” Hey Boo Boo? You wanna go steal some picnic baskets?” I think I was probably Yogi Bear in a past life. I love picnics. Eating alfresco is one of the most enjoyable aspects of spending time in the great outdoors. This is probably in part due to the fact that some of the guilt of tucking into a slice of cake and a cup of tea from the thermos is eased by the walk/run/hike/paddle to said picnic spot.
If you google “picnic recipes” you will come across a myriad of sites with photos of delicious looking food that would look equally at home served up on the dinner table. I’m not averse to the idea of making the effort to prepare more elaborate meals when camping (I’ll expand on this more in a future topic on the concept of “million star” camping) but I do find that many of these sites don’t seem to apply any set of criteria to their recipes that distinguish them as picnic food. What qualifies a recipe as picnic food? Here are a few of my criteria as a start point (although I am still trying to work it out myself through trial and error!):
- Must arrive at picnic location tasting edible and looking appetising
- Can be prepared well in advance without spoiling
- Must not fall apart in the hand whilst being eaten
- Must be easily packed in as small a space as possible (whilst still satisfying the appetite). For example the best kind of cakes are the ones that can be sliced in squares but that dont squash easily
- Tea must arrive in the cup hot enough to almost burn your tongue!
Last weekend I discovered the french classic Pan Bagnat, courtesy of a version published in the Australian by David Herbert which puts an Italian slant on the traditional recipe. It fulfils a lot of my criteria for the perfect picnic. The Pan Bagnat is a specialty sandwich from the Nice region of France, the name of which is derived from the local Provençal dialect of Niçard, in which Pan-banhat means “wet bread”. In the original recipe the sandwich filling is based around the classic Nicoise salad (lettuce, eggs, anchovies and/or tuna, and olive oil). But the concept can be adapted to create a variety of options to your own tastes, all suited towards transport and eating outdoors. David Herbert’s recipe uses a hollowed out french stick which is then wrapped around the filling, preventing the contents from falling out both in transit and in the hand! I used a traditional baguette that was softened to just the right degree (without becoming soggy) by spending the night in the fridge encasing the wet ingredients. Here’s David’s recipe:
Tomato Pan Bagnat
2 medium baguettes
1 clove garlic peeled
4 ripe roma tomoatoes diced
about 10 cherry tomatoes halved
6 semi dried or oven dried tomatoes, halved
100g feta cheese crumbled
1/2 cup of basil leaves
handful of rocket leaves
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Slice each baguette horizontally, leaving it hinged on one side. Pull out the soft bread in small chunks and set aside. Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan and add garlic clove. When hot, add bread chunks and fry for 4-5 minutes, tossing until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper discarding the garlic. Combine all other ingredients with 1 tablespoon of oil in a bowl. Season well. Stir through fried bread. Brush a little oil inside each baguette and fill with the mixture. Close the baguette and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. To serve unwrap and slice into 10cm pieces. David also suggests matching with a crisp refreshing rose as they do in Nice.