by George Hutchinson
A hot summer’s day ... relaxing with friends over open tomato and cucumber sandwiches whilst the children happily run about and play games until the light fades. Unfortunately the reality is often somewhat different. The vagaries of the English weather aside, picnics are often difficult affairs, where the effort can outweigh the return. The fundamental rule is to keep it simple and for me that means mostly finger or fork-only food. The recipes I have included here are inspired by annual visits as a child to the South of Spain where the sun does always shine.
5 large organic or free range eggs
2 medium Maris Piper or waxy potatoes
1.5 tablespoon of olive oil
You will also need a 15–20cm frying pan
If you are to be authentically Spanish you should pre-cook the potatoes until soft in olive or sunflower oil without browning. I prefer a lighter version and if you use good quality waxy potatoes such as Maris Piper they do just as well when pre-cooked in water.
Peel 2 medium sized potatoes and chop into roughly 1.5cm pieces. Put the diced potatoes into a pan of water with a pinch of salt and boil for 5–8 minutes. Then drop the potatoes into cold water to stop them cooking.
Break the eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork or whisk. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Now mix in the cooked potatoes and a teaspoon of olive oil.
Heat the pan with a half a tablespoon of olive oil waiting until it is just about smoking before pouring the egg and potato mixture into the pan. Using a wooden spoon, evenly spread the mixture around the pan and turn the temperature down to low. If it is too high you can end up with a few burnt bits around the edges.
After 8–10 minutes the bottom of the tortilla will be golden brown and it will be ready to turn. Because of the depth of the tortilla not all the mixture is set when you turn it. Pour the top of the tortilla into a bowl and slide the rest out onto a plate.
Add a little extra olive oil, putting the uncooked mixture back into the pan and flipping the tortilla from the plate with the crispy side up back into the pan. Push the wooden spoon around the edges to ensure it stays together.
Turn the heat up a little and cook for 5–6 minutes until it is also golden brown. At this stage you can test the tortilla to see if it’s cooked if it is firm to the touch.
The tortilla tastes best if cooked on the morning of the picnic.
Before taking it on the picnic cut into 8 slices.
Sticky chicken drumsticks
4 tbsp yellow bean sauce
4 tbsp mango chutney (spreadable if you can get it)
2 tbsp clear honey
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
8 free range chicken drumsticks
Drumsticks are ready-made finger food and these can be prepared the day before.
To make the marinade, mix all the ingredients together, adding the honey last. Make two incisions in the meat of the drumsticks and pour over the marinade. Marinade for at least 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Put the drumsticks in the oven and cook for 30 minutes turning once and basting with a little marinade.
Then put the drumsticks under the grill for 5 minutes to get that just-caramelised, golden colour and flavour.
Treacle tart and fresh strawberries
450g golden syrup
1 packet sweet shortcrust pastry
3 slices of thick brown bread
1 free range egg
2 tbsp cream cheese
100ml double cream
You will also need a 22–28cm diameter pastry case.
Luckily, this pudding is better cold and the mixture of fresh fruit and the sweetness of the treacle tart works wonderfully together.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Butter and flour the pastry case and roll out the pastry until it is at least 5cm beyond the edge, rolling it as thin as possible without tearing. Place it over the case and gently push the pastry into the bottom of the case.
Keeping an overhang of at least 2cm, cut the pastry around the outside of the case. The overhang will be cut off after baking the case blind and this way you get a perfectly even finish to the pastry. Tuck all the pastry into the edges and tuck the overhanging pastry tight against the outside of the case.
Prick lightly with a fork, cut a round of baking parchment a little bigger than the pastry case and put it into the case and fill with baking beans. Bake the pastry in the oven for 10 minutes.
In the meantime you can make the filling …
Tear the bread into small pieces and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs.
Whisk the cream cheese and the double cream until you have a thick but even mixture, then add the egg and mix completely.
Pour the golden syrup into a bowl and heat in the microwave for 90 seconds on full. This makes mixing much easier. Add the cream cheese mixture and the breadcrumbs and stir with a wooden spoon.
Once the pastry has cooked for 10 minutes, take it out of the oven and remove the baking beans and baking parchment. At this point you need to run a sharp knife around the top of the pastry case to cut away the excess pastry overhanging the case. Keep the knife flat to the top of the case and work it around the edge. This will give you a clean straight top to the tart ensuring it is level all the way around.
The pastry case is now ready for the filling. Pour the mixture into the case and bake in the oven at 180°C for 10 minutes before lowering the temperature to 160°C for a further 25 minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven and leave to cool completely on a cooling rack. It can then be kept in the fridge overnight. Once cool the treacle tart should be set firm enough to be easily held as a slice.
Serve with fresh strawberries warmed in the sun and a little crème fresh or mascarpone.
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Half a cucumber
250g cherry tomatoes
Medium bunch of fresh basil leaves (or mint and coriander if you want to be authentic and your children are happy to eat it)
Not exactly finger food but a bit of a picnic institution.
Put the couscous into a bowl and add the boiling chicken (or vegetable) stock. Mix thoroughly with a fork to break up the pieces and add the olive oil. At this point the couscous will seem quite undercooked, but be patient. Add the lemon juice. At this stage you can stop and leave it in the fridge a few hours before the picnic.
Up to an hour before the picnic, add the tomatoes and cucumber. Cut the cucumber into small cubes taking out the seeds in the soft centre. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and add all the ingredients to the couscous.
Taste for seasoning and mix again with a fork and add the torn basil leaves.