Spread out in the great outdoors
Eating in the fresh air, outdoors, is a wonderful summer pleasure - on a blanket in a park, at a trestle table on a terrace or at a picnic table at the beach.
The New Zealand countryside has so many places to enjoy a picnic and I think it is central to our food culture. All you have to do is go somewhere like Rabbit Island to find families everywhere enjoying their own version of a picnic.
There is a fine line between a picnic and a barbecue in terms of venue and ambience. The difference is the barbecue requires cooking some sort of flesh on the fire whereas a picnic is a meal of cold dishes.
It never ceases to amaze me how well-equipped Kiwi families are in the art of carrying food from home to picnic venue, with huge chillybins and purpose-built containers of cutlery, plates and glassware. I have none of these so I am clearly no expert.
I have a hankering for one of those old wicker picnic baskets with different layers and secret compartments, ready to be unfolded at the picnic spot, tasty morsels being spread on the picnic tablecloth, to be devoured until there is nothing but crumbs.
My friend Sally talked to me recently about her family picnics when she was a girl, usually at the river. Delicious sandwiches would be revealed at different points in the day, culminating at dusk with the bacon and egg pie (with the eggs left whole). Nothing could taste as good as that pie, the taste still vividly alive in her memory.
The menu for a picnic can be endless - as long as the imagination, really. Cold meats, fish, pies of all sorts, sandwiches with the crusts cut off and multi-layered or fat sandwiches in thick bread, cakes and tarts and fresh summer fruit. Cold beer, chilled wine, fruit drinks, fizzy water.
The rule is that the food must be able to be eaten by hand or at worst with a fork on a plate. Preferably cutlery can be left out of the equation but if not then it should be at a minimum.
Things must pack well and not break up as they are transported and they must taste good cold, preferably the flavour enhanced by being eaten "later".
My picnic table is very simple, actually, however I must admit it does require a utensil or two and a little preparation for the chef at the venue.
It also requires sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, oil and balsamic vinegar.
I have made a cheese and spinach tart, ready to be cut into wedges. I have also made hot smoked salmon and potato cakes. Tomatoes cut into thick rounds with fresh basil leaves and drizzled with local extra virgin olive oil, a homemade aioli and salad greens and rocket.
I have bought a ciabatta from the baker in Lansdowne Rd. All of this finished off with luscious fresh peaches.
This picnic menu serves six.
SPINACH AND CHEESE TART
Make a short crust
1¼ cups of flour
4 Tbsp butter
Pinch of baking powder and salt
1 egg yolk
4 Tbsp cold water
Squeeze of lemon juice
Put baking powder, flour and salt in a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the egg yolk, water and juice and add to the mixture. Form into a dough, knead lightly and chill for half an hour. Roll out to fit a 25cm fluted flan ring. Bake unfilled for 10 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius.
1 cup cooked, wilted, drained and chopped spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 Tbsp finely chopped marjoram
Salt and pepper
Saute finely chopped shallots in butter until slightly caramelised. Add the spinach and the marjoram.
Mix the cheeses, beat the eggs and combine with the cheeses, then add the spinach mixture. Mix well and season. Pour into the flan dish and bake at 180C for about 30 minutes until puffed and golden.
TOMATOES WITH BASIL
Use fat, ripe tomatoes and slice into thick rounds. Top each round with a big leaf of basil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with local high-quality extra virgin olive oil like Kakariki. Add a dollop of aoli if you wish.
SMOKED SALMON AND POTATO CAKES
200g of hot smoked salmon
6 medium sized new potatoes, boiled and roughly mashed
2 spring onions finely sliced
½ green pepper finely sliced
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting the cakes
Crumble the salmon and mix with the mashed potato, green pepper and spring onion. Combine well and add the egg lightly beaten.
Combine well and form into small cakes.
Dust each cake in a little flour and fry in a mix of oil and butter until golden.
2 cloves crushed garlic
cup of olive oil, ½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
Juice of a lemon
Salt and pepper
In the food processor put the egg, mustard and 1 Tbsp of oil. Process until smooth, then very slowly add the oil until thick and creamy. Add the crushed garlic and lemon juice. Season to taste.