Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Spring 2012



The day announced itself with one of those breath-taking sunrises awash with color and a touch of warmth carried on the breeze coming in off the ocean. It was a day to spend outside. It was the perfect day for a picnic. A few hours later I was driving the car down a pot-hole filled dirt path, which was—in theory—a road in the local national forest, but ‘weather’ had obviously taken its toll on the now non-existent tarmac. You might well ask why I was putting my fellow passengers and I through this very bumpy and dusty drive, but as we were going on a picnic, half the fun is finding an unusual place to eat al fresco. Although, perhaps I should have headed Mrs. M. W. Ellsworth’s words of wisdom, penned in 1900 in Queen of the Household, [Ellsworth & Brey:Detroit MI]  (p. 566-570)

“If the party is to drive or ride, let not the distance be too great. There should be a stream or spring of pure water, materials for a fire, shade intermingled with sunshine, and a reasonable freedom from tormenting insect life. Charming as is the prospect of picnicking in some grand dell, some lofty peak, or in some famous cave or legendary ruin, there are also other considerations which would not be forgotten. One does not feel too comfortable when banqueting in localities where Dame Nature has had her queer moods, and has left imprinted certain too observable evidences of her freakiness. Such places may be included within the excursion itself, but let the feast and the frolic take place where weird effects are not the prevailing characteristic of the locality.”

I particularly like her comment about ‘tormenting insect life’ as many a good picnic can be ruined by a plethora of pesky ants of insistent bees but I digress. The road was horrendous and the dreaded words emerged from one of the children “are we there yet?” “Soon, soon” I answered cheerfully, inwardly praying that the idyllic spot would emerge around the next bend. The car lurched across a dried out stream crossing, dust flew. I caught furtive and slightly anxious looks in the rearview mirror. I slowed down to 10 miles an hour as we climbed over the rise in the next hill and there it was. A flower filled meadow overlooking the valley with an abandoned water trough adrift in a field of tall grass. Sunlight dappled through the trees as we all piled out of the car. The dog danced and chased butterflies. Smiles were in abundance.

After spending a few minutes surveying the landscape we found the perfect spot and proceeded to unload the car. I grew up in England and in France. I only mention this because these two countries have grand traditions when it comes to picnics and my family was no exception to the rule, on either side of the Channel. Hampers for rowing regattas and cricket matches in England, and elaborate picnic baskets with tables, chairs, linens, glasses and silverware in the French Alps. Close to 200 years of perfecting the art of eating outdoors had led to writers waxing lyrical about its merits (Dickens, Trollop, Chekov, Jane Austen’s exceedingly proper affair in ‘Emma’, and D. H. Lawrence’s rather more exotic and sultry versions in ‘Women in Love’ to name a few) and painters lauding its merits—Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’ is probably the most famous. Suffice it to say that I felt I had a certain customs to uphold.

We carried the two picnic baskets to the chosen spot, unpacked a tablecloth, plates, glasses, and other necessary items. Blankets and jackets were laid out on the ground and everyone helped unpack the food. The picnic was centered on a vegetable quiche with various salads, bread and cheese laid out alongside. Someone brought chocolates, another, a fruit salad and a rather delicious chilled wine. I realized that we epitomized the original meaning of the word ‘picnic’ which, taken in its pre-1860 definition meant a meal at which each guest brought a dish or contributed something to the event. A pot luck in other words.  America, with its multi-ethnic population, has perfected the art of pot lucks, each person bringing a peace of their culinary history with them to the meal, and picnics are the perfect vehicle for this.

Unlike the elaborate Victorian picnics which required significant planning and a prodigious number of number of dishes to be deemed a success—according to Mrs. Beeton in her book “Household Management” no less than 35 would do—picnics today can be as simple as a couple of sandwiches enjoyed on the beach whilst wiggling your toes in the sand or dipping your feet into a cool stream after a walk to your picnic spot.

This is exactly what we did on that warm afternoon. There was a stream nearby (perfect for keeping the water and wine chilled) and the children were soon playing in it. The water burbled appealingly as in meandered downstream and we ate strawberries sitting on rocks dotted up and down the banks. One or two of us dozed in the afternoon sunlight. As James Beard wrote in his book James Beard's Treasury of Outdoor Cooking,  [Ridge Press:New York] 1960 (p. 214-226) “Do not rush. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Take your time.” The perfect recipe for a lovely picnic.


SUMMER PEA AND MINT SALAD

Serves 8 people

Zest of 1 lemon

Olive oil

4 shallots – peeled and sliced

2 lbs English peas – shelled

1 lb Snap peas – trimmed and sliced

Salt and pepper

1 Tablespoon wine vinegar – champagne or white wine

1 bunch chives – finely chopped

1 bunch mint – finely chopped

  1. Pour a little olive oil into a large pan placed over medium heat. Add in the sliced shallots and lemon zest and cook for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned. Add in the shelled peas and snap peas, a large pinch of salt, some fresh pepper and cook for 3 minutes more. Set aside.
  2. In the bottom of a large salad bowl pour ¼ cup olive oil. Whisk in the vinegar, a pinch of salt, some freshly ground black pepper and stir until well combined. Place salad utensils over the vinaigrette. Place all the remaining ingredients on top of the salad utensils.
  3. When you are ready to serve, add the peas to the salad bowl and toss to combine well. This is excellent served with olive bread.

Note: If your picnic is more than an hour away, then reserve the vinaigrette and add it to the peas and other ingredients just before serving it.

PROSCIUTTO AND GOAT CHEESE QUICHE

Serves 8 people

For the short crust pastry:

9 oz unbleached all-purpose flour - sifted

5 oz slightly softened butter - cut up into small pieces.

1 large egg

1 tablespoon olive oil

Zest of one lemon

pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Butter either a 9-inch pan with a removable bottom. You can use a square or round tin for this. Set aside.
  3. Prepare pastry:
    a) Place all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with a metal blade.
    b) Use repeated pulses until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs and then use longer pulses until the dough has formed a ball.
    c) Wrap up the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until ready to use. You can make the dough ahead of time and leave in the fridge. You will need to remove from the fridge approximately 20 minutes before using it.
  4. Remove the pastry from the fridge. On a lightly floured board roll out the pastry dough in an even manner to the size of the mould.
  5. Trim the edges of the dough with a sharp knife. Cover the dough with parchment paper or foil and then place pie weights on top.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the dough is a pale golden brown color. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes.
  7. Fill the quiche tart shell with the vegetables and prosciutto/ goat cheese mixture (see below), pour the eggs over the vegetables and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes so that the quiche is completely cooked through.
  8. To serve, cut the quiche into equal parts and serve with the salads.

For the vegetables and eggs:

Olive oil

6 shallots – peeled and sliced

8 oz spinach

1 tablespoon butter

4 oz mushrooms – thinly sliced

8 eggs

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

6 oz prosciutto

4 oz crumbled goat cheese

salt and pepper

  1. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan pour a little olive oil and then add the chopped shallots. Cook until soft and lightly browned. About 4-5 minutes.
  2. Whilst the shallots are browning, in a large frying pan or heavy skillet, pour a little olive oil and cook the spinach over high heat for 2 minutes. It should be just wilted. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Return the same pan to the heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and once melted add in the mushrooms. Sauté until lightly browned. Set aside.
  4. Combine the eggs, goat cheese, crème fraiche, prosciutto, pinch of salt and some pepper in a medium bowl and whisk well together. Set aside.
  5. Once the quiche base has cooked for 10 minutes and cooled slightly place all the shallots over the bottom of the quiche. Place the spinach over the shallots and then place all the mushrooms over the spinach. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and bake in the center of the oven for a further 20 minutes.
  6. The quiche can be made a few hours ahead of time. Do not refrigerate before serving.


SAFFRON ROASTED GOLDEN BEET SALAD

Serves 8 people

6 oz golden raisins

Pinch saffron

Olive oil

4-6 golden beets – peeled and cut into slices

2 red onions – peeled and thinly sliced

Fig Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

½ bunch cilantro – leaves removed from stems

Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the golden raisins in a small bowl with the saffron. Pour a little hot water over the golden raisins, stirring them once or twice and let steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour a little olive oil into an oven-proof dish. Place the golden beets, onions and the golden raisin mixture into the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then toss to coat all the ingredients well.
  4. Roast the beets, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  5. Whilst the beets are roasting, prepare the remaining salad ingredients. Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of a salad bowl. Whisk in a tablespoon of the fig balsamic, the lemon zest and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place salad utensils on top of the vinaigrette.
  6. When the beets are cooked, remove the dish from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes and then add the roasted beets to the salad bowl. Add the cilantro leaves to the bowl.
  7. When you are ready to serve, toss all the ingredients together. Serve whilst the beets are still warm. You can also add feta to this salad, which melts a little with the warm beets.


LEMON-LIME QUATRE-QUART

Quatre-quart means four parts in French. It is a term that applies to most pound cakes.

Serves 8-10 people

8 oz butter

8 oz sugar

8 oz flour

4 eggs – separated

Zest of 2 lemons

Juice of 1 lemon

Zest and juice of 2 limes

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan placed over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add the sugar and stir until melted. Add in the lemon and lime zest and stir to combine. Add in the flour and stir until completely absorbed by the mixture and then remove from the heat. Add in the lemon and lime juice and stir to combine.
  3. When the cake mixture has cooled to the touch, add in the egg yolks and stir together.
  4. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl, and then fold the whisked egg whites into the cake batter.
  5. Butter a loaf pan or you can use the paper loaf moulds – these are very useful for picnics.. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and cook for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Serve with seasonal berries and some whipped cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.
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