It’s picnic time…… yay!

It’s not just teddy bears that love eating outside, we all do. It is about fresh air, the smells, the sounds, the sights of the countryside that make us feel better, make us want to head for the hills (or back garden).

For me it also brings back childhood memories of harvesting, hay bales and after school picnics with mum and dad in the fields (funny how your memory tricks you into believing that every summer was hot and sunny…….. I suspect the truth is that many such afternoons were out on hold until the rain cleared!

It doesn’t matter if you only have access to a small piece of outside space, you can pretty much picnic anywhere, it is literally just about being outside where food seems to taste that much better. So if you get the chance, cook some of these great picnic dishes, pack up a few baskets or boxes and head out and make hay whilst the sun shines.

Marinated goat cheese with garden vegetables

Perfect for an alfresco summer spread, this marinated goat’s cheese goes well with lots of crusty bread and young veggies and crisp salad leaves. You need to make these up to 3-4 days ahead to allow the time for the flavours to penetrate the cheese. Keep in a cool dark place.

Serves: 6-8

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

400 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, halved

2 small red chillies, bruised

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, bruised

2 bay leaves, bruised

400 g fresh goat cheese (without rind; fridge cold)

selection of fresh summer vegetables, lettuce and bread rolls, to serve

Put the fennel and coriander seeds in a heavy-based pan, then heat gently until fragrant and beginning to pop. Add the oil, garlic, chillies, rosemary and bay, then warm gently to infuse. Leave to cool. Remove the garlic and rosemary.

Use your hands to roll the cheese into 18 small balls and put in the jar or container. Pour the oil over the top and store in a cool place (see headnote). Serve the goat’s cheese balls with summer veg/salads and bread, all drizzled with a little of the infused oil.

Tear and share feta and herb bread

A gorgeous cheesy bread, flecked with feta and fresh herbs, is something great to share with friends for an alfresco feast in the garden. It goes really well with the goat’s cheese balls too.

Serves: 6

500g unbleached white bread flour

7 g sachet fast-acting dried yeast

2 tsp sea salt, plus extra for top

1 tsp sugar

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

large handful fresh parlsey, chopped

handful fresh chives, chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and stir in the dried yeast, salt and sugar. Make a well in the middle and gradually work in 3 tbsp of the oil and enough of the warm water to form a soft dough. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a draught-free place for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, mix the feta, parmesan and herbs in a bowl with the rest of the oil, then cover and chill.

Gently knead the dough once or twice (this is called knocking back) and roll out on a lightly floured surface to make a 25cm x 35cm rectangle. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese and herb mixture.

Roll the dough up from one long side to make a log shape. Cut into
7 thick slices, each around 5cm wide. Arrange 6 slices, cut-side up, in a circle on the prepared baking sheet, roughly 3cm apart, then put the last one in the middle and cover loosely with cling film. Leave to rise (prove), loosely covered with cling film, for 30-40 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/ gas 4. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 40-50 minutes until risen, golden and cooked through. Cover the top with foil if it starts to brown too quickly. When ready, transfer the tin to a wire rack for 5 minutes to cool. Remove the loaf from the tin and wrap the bread in a clean tea towel as it cools.

Persian chicken with spiced yogurt

Chicken marinated in cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, honey and lemon, before roasting, is a gorgeous summery recipe that’s a doddle to make.

Serves: 6

6 chicken legs

1 tsp ground cinnamon

6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp clear honey

grated zest and juice 1 lemon

150ml Greek yogurt

a handful fresh picked parsley leaves

Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Line a large roasting tin with non-stick baking paper. Divide the chicken legs into drumsticks and thighs by cutting through the joint with a sharp knife. Put in a large mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, mix the spices with the olive oil, honey, lemon zest and juice and some salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken and toss well to coat all over.Put the chicken in the prepared roasting tin and roast for 45 minutes until golden and tender, turning Put the chicken in the prepared roasting tin and roast for 45 minutes until golden and tender, turning

Put the chicken in the prepared roasting tin and roast for 45 minutes until golden and tender, turning over halfway through and basting the chicken with pan juices.

Put the chicken on a board (or platter if serving straightaway) to cool. Put 2 tablespoons of the pan juices in a bowl with the yogurt, then mix well and season to taste. To serve, drizzle the yogurt over the chicken and scatter with parsley.

Pearl barley and aubergine salad with pomegranates

A make-ahead salad recipe, with pearl barley and aubergine, that’s great for a packed lunch or picnic on a summery day.

200 g pearl barley

2-3 tbs olive oil

1-2 aubergines (about 500g) thickly sliced

250 g cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

80 g pomegranate seeds

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

2 tbsp each fresh mint, parsley and coriander, roughly chopped

handful of rocket leaves

Cook the pearl barley according to the packet instructions (about 40 minutes). Drain, refresh under cold water to cool and drain well. Put in a mixing bowl.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. Put the olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper, then brush all over the aubergine slices. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until charred and tender. Set aside until cool, then roughly chop. Add to the pearl barley with the tomatoes, red onion and half the pomegranate seeds.

Put the remaining pomegranate seeds in a small sieve. Using a wooden spoon, press out all the juice from the seeds into a small bowl. Discard the seeds in the sieve, then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil, pomegranate molasses and a little salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the herbs and dressing, then serve scattered with the rocket leaves.

Roasted peppers with basil

A simple vegetarian starter recipe; red peppers are slow-cooked – with tomatoes, thyme and capers – until soft and sweet then served with fresh basil. One for the glorious summer months.

Serves: 6

3 large red peppers

2 garlic cloves, crushed

6 large cherry tomatoes, halved

3 thyme sprigs, leaves only

2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch basil leaves

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

handful fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 220°C/ 200°C fan/ gas 7 and line a roasting tin with non-stick baking paper. Cut each pepper in half lengthways through the stalk, then scoop out and discard the seeds and membrane. Put the peppers cut-side up in the prepared baking tray and divide the garlic, tomatoes, thyme leaves and capers between them. Drizzle with oil, then season with salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes.

Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to each pepper and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until caramelised and tender. Cool and serve at room temperature, scattered with fresh basil.

Chocolate swirl meringues, berries and white chocolate sauce 

Try these decadent chocolate meringues for your summer picnic; they are easy to make ahead and assemble when you’re ready for them.

Serves: 4

40 g dark chocolate, chopped

4 medium free-range egg whites

225g caster sugar

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

300 g mixed summer berries

For the sauce

250 ml single cream

2 medium free-range egg yolks

2 tsp cornflour

75 g white chocolate, chopped

Heat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Set aside.

Put the egg whites in a large, clean mixing bowl and, using an electric hand-held mixer, whisk to stiff peaks. Gradually whisk in the sugar a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is thick and glossy. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla extract.

Drizzle the melted chocolate over the egg mixture and carefully stir once to swirl the chocolate through without combining it completely. Spoon the meringue mixture onto the prepared baking trays to make 12 meringue mounds.

Transfer the trays to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 140°C/ 120°C fan/gas 1. Bake for 1 hour or until the meringues are set and pull away easily from the paper. Cool on a wire cooling rack.

Meanwhile make the sauce: heat the cream in a small pan until steaming (don’t boil). In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar until smooth, then stir in the hot milk. Return to the pan and stir gently over a low heat until the mixture comes to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously, then remove from the heat. Stir in the white chocolate until melted, then pour into a bowl, cover the surface with cling film and leave to cool completely. Once cool, keep in the fridge. Decant into an airtight container to pack.

Serve the meringues with the berries and a drizzle of the white chocolate sauce.

Images © Ian Wallace photographer

Recipes and styling © Louise Pickford

First published by Delicious UK 2018


All fired up

It’s that time of year again, the tell-tale spiral of smoke swirling above gardens; backyards buzzing with talk and the evocative aroma of food sizzling on the barbecue. What is it that makes us so drawn to this age old method of cooking? I think its a combination of factors – its sociable, its outdoors and therefore has a more relaxed ambience and of course it is all about the taste – barbecued food should cook over a direct heat so the outside caramelises keeping the inside juicy and moist and of course delicious.

This recipe is my version of a classic south American barbecued steak traditionally served with a green sauce called Chimichurri – the cut used is a beef skirt steak that comes from the belly of the beast and it is best to marinate the steak before cooking, to help tenderise it. It is also best cut across the grain once cooked, again this helps tenderise the beef. The sauce, similar to a salsa is made with coriander and spices and goes really well with beef. Keeping with the all South American theme I have opted for blue potatoes to serve as crisps with the steak. They tend to be drier and more starchy than other varieties and lend themselves very well to deep-frying. You should be able to find them in larger supermarkets or speciality green grocers – alternatively you can use a more traditional chipping potato such as Yukon Gold, King Edwards or Maris Bard.

 Barbecued beef skirt wraps with chilli, coriander and lime salsa

Photo Ian Wallace

Photo Ian Wallace

Serves: 6

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

2 garlic cloves, crushed

grated zest 2 limes

1 tsp each salt and pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 kg skirt steak

500 g blue potatoes, peeled

ancho chilli powder

salsa

2 x bunches fresh coriander (50g)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 small red chilli, seeded and chopped

juice 2 limes

1 tsp caster sugar

150 ml extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

serving suggestions

250 g heirloom tomatoes, 1 avocado, diced

coriander leaves and aioli

Place the rosemary, garlic, lime zest, salt, pepper and oil in a bowl and stir well to combine. Place the meat in a shallow dish, add the marinade, stir well and leave to marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Return to room temperature 1 hour before cooking.

Make the salsa just before you cook the meat to keep the lovely vibrant green colour. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, season to taste.

Preheat your barbecue (or ridged-grill pan) until hot and add the meat. Cook for 3-5 minutes each side, depending on how well you like the meat cooked. Transfer to a board and rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Make the chips. Either buy or make your own. Cut the potatoes into wafer thin slices. Soak in cold water for 30 minutes, drain and dry thoroughly on kitchen towel. Heat 5 cm oil in a wok or saucepan until a cube of bread, when added, sizzles immediately. Fry the potato wafers, in batches, for about 2 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with a little ancho chilli powder and salt and serve at once.

Photo Ian Wallace

Photo Ian Wallace

This recipe and both images first appeared in Grazia UK June 2014