June 24, 2010 § Leave a comment
At this time of year, my thoughts turn to the perfect riverside picnic. I blame my obsession with this idea on a photograph in my mother’s copy of “The Robert Carrier Cookbook” which, as a child, I would turn to repeatedly. The picture showed a bottle of Loire white wine chilling in a gently flowing river somewhere in the green heart of La France Profonde. Mature trees in full leaf shaded a table set for two on the river bank. The food on offer was freshwater crayfish and, I think, quenelles de brochet (delicate little poached pike mousses).
So now once a year my family indulges me in living out this fantasy albeit in a less elaborate form than the Robert Carrier original. When good weather is forecast for a weekend in late spring we pack up a hamper of suitable food and head off for the limestone dales of the Peak District.
What constitutes suitable foods for such a picnic? I draw inspiration from the surrounding landscape. Watercress has to feature as it grows wild in the limestone streams, also river fish, generally trout as it’s easy to come by. I give a recipe below for a quick and easy smoked trout pâté. Young goat cheese has become part of the ritual and tastes good with the watercress and a loaf of walnut bread. Nantwich based Ravens Oak dairy (now owned by Butlers) produces very likeable goat cheeses which, conveniently are stocked by Marks & Spencer. I picked up both their Kidderton Ash and regular Ravens Oak goat cheeses for this picnic. You can have a look at the Butlers range at www.butlerscheeses.co.uk The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury stock a lovely Ticklemore goat’s cheese from Devon in the summer months too.
Asparagus is in season and adds a festive note to the proceedings. I always roast rather than steam it now as it’s a foolproof method that concentrates its flavour. A cool jambon persillé would be good too – the chunks of pink ham in its bright green parsley jelly recalling the clear river water and flowing water weed.
This year, I took along a chilled soup – a refreshing Spanish Ajo Blanco. This is an odd-sounding mixture of bread, almonds, garlic, sherry vinegar and plain cold water which which, when blended to a thin purée, chilled and garnished with halved grapes turns into an infinitely refreshing chilled soup, much more than the sum of its disparate parts. The soup seemed very appropriate as wild garlic was everywhere in all its pungent glory.
A picnic wouldn’t be a picnic without cake to finish. I try and keep the cool green theme going even here. Jane Grigson’s gooseberry pound cake has been successful on a previous picnic, but this time we took along wedges of my courgette and lemon cake: see my previous post https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2010/05/22/relaxed-cooking-for-the-holidays/
Here are two of my recipes – both very simple for summer lunches at home as well as picnics
Recipe for smoked trout pâté
4 smoked trout fillets (or 2 whole smoked trout if you can buy them this way)
6 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon grated horseradish or wasabi
juice of half a lemon
If using whole trout, skin them, fillet them and place the trout fillets roughly broken up in a food processor. If you’re using pre-prepared trout fillets the skinning and filleting will already have been done for you. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and pulse carefully until the desired texture is achieved. I like a slightly rough texture so this doesn’t take long. Check for seasoning and add more horseradish, lemon and pepper to taste. The wasabi was an inspired discovery one day when I ran out of horseradish. Pile into a bowl to serve (or box to transport to your picnic. Good with oatcakes or walnut bread.
I have no current photos of trout in pâté form but here are the real thing swimming in the Derbyshire River Wye, home to both rainbow and wild brown trout. We have a favourite footbridge for fish spotting and feeding – the fish are very partial to leftover bread and crumbs from Duchy Originals gingered biscuits!
Recipe for Ajo Blanco
Chilled Spanish garlic, bread and almond soup sometimes referred to as white gazpacho.
4 oz blanched almonds – try and use Spanish ones ie Marcona which Sainsbury’s stock as part of their Taste the Difference range
8 oz good white bread (ie from a decent unsliced loaf with a bit of flavour), crusts removed
2-3 tbsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp best quality sherry vinegar
1 pint chilled water
2 cloves garlic, sliced
few seedless grapes, green are traditional but black fine as well
Dip the bread in cold water, squeeze out the excess and place in the goblet of a liquidiser along with the remaining ingredients except the garlic and grapes. Blend until smooth. Pour into a suitable container, add the sliced garlic which will gently infuse its flavour, and chill for several hours or overnight. Most ajo blanco recipes tell you to blend the garlic along with the other ingredients but I found that garlic pulverised in this way becomes unpleasantly intense in the finished soup. Serve garnished with halved grapes.