Written by Bre Graham
Rethink how you pack your picnic with these four perfect-for-summer recipes.
Here, food writer Bre Graham shares an extract from Cooking For Picnics, a zine of 10 classic-ish picnic recipes and stories of picnics past to raise money for Refuge UK.
There is something innately hopeful about picnics that I love. No matter if it is an impromptu sandwich shared over a bottle of wine or an exquisite three-course feast, you’ll always be willing the sky to stay blue and drinks to keep cold.
I truly believe that eating outside beneath beaming sunshine makes whatever you’re eating taste better. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a park bench, sitting on your jacket, or have a twelve-piece matching picnic set, a picnic can be whatever you want it to be as long as you’re outside in a space of beauty.
A picnic can be for 1o, two, or just for you. A thermos of martini mix, a solo salad, and a book to read on a patch of grass that is yours alone can be just as fun as a group of friends sharing cheese and chips. When it comes to food for a picnic, I start with the basics and build up from that.
The inimitable Elizabeth David recommends apples, figs, and apricots for picnics “as they are easy to eat and transport” and “fresh cheese, black olives, and French bread” in her writing on the subject, which I absolutely agree with.
This matter of transport is the reason behind the way so many of these recipes were designed. The vanilla, jam, and dark chocolate cakes are so much easier to carry than a traditional large birthday cake, as they don’t need cutting but feel just as special. It doesn’t matter if you have a picnic basket or just a backpack.
Fill whatever you can with food and get ready to feast. In the moments when the sun shifts to a corner of your garden or you know when your favorite part of your local park is quiet and dappled in light, take a moment for yourself, grab something good to eat, and bask in it.
Tomato, mozzarella and smoked chilli salad
Nothing transports me to the feeling of alfresco eating in the sunshine quite like ripe tomatoes and cold mozzarella. A really good tomato doesn’t need much. When they’re perfect, just a little salt will make them sing but a ball of mozzarella is truly their best friend. The dressing for this salad is more of a marinade for the tomatoes. As they sit in the basil, chilli, and vinegar they absorb all the flavour which pairs so well with the creamy cheese.
When you’re on your picnic you can keep the mozzarella with your ice until you’re ready to eat. Smoked chilli flakes are an ingredient that can alter anything they’re added to. An instant depth of flavour, I get mine from Daphnis & Chloe.
500g of mixed tomatoes
1 ball of mozzarella
A large bunch of basil
1 teaspoon of smoked chilli flakes
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
A generous pinch of salt
In a mortar and pestle or blender, combine the basil leaves with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and chilli flakes until they are a deep green dressing. Cut the tomatoes and marinate in the smoky basil dressing. When you’re ready to serve it, drain and tear up the ball of mozzarella before tossing it together with the tomatoes.
Orzo with lemon, courgettes and almonds
Throughout the winter months when I’m mostly cooking soups and stews, orzo is a constant in my kitchen. Come warmer weather though, I don’t want to say goodbye so this pasta salad of sorts is where I turn. Full of smoky chargrilled courgettes, lemon, dill, and crunchy toasted almonds, it’s so good room temperature, spooned out to share with friends over a picnic blanket.
250g of orzo pasta
2 large courgettes
100ml of extra virgin olive oil
A big pinch of salt
A clove of garlic, grated
200g of flaked almonds
A large bunch of dill, finely chopped
Slice the courgettes into thin coins and grill on a heavy griddle pan until charred on each side. In a mixing bowl whisk together the zest and juice of a lemon with the olive oil, finely grated garlic clove, and salt. Cook the orzo according to the packet instructions in lots of salty water. When cooked, drain and immediately add to the bowl of dressing while warm so it absorbs all the lemon and garlic goodness. Leave to cool and while that’s chilling toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan. Mix together the orzo, chargrilled courgettes, almonds, and chopped dill together to serve.
Vanilla, jam and dark chocolate cakes
These little jam-filled cakes are ideal for birthday picnics in the park, just bring the candles. Choose your favorite jam and make a batch with different combinations.
Ingredients (makes 12)
160g soft unsalted butter
160g caster sugar
160g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
2 teaspoons of vanilla paste or vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Sponge
170g of 70% dark chocolate
200ml of sour cream
2 tablespoons of icing sugar
A pinch of salt
A jar of your favourite jam
Brush butter on the inside of a cupcake tray or fill with cupcake liners. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter, vanilla, and caster sugar with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Crack in the first egg and whisk for a minute in between adding each of the other two. Sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold to combine. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake tray, leaving at least 2cm at the top of each for them to rise. Bake for 25 minutes until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. With a teaspoon, scoop out a hole from the top of each cake and fill with a teaspoon of raspberry jam, then put the cake you scooped out back on top. In a double boiler, melt the dark chocolate and leave to cool slightly before whisking with the sour cream, icing sugar, and salt. Top each cake with a few tablespoons of the icing.
This cocktail screams summer to me. I want to sip it cold and strong as I sit surrounded by salty things to snack on. This recipe makes one so double and double again to make a big batch. It stays delightfully cold in a thermos, thankfully, and when you freeze them overnight, they become like a wonderfully soft slushie.
200ml of mango juice
Juice of two limes
A pinch of salt
Mix all the ingredients, pour into a container and freezer overnight. Pour into a thermos before taking on your picnic.
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Images: Bre Graham
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