Friday, 25 June 2010

The Picnic.

There are a few culinary moments in my life that I know, even whilst experiencing them, I will always carry with me. Some, like eating street food in the Muslim quarter of Xi’an or a pilgrimage to the Back Street Bistro, are a prerequisite. Others, like the squid and mashed potato in a Hotel restaurant I visited with my Uncle or stumbling across a previously undiscovered London market, catch you by surprise.

When I got together with my food soul mate Aaron and arranged a picnic in Kew Gardens, I knew that it would lead to something truly beautiful.

When it comes to cooking methods, Aaron and I are at odds. Whilst my technique is haphazard and almost entirely intuitive, Aaron is a slave to the recipe book, following them to the letter. Whilst my cooking is simple and ‘rustic’, his is intricate, elegant and creative.
I had wandered how my predisposition for arrogantly altering recipes and throwing about herbs with gay abandon would work alongside his precision.
And though neither of us would care to admit it, this was not just cooking, this was bordering on a social experiment. We had both previously admitted to suffering from a degree of kitchen Nazi-ism- a potentially difficult personality trait to suffer from in the kitchen, and one that had the potential to cause Too-Many-Cooks syndrome.

But, against the odds, our mutual passion for all things edible united us, and a grudging respect for each others cooking styles (Aaron, I hope you agree with me on this!) helped to form a Picnic SuperTeam… And has earnt Thursday 24th June a firm place in my timeline of culinary triumphs.

I should also mention I am now a complete convert to the Church of Ottelenghi (Well, Ottelenghi… It’s the Bible, innit..?) This is the dish that converted me:

Burnt Aubergine With Tahini

The key to this dish is the cooking of the aubergines, which were burnt on a grill until the skin was black and cracking and the flesh inside soft and gooey. The smell is incredible, and though it is imperative that none of the black skin makes its way into the mix, the charred flavour carries right through into the dip.

Look how beautiful it already looks! The chopped aubergine flesh is mixed with tahini and pomegranate molasses, mixed together and topped with pomegranate seeds and extra virgin olive oil.

…Comme Ca.

Dish Two: Prosciutto, ricotta and artichoke Tart

With home made pastry, no less.

This tart, as often happens, tasted better after it had been left to sit for a while- it took time for the flavour of the ham to infuse into the ricotta and give it the saltiness it initially lacked. But it was light and lovely, and anything with pine nuts is good in my book!

Grilled Peaches and Bresola with Orange Blossom Salad

Orange Blossom. Buy it. Go. Now.

Crab, Chilli, green bean and coconut pasties:
Another of my favourites! The flavours were perfectly complimentary- The crab and coconut was beautiful with the lime and lemon grass. The texture and flavour are both gentle and not heavy and stodgy, like many pasties. Very summer friendly!

Finally, a picnic classic. Strawberries, marinading in balsamic vinegar and sugar, to bring out the flavour. Because it isn’t really a picnic without them.

I hope this inspires you to cook, have picnics and take photos... Make sure if you do, you send them my way...



  1. That was definitely one of my favourite ever cook days. I was a little worried that you'd be grating cheddar over my strawberries in the spirit of "experimentation" :) but actually we work really well in the kitchen together. And I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't become a total control freak. In fact by the end I was happily cobbling together the grilled peach, bresaola and orange blossom salad without looking at quantities at all. I love the pictures too! You really encapsulated the day perfectly. Now to go finish that salad....:)

  2. I meant to mention that actually! We clearly learnt from each other- you got pretty relaxed with quantities and I actually measured that coconut twice...

    If anyone wants any of these recipes, please contact me and I'll send them to you directly.