We never forget how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy time in the garden, whether it is a quick sandwich at lunch time or a leisurely pot of tea and homemade biscuit as a cooking class draws to a close on a summer’s day.
Whether you are happy with a brightly coloured roasted root hummus and plenty of crackers on the side or a traditionalist and love a neatly packed round of roast beef and horseradish sandwiches. Or would rather a few bottles of local ale and a good old fashioned ploughman’s lunch of gammon ham, freshly baked bread and homemade pickle alongside a slice of British cheese, we have some tips and tricks to make the perfect hamper.
For our garden picnic we kept the sharing platter simple with the first of the asparagus and some of our Light Sussex hens eggs, lightly boiled. Then we served a selection of ‘sides’ in lidded jars so that these could easily be ‘transported’ to the garden bench and also kept covered during the meal. The salads and dips can be made earlier in the day and kept cool, so that you are organised ahead of time. For our picnic, you will need…
A bunch of asparagus, allow three or four spears per person. Wipe them over, snap the growing end and trim. Save these pieces to add to a vegetable stock to make soup or risotto. Line a roasting tray with baking parchment and place the spears in the tray. Brush over a little olive or rapeseed oil and season. Set aside until you are ready to cook them.
Hard boil enough free range eggs to allow at least one whole egg per person. Our girls lay quite large eggs, so we usually allow eight minutes from boiling point and then plunge them straight into cold water. This gives us a just set yolk with no unappetising dark circles around the yellow but if you like a runny centre then set your timer for six minutes.
We make a simple dressing with a teaspoon of mustard, another of honey and a tablespoon of cider or white wine vinegar. This is quickly whisked together and then olive or rapeseed oil is drizzled in until an emulsion is formed as we continue to whisk. Taste and then season well and add freshly chopped tarragon or chervil if you have them but parsley would be equally as good. Taste again and add any of the ingredients you feel you need to create a well balanced accompaniment for your salad leaves.
If you have a bag of salad that is labelled washed, we would still plunge it in a big bowl of water to refresh it. Ideally you may have a window box of ‘cut and come again’ leaves or even a few herbs growing on the kitchen window sill.
We cooked a large pan of waxy Charlotte potatoes with fresh mint and steamed these in the AGA. This is just as easy to do on a conventional hob by placing the washed potatoes in a colander over a pan of boiling water. Tuck a few sprigs of mint in with the potatoes and replace the lid. Cook the potatoes until they are tender (or you can gently push a knife through the largest one), and making sure that the pan does not boil dry during the process. We always cook more than we need so there are cold, cooked potatoes to go in the fridge to start the next meal!
Next we allowed one rasher of streaky bacon per person and cut into lardons, frying it in a hot pan until it was crispy. Meanwhile the asparagus was cooked quickly in the AGA roasting oven on the third shelf for approximately six minutes until tender. Alternatively after the bacon is drained, leave the bacon fat in the pan and return it to a high heat. Quickly cook the asparagus spears allowing them to caramelise, but not burn, until tender.
Wild Garlic & Parsley Pesto
Wash 50 g ransomes (wild garlic) and 50 g parsley or rocket well and dry. Grate 50 g parmesan cheese and toast 25 g pine nuts or cashews in a dry frying pan, taking care that they do not burn. Roughly chop the greens and then add these to the bowl of a food processor along with the cheese and nuts. Blitz to combine and then drizzle enough olive oil to make a smooth pesto sauce. Taste and season with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Press the mixture into a sterilised jar so that there is no trapped air and then cover the surface with a layer of olive oil to stop the sauce from oxidising and causing it to discolour. Pesto can also be made in a pestle and mortar which is a labour of love but does produce a more refined flavour.
Not really a recipe but I was lucky enough to receive a box of the most stunning mushrooms from Brambletye Fruit Farm. To make the most of these treasures which were a marvelous mix of Nameko, oyster and Shitaake, I cooked them in a very hot pan with a glug of olive oil and then reduced the heat and allowed the mushrooms to simmer. Once they were tender I seasoned with Dorset sea salt and Steenbergs freshly ground black pepper and lots of freshly chopped tarragon from our herb garden as well as a dessertspoon of Mushroom Ketchup.
Cherry tomato and shallot compote
This recipe was shared to me many years ago when I attended a course in Somerset. I suppose it could be argued that it is a confit as it is cooked in oil but I am staying true to the method that was given to me all those years ago.
Finely slice a couple of shallots and sweat them slowly in a pan with a generous glug of olive oil and a couple of bay leaves until they are soft and translucent but not coloured. Add a clove of finely crushed garlic and continue to cook with the shallots. Add a teaspoon of light soft brown sugar and mix well, so that the sugar dissolves and the shallots start to gently caramelise. Next, increase the heat and add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Reduce the vinegar so that it becomes syrupy. Reduce the heat and then add a generous teaspoon of tomato puree and a small 250 g punnet of washed cherry tomatoes, kept whole. Allow the pan to simmer until the skins of the tomatoes gently split. Remove the bay leaf allow to cool and transfer to a lidded jar to serve.
To serve YOUR picnic, remember to take the sides out of the ‘fridge so they reach room temperature before you serve your platter. Finish cooking the bacon and asparagus, dress the salad leaves and pile all of the platter ingredients on a large serving dish.