Recipes: easy picnic food to share this weekend
PUBLISHED: 12:54 29 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:56 29 May 2020
Planning a picnic in the great outdoors? Try these easy to make sweet and savoury treats from Suffolk chef Ruth French for a proper al fresco feast
There is a special delight in eating out of doors – and what better way to make use of the garden making use of the garden?
As the lockdown eases, family picnics in green spaces become possible again – social distancing observed, of course. Oh, the joy of packing the car with the family and some gastronomic goodies, and spending time in the great outdoors in our beautiful county.
But even you’re venturing no further than the back garden, here are some ideas for a delicious al fresco feast.
Classic Home-made Scotch Eggs (makes four)
300g good quality, course sausage meat
4 large free-range eggs + 2 eggs for coating
100g home-made dried breadcrumbs
Teaspoon Dijon mustard
Herbs de Provence
Salt and pepper
Oil for deep-frying
Start the day (or early morning) before by drying out breadcrumbs in a cool oven of 120°C. Don’t make the crumbs too small and you’ll have a lovely rough texture for the eggs. They take a couple of hours by which time they’ll be very dry and golden. Place the sausage meat in a bowl and allow to come to room temperature.
Now cover the four eggs with cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and continue to gently boil for no longer than five minutes. Plunge into ice cold water for ten minutes or until you’ve assembled the other ingredients.
Finely grate the onion and drain off the excess liquid, retaining the pulp only. Add to the sausage meat and mix in the salt and black pepper, together with the Dijon mustard or even horseradish sauce. Combine with the herbs and mix thoroughly, preferably by hand. Now carefully peel the eggs under a running cold tap, pat dry and set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, deep pan but do not over-fill as the eggs will displace the oil and bring it dangerously close to the top.
In another bowl beat the two remaining eggs. Wrap the sausage meat around the cooled boiled eggs (having wet hands makes this process easier). Dip the covered eggs into the beaten egg mixture and roll them in the breadcrumbs, coating them generously coat, and pressing to help the crumbs adhere.
Test the oil temperature by dropping a piece of bread into it which should start to brown readily. Add the eggs carefully, gently lowering each one at a time, perhaps frying just a batch of two at a time so as not to over-fill the pan. When they turn a deep golden colour, remove onto kitchen paper to drain.
This recipe can easily be adapted for vegetarians by substituting the sausage meat with blitzed chick peas, a little tahini paste, onion and some herbs. Aim for a course, stiff hummus-style mixture that would easily double as a falafel.
Quick Main-Meal Salad
This is a hearty salad, a proper meal and very quick to prepare. Tip a bag of mixed green leaves to a large bowl with some freshly blanched whole green beans. Add some watercress, coriander leaves, chopped fennel bulb, chunks of cucumber, grated raw beetroot and carrot, chopped apple and cooked diced chicken. For a really quick dressing, whisk some cider vinegar into some ready made pesto. Decant into a screw-top jar. Give it a shake before adding to the salad just prior to serving.
Toasted pine nuts add another luxury dimension – keep them in a separate container to add just before you serve. The chicken can be substituted by some chunks of ready-cooked Quorn and/or Feta cheese (or its vegan equivalent).
Easy Bean Burritos
These Mexican-style wraps add an exciting twist to any picnic and ring the changes from the ubiquitous sandwich. No butter-spreading, no crumb mess, just an easy opening of store cupboard ingredients with a dash of this and that.
Can of cooked mixed beans, drained and coarsely mashed
Can of cooked black beans, drained and coarsely mashed
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2 small ripe avocados, coarsely mashed
2 medium/ large tomatoes, chopped finely
Fat clove garlic, minced to a paste with some sea salt
Juice of 1 large lime
Handful coriander leaves and stems, chopped
Few dashes tabasco habanero or other chilli sauce
Half teaspoon cumin
Half teaspoon smoked paprika
Tortillas or wraps
Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let them infuse for at least an hour. Drain of the excess liquid and pile into the tortillas. Wrap tightly and secure each one with foil for an individual serving.
Have you tried Ruth French’s yeast-free pizza?
No summer picnic should be without fresh fruit of some description. The difficulty usually is transporting it in such a way that it doesn’t become a warm mush – not a problem if your picnic table is only a few feet from your house, of course. These delicious sweet treats are easy to make and transport.
Macerated Strawberry Eton Mess
So easy and quick to make. Buy some ready-made small, round meringues, allowing a couple per person. Chop some strawberries into small pieces, add castor sugar and a little vanilla essence. Let this infuse for at least a couple of hours in a transportable container. Whip some double cream until thick and secure in a sealed container, or simply use soured cream or crème fresh. Toast some chopped almond pieces or any other chopped nuts you have in the store cupboard and pop into a bag or container. At the picnic you can crush the meringues (if they’re not already!) layer with the sweet fruit and cream and top with the nuts for a super, summery quick dessert that appears far more clever than it really is.
Ruth’s Banana (or cherry Kirsch) Choc Melanger
Another gloriously simple dessert – a twist on Eton Mess and just as simple to assemble at the picnic table. Buy some supermarket chocolate brownies or sponge cakes and break into smallish, bite-sized pieces. Pack into transportable container. Now whisk some double cream with a teaspoonful of cocoa powder and a teaspoonful of icing sugar. Secure in a jar or sealed container. Pack some bananas, allowing one large banana for two people. Toast some broken walnuts or pecan nuts and bag up. When you’re ready to eat, mash the banana with a fork, and use the same Eton Mess technique to layer it with the brownies, or sponge cake, and cream. Instead of banana, and for a more ‘grown-up’ melanger, you could use pieces of fresh cherries soaked in Kirsch and sugar, and serve with crushed pistachios instead of the more usual nut combo.
Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that are refreshing and simple to make.
This can be made on the morning of the picnic. Make a litre of tea by brewing with three teabags. Strain and cool. Simply blitz the flesh of four peaches or nectarines in a blender with some castor sugar to the required sweetness, then strain through muslin or a fine metal strainer. Add to the tea, bottle and chill. Serve with a generous spring of mint. You can chop and change the fruit but the flavour of peaches works particularly well with tea.
Squeeze the juice and remove the flesh from six lemons into a blender with a quarter-inch piece of freshly grated ginger. De-seed a quarter inch piece of red chilli and add to the blender with lemon and ginger. Throw in a few stalks of coriander and 30g of sugar. Add a small cup of water and blend until very smooth. Bottle and chill. Add to sparkling water with a sprig of mint.
Simple Fruit Punches
Some ‘flavour ideas’ that you can mix in a hurry with pieces of fresh fruit. Why not add a dash of something stronger to grown-up glasses? Cranberry and orange juice works well with a dash of vodka, or how about pineapple juice and coconut water which is great with a dash of Bacardi. You can make a simple mint julep by boiling a sugar and water syrup, adding fresh mint and then topping up with a white wine Spritzer for an easy, low-alcohol drink. Serve with slices of cucumber.
Ruth French is a chef and member of the Guild of Food Writers