- Beat until well combined, then add 130g plain flour and 40g rice flour or semolina to form a short, crumbly dough.
- Roll into logs, chill, then slice into rounds and bake, or roll out and use fun cookie cutters to cut into shapes. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for around 30 minutes at 150C, until light golden.
Everyone loves a good banana bread, and it can be baked in advance – in fact, it gets better after a day or so of maturing. My favourite recipe is here, and it’s perfect for using up those unappetisingly black bananas in the fruit bowl.
Picnic beverages are best kept simple. Some chilled water with a few slices of cucumber and a sprig of mint makes a wonderfully refreshing drink on a warm day, or try infusing sparkling water with slices of peach and summer berries.
If you’ve never tried cold-brewing tea before, it makes a wonderful picnic beverage.
- Simply place 4 tbsp of your favourite tea in a bottle with cold water.
- Leave to infuse in the fridge for 4 hours
- Straining into a thermos to keep it cool on your picnic. You can also add slices of fruit and sprigs of herbs to jazz it up.