The Darina Allen Column - Picnics

Outdoor dining is the big theme this summer - and you can be sure that Darina does things differently… 

I come from a long line of picnickers, those who know me will be well aware that there’s always a picnic basket in the boot of the car plus a ‘Granny trolley’ (not sure if that’s what you call one of those roll-along deep shopping bags), in case I need to schlep my picnic over rough terrain to reach the perfect spot - a sheltered nook along the seashore, in a woodland, on a river bank or beside a lake or babbling brook…

I also keep an old frying pan, some firelighters, a little pack of kindling, a box of matches and some newspaper so I can build a little fire on a circle of stones (where appropriate) to cook a few sausages. Good breakfast sausages take on a whole new dimension of flavour when cooked and eaten outdoors.

So, what to pack into your picnic basket? My picnics are often super simple, a loaf of good soda or sourdough bread and Jersey butter….a few ripe cherry tomatoes, a bunch of radishes, perhaps a smoked duck or chicken breast or maybe some smoked mackerel or salmon to slice into thin slivers - all brilliant pantry standbys.

It’s hard to beat a freshly roast chicken. Time it to come out of the oven just before you leave so it’s still juicy and gorgeous when you unpack your picnic. A bowl of homemade mayonnaise with a little tarragon snipped in would complete the simple feast and of course a jar of Ballymaloe Relish. Another favourite is a piece of glazed freshly cooked loin of bacon with a sugary glaze spiked with cloves. A picnic can be super simple, I love to have some artisan salami or chorizo, canned mackerel or sardines too…

Pop in some fruit, maybe ripe cherries or a punnet or two of Irish strawberries. We love to dip them in a little mound of castor sugar and then into a little pot of whipped cream – simple, delicious and super easy. Bring a chilled ripe watermelon in a cold box and cut it into wedges– instant deliciousness and of course an oozy cheese and crackers.

For a less spontaneous picnic, one can make a creamy quiche or some empanadas, a crunchy filo pie and a seasonal fruit tart. Bring along a bottle of chilled rosé and maybe some homemade lemonade, elderflower fizz and some artisan beer.

Here are a couple of recipe suggestions….

Myrtle Allen’s Picnic Chest of Sandwiches 
This takes a little time to prepare but always gets a brilliant reaction and is pretty much a complete picnic in a loaf. Serves 8 approx.

1 x 900g (2lb) pan loaf
50g (2oz) approx. butter
a long sharp knife with a pointed top
a serrated bread knife

Sandwich fillings might include:
• scrambled egg and chives
• gravlax with sweet mustard sauce
• roasted pepper, Mozzarella and pesto
• mature Cheddar cheese with Ballymaloe Country Relish and cucumber pickle
• roast chicken with red pepper mayonnaise and sunflower sprouts
• tomato, buffalo Mozzarella, tapenade and basil leaves.....

To garnish: salad leaves, watercress, flat parsley, cherry tomatoes, spring onions

Insert the knife at the side just over the bottom crust, just inside the back of the loaf. Push it through until it reaches, but does not go through, the crust on the far side. Without making the cut through which the knife was inserted any bigger, work the knife in a fan shape as far forward as possible, then pull it out. Do the same from the opposite corner at the other end of the loaf. The bread should now be cut away from the bottom crust inside without a noticeable mark on the exterior of the loaf.
Next cut through the top of the loaf to make a lid, carefully leaving one long side uncut, as a hinge.
Finally, with the lid open, cut the bread away from the sides. Ease it carefully, it should turn out in a solid brick or a round, leaving an empty case behind.
Cut it into slices, long horizontal ones, square vertical ones or rounds, depending on the shape of the loaf. Carefully stack them, butter them and fill them with your chosen filling or fillings in the order in which they were cut. Don’t forget to season each sandwich. Press the sandwiches together firmly and, still in order, fill them back into the loaf.

For a picnic: Close the top of the case and wrap it up, it will gape slightly because of the extra bulk of delicious filling. The sandwiches will keep very fresh. Add some crisp lettuce and watercress leaves, small ripe tomatoes, spring onions etc. to look like a little hamper overflowing with fruit and vegetables.

Heirloom Tomato and Ricotta Tart 
How about this gorgeous tart for your picnic. It was originally inspired by a photo on the cover of Delicious magazine. The ricotta and pecorino filling is uncooked, so be sure to assemble the tart close to the time of eating. Choose really ripe tomatoes. I use the delicious buffalo ricotta made in West Cork for this dish. Instructions are for making the pastry by hand, but it could be whizzed up in a food processor if time is short.
Serves 8

For the Pastry
150g (5oz) plain white flour
75g (3oz) cold butter
a little water, to bind
1 beaten organic, free-range egg, to seal

For the filling
250g (9oz) buffalo ricotta
100g (3½ oz) pecorino cheese, grated
2 tablespoons double cream
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons chopped basil, thyme and marjoram, plus extra leaves to garnish
zest of ½ organic lemon
flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
650g (1½lb ) mixed ripe heritage and cherry tomatoes, including striped zebra (green), red and yellow cherry tomatoes, if available

First make the pastry. All the ingredients should be cold. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes. Toss the cubes into the flour and then proceed to lift up a few cubes of butter at the time in each hand. Using your thumbs, rub the cubes of butter across the middle three fingers, towards the index fingers.

Allow the flakes of floured butter to drop back into the bowl, then pick up some more and continue until all the butter is rubbed in. As you rub in the butter, hold your hands well above the bowl and run your fingers through the flour to incorporate as much air as possible to keep the mixture cool. This whole process should only take a minute or two – careful not to rub the butter in too much, or the pastry will be heavy. The pieces should resemble lumpy breadcrumbs. If you are in doubt, shake the bowl and any larger pieces will come to the top. Add salt if using unsalted butter.

Using a fork, toss and stir the pastry as you add just enough water to bind, 2–3 tablespoons should do the trick. If you are in doubt, discard the fork and collect up the pastry with your hand as you will be able to judge more easily by feel if it needs a little more water. Careful not to make the pastry too wet or it will shrink in the oven. If the pastry is too dry, it will be difficult to roll out.

When the pastry has come together, turn it out onto the work surface and flatten it into an approx. 30cm round. Cover with greaseproof paper and, if possible, set aside in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. The pastry will then be less likely to shrink in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°C/Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry to a circle approx. 25cm (10 inch) in diameter. Lift the pastry over a 23cm (9 inch) greased tart tin and press down gently around the sides. Trim around the edges with a sharp knife and prick the base gently with a fork. Line with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.

Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake ‘blind’ for about 25 minutes until pale and golden. Remove the baking beans and paper. Brush the part-baked pastry case all over with a little beaten egg and pop it back into the oven for 5–10 minutes until pale golden brown all over. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, combine the ricotta and pecorino in a bowl. Add the double cream, extra virgin olive oil, honey, herbs, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Mix gently together. Taste a little dollop of the filling with a slice of tomato and correct the seasoning, if necessary. It might need a little more honey.

Slice the larger tomatoes and cut the smaller cherry ones in half lengthways or crossways, as you prefer.

Not long before serving, spoon the ricotta filling into the cooked pastry case and arrange the tomatoes on top. I like to arrange the sliced, bigger ones, including the green zebra over the base and top with the smaller cherry tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, a little drizzle of honey (about ½ teaspoon) and lots of thyme and marjoram leaves. Garnish with a few little basil leaves and serve soon.
From ‘One Pot Feeds All’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

JR Ryall’s Dundee Cake 
This cake is famous – we all love it. JR Ryall, head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House is also an avid picnicker and always includes this in his basket.
Makes 1 x 18cm (7 inch) round cake or 900g (2lb) loaf
225g (8oz) softened butter
225g (8oz) caster sugar
grated rind of 1 large orange
4 eggs
225g (8oz) plain flour, sifted
50g (2oz) ground almonds
25g (1oz) mixed candied peel
100g (4oz) currants
100g (4oz) sultanas
100g (4oz) raisins
50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered
40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7 inch) round tin or a 900g (2lbs) loaf tin.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat the eggs. Add in three stages alternating with a tablespoon of the flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly. Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture. Fold in the remaining flour carefully. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the split almonds over the entire top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 2½-3 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

Ummera Smoked Products
Thin slivers of Anthony Creswell’s smoked duck and chicken breast make great picnic food and are also one of my pantry standbys. Look out for Ummera smoked fish too.

Irish Summer berries and currants - coming back into season
Rose Cottage Fruit Farm have just returned to Mahon Point (Thursday, 10am–2pm), Douglas (Saturday 10am–2pm) and Midleton Farmers Market (Saturday 9a –1.30pm) with their home-grown strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries…Let’s support Irish growers.

Support your local café and restaurant
At last local cafés and restaurants with outdoor dining options can open – don’t have to tell you that it’s been an extremely difficult and turbulent time for many who have been closed since December 2020 so now is the time to support them - don’t forget to book in advance…

The Yellow House Honesty Box
On the edge of a country road in Ballinvoher near Cloyne in East Cork, not far from Ballybranigan Beach, The Yellow House Honesty Box contains so many delicious surprises from homemade Worcester sauce, green chilli pickle, wild garlic pesto, sweet chilli sauce, butterscotch sauce, marmalade and much more…’s definitely worth seeking out.


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