From celebrity chef picnic favourites to gourmet hampers and the ultimate outdoor-eating kit – here’s all you need for a glorious alfresco summer, starting with food editor Eleanor Maidment’s genius picnic tricks
Picnicking can be as simple as throwing some sandwiches in a cooler, chucking a blanket in the boot of the car and then heading into the great outdoors. But a true picnic pro will have considered a whole host of things beforehand. All you need to do is master a few simple tips and tricks for elevated outdoor eating all summer long…
The picnic loaf
Ten times more impressive than sandwiches, this is effectively a crusty country loaf with the top sliced off, then the inner crumb scooped out and replaced with layers of filling (try tomatoes, mozzarella, rocket, avocado, parma ham and basil leaves). Place the lid back on, wrap it up and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours to allow the filling to compress. When you’re ready, simply slice it into neat wedges a bit like a cake. Just remember to bring a bread knife and a chopping board with you too.
Ready-made pastry can be divided up into rectangles and baked as individual tarts (goat’s cheese and caramelised onion is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser) or make pinwheel picnic rolls by topping unbaked pastry sheets with ham, grated cheese and roasted veg, then rolling up and slicing into rounds before baking. They travel well and are great served at room temperature.
Use soft rice paper wrappers to encase a light, zingy filling. Rice noodles, fresh herbs (mint and coriander), shredded carrot and cabbage and cooked prawns are an excellent combination, though really the variations are endless. You’ll need some kind of punchy chilli-spiked dipping sauce to dunk them in, too.
Stick to chunkier options like potato or pasta salads, roasted veg, slaws or a classic Italian panzanella (Italian bread and tomato salad). Or consider packing individual salads in glass jars, layering them up as you go. Prawn cocktail, avocado and shredded little gem lettuce make an uncomplicated trio: pack the dressed prawns at the base of the jars to avoid sogginess and screw on the lid to seal.
Red chicory leaves, radishes, sugar snap peas and raw green beans deserve headline space alongside the usual cucumber and carrots. Dampen kitchen towel with cold water and use to wrap cut vegetables before placing in an airtight container to keep them crisp and fresh en route. Be bold and exciting with your dips, transporting them (along with any dressings) in screw-top jars to avoid spillage.
Brownies or loaf cakes such as banana bread are easy to portion out, will feed a crowd and can be carried in the tin they were baked in.
Another sweet picnic staple. Scooped-out melon shells are brilliant to serve them in – they look good and tick the eco-friendly box.
The options are endless. If you prefer to mix your own cocktails, stick to simple things like Pimm’s and lemonade or a classic sangria that make easy daytime drinking and can be pre-mixed in bottles and part-frozen ahead of time. The bottles can then be placed at the bottom of hampers or cool bags to double up as ice packs. Alternatively, fill Tupperware containers with ice and use them as cool packs, then use the ice to chill your wine. Also remember that Thermos flasks don’t just keep things warm, they are ideal for cold drinks too. Fruit-infused waters will keep everyone happily hydrated. Add orange and cucumber slices or mint leaves to flasks, fill with cold water and chill the night before.
Prepare it like a pro
A-list chefs lift the lid on their picnic-hamper standbys
JAM JAR SALAD
Pack a jam jar with leaves and veggies of your choice then add a salad dressing – or make your own with balsamic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. It’s simple, portable and it helps you keep your leaves nice and crisp until you need to dress them at the last minute by shaking it all together.
Jamie Oliver’s new book Together will be out in September (Penguin, £26)*
SMOKED SALMON SANDWICHES AND ETON MESS
I like really good smoked salmon sarnies followed by Eton mess. I mix up sliced strawberries, whipped cream, crushed meringue or macaroons and sprinkle them with muscovado sugar in yogurt pots or small tumblers, transported in a chill box. Don’t forget to pack the teaspoons!
SAFFRON CHICKEN FLATBREADS WITH MINTED YOGURT
We like to barbecue almost all year round, and chicken on sticks is a family favourite, probably because it’s so easy and there are endless variations. I love using the mild-mannered spice saffron, which stains the meat golden yellow and imparts a gentle Mediterranean scent to everything. The fresh minted yogurt is the perfect accompaniment, but you could replace it with tzatziki if you’re in a rush.
Soak 4 bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 240C/220C fan/gas 9.
Using a pestle and mortar, grind a pinch of saffron to a powder, then cover with 1 tablespoon boiling water and leave to sit. Cut 500g boneless chicken thighs into 5cm pieces and place in a bowl with 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, zest of 1 lemon and 4 tablespoons Greek yogurt. Season with salt and pepper, add the saffron water and mix well.
Thread the chicken pieces on to the skewers. Cut a peeled red onion into 8 wedges and alternate them with the chicken. Place on a nonstick roasting tray and put on a high shelf in the oven for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile combine 150g Greek yogurt with a small handful of finely chopped mint leaves, add lemon juice to taste and season with a little salt and pepper. Set aside until needed. Put two flatbreads on a baking tray and place in the bottom of the oven to warm for a few minutes. Preheat the grill. When the chicken has been cooking for 12 minutes, place it under the grill and cook for a further 3-4 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Put the flatbreads on plates and spread some of the minted yogurt down the middle. Add a handful of salad leaves to each and divide 140g halved cherry tomatoes between them. Put the cooked skewers on top and sprinkle with shop-bought ready prepared crispy fried onions to serve, if you like.
Recipe from Gordon Ramsay Quick & Delicious by Gordon Ramsay (Hodder & Stoughton, £25)*
PLOUGHMAN’S CHEESE & PICKLE TART
This is great for picnics. It can also be frozen for up to a month.
To make the pastry, flatten 350g shortcrust pastry slightly and sprinkle with a teaspoon of paprika. Fold the edges in over the top, then knead to incorporate all the paprika. If it sticks to the worktop, dust with flour. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/gas 4 and put a baking tray in to heat up. Dust the work surface with flour and roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and large enough to cover the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 3cm-4cm deep, loose-bottomed flan tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Press it into the edges, leaving some overhang. Pierce the base all over with a fork to stop it puffing up while baking. Cover the base and sides with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Take the hot baking tray out of the oven and place the prepared tart tin on it. Bake for 25 minutes, then take out of the oven, remove the paper and baking beans and bake for another 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, put 4 medium eggs into a jug and lightly whisk. Add 150ml milk and stir. Once the tart shell is out of the oven, spread 200g Branston Pickle (small chunks) all over the base and cover evenly with 250g grated mature cheddar. Pour in the egg mixture and place the tray back in the oven, on the middle shelf, for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set and golden. Once cool enough to handle, slice off the pastry overhang using a sharp serrated knife. Leave in the tin for 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Recipe from Nadiya’s British Food Adventure (Michael Joseph, £20)*
For a picnic, especially if there are little ones around I love to make some homemade sausage rolls, with some really nice flaky pastry and maybe some chutney for the grown ups. I feel like sausage rolls are such a party food; we always had them growing up for birthdays and trips to the park.