FOOD • July 2020
It’s the official start of summer and the picnic ante has been upped. So why settle for crisps, beer and a tartan rug, when you could have a magic carpet ride of flavours from around the world? Writer Rob Crossan grills top chefs from five different countries to dish up hampers filled with tastes of their homeland. So slap on some sunblock, and let your epicurean travels commence
Says who? Italian chef, Francesco Mazzei
There are a few essential items that must be taken on a picnic to make it truly Italian. First is a favourite recipe of mine, ciambotta, which is made up of vegetables and eggs to create the perfect sandwich filling or sharing stew. We often make sourdough bread (don’t forget the rich, Italian olive oil) at home, and prepare our ciambotta the night before eating. You can find this recipe (and many other great southern Italy favourites) in my cookbook, Mezzorgiorno. You’ll also want some Frajotta, a chilli jam produced by my brother on our chilli farm in Calabria, which is perfect with a cheesy burrata and the fresh sourdough.
The perfect tipple: A picnic isn’t a picnic, in my opinion, without a good drink and therefore it’s key not to forget a wine cooler and corkscrew. My recommendation would be a cool, crisp white wine such as this Gavi dei Gavi in the (hopefully!) lovely weather.
Says who? Lyon-born cook and TV host, Grégory Cuilleron
The best French picnic must be focused on four components. The first, a green bean salad: crunchy, well-cooked green beans, fresh tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing made with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, minced shallots, a splash of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a little bit of mild curry powder. Smash a boiled egg in it, and it’s ready.The second is a French baguette spread with butter and little pieces of sour gherkins, fresh radish and tasty saucisson slices from my provider. The third is a dessert of fresh strawberries topped with a reduction of red wine, honey, bay leaf, ginger and four spices.
The perfect tipple: For me, it has to be a fresh red wine from Beaujolais, just south of Burgundy. This offering, from 14th-generation grape growers Maison Dominique Piron, is absolutely perfect for your magnifique French picnic.
Says who? Lisa Godwin-Allen, head chef at Northcote, Lancashire
For me there’s nothing better than some of our best-loved British classics in a lovely wicker hamper, which includes mouth-watering pork pies (the best I’ve ever tasted are from the legendary Roy Porter Butchers in Clitheroe) plus homemade scotch eggs, retro sausage rolls and a delicious selection of sandwiches – just like out of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Fill some small sub rolls with tasty coronation chicken and why not try your hand at homemade black pudding?
Make it special: For a dash of British splendour, add truffle to egg sandwiches and always include something sweet such as a vanilla slice from a local bakery or homemade scones. The question is, which comes first: jam or cream?
Says who? Spanish chef and restaurateur, José Pizarro
When I was a child I would spend the day in the pastures near Extremadura – the region of Spain where I was born – fishing in the rivers. Afterwards, we would always come together for a picnic lunch and, to this day, I still love nothing more than a riverside picnic. To recreate one, you’ll need a big selection of salads depending on the season (think pumpkin with blue cheese and summer vegetables), Jamón Ibérico and lovely Spanish cheeses such as Manchego, or my local cheese, Torta del Casar. And make sure you bring some fish such as sardines, mussels or cockles in an escabeche marinade to preserve all the flavours.
The finishing touch: To conclude the ultimate Spanish picnic, you’ll want a light fruit salad, lashings of sangria and, if it fits in the hamper, a big watermelon to share.
Says who? Food writer, chef and Middle-Eastern specialist, John Gregory-Smith
Crisp from a wood burning oven, man’ouché is the breakfast of choice in Lebanon and a perfect picnic addition. It’s a thin flatbread covered in zaatar – a woody mix of dried herbs, sesame seeds and a sour spice called sumac. You can source and sample it from Green Valley, a much-loved Middle Eastern delicatessen in West London, as well as sfeeha – little pastries covered in lamb. Many Lebanese dishes are incredibly easy to make, especially tabbouleh and hummus. My book, Saffron in the Souks, will give you a great hummus-at-home recipe.
The special touch: Make sure that almost everything is covered in tahini, a rich paste made from ground sesame seeds. The best you’ll get is Belazu’s, which can be bought in most UK supermarkets.
Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith is published by Kyle Books, £25. Food photography by Nassima Rothacker.