Sunday, August 17, 2008

WTSIM picnic basket

Picnics and I have a complicated relationship. I love them, I really do. Going to a beautiful spot and unpacking a simple but delicious meal, to eat in the fresh air, looking at a beautiful view…what could be better?

However, and this is a big but… I spent most of my twenties in beautiful parts of the Italian countryside, making picnics for sixteen people, every day for many weeks at a time.

My previous incarnation of picnic-maker extraordinaire

After about nine years of that, even though ten years have since passed, I am still totally saladed out. I've done the tomato in every possible computation. I've produced cannellini beans in a hundred different disguises. I've arranged prosciutto and salami in attractive presentations on just about every hilltop between Siena and Montepulciano.

Now when I make picnics for my family they get sandwiches.

So with Johanna's latest WTSIM theme being picnic fare I had to think long and hard what to make. Mini quiches were my first option. I love anything with pastry and don't often make it, so they are a treat and their small size means you get more pastry per portion, which is even better. Except I forgot to buy cream, and cream for the filling is a must in my quiches.

One good thing about my Italian culinary past is that it never included baking. I was catering for the five thousand from the side of a Mercedes minibus. At the most I had a gas camping stove in the colder months. Sometimes I could cook something up quickly in a hotel kitchen before heading off to my picnic spot at a picturesque abandoned farmhouse on a hill, but never ever did I even think about making bread. Who needs to anyway in Italy, where even the smallest town has a bakery wafting enticing smells of fresh bread into the morning air, where school kids stop off first thing for a slice of rosemary topped focaccia to get them through the rigors of the school bus ride.

With the deadline tomorrow I had to think quickly and decided to go for the simplest thing I could. I was making white bread anyway, to get a head start on the week. I diverted half the dough, divided it up into about six balls and flattened them into disks pressing my thumb down hard in about seven places on each. Once they'd risen again, I sprinkled them with sea salt, a generous brushing of olive oil and several rosemary leaves each and baked them for 15 minutes.

They made the perfect fake focaccia and are ideal as rolls to fill for the picnic-fatigued. I can guarantee that any filling, however plain, tastes a hundred times better with the rosemary and salt zing on top, cheese being a particularly good combination. They are just normal white bread inside, so are less oily than real focaccia. Next time we plan a picnic I'm going to make these the night before and add a bit of class to my sandwiches. You never know, I might even get around to making a salad to go with them one of these days and serve them on a red checked tablecloth!

P.S. Apologies for the photo of my fake focaccia. I had to photograph it under an electric lamp as there were only seconds to go before the lot got gobbled up for supper. My son found the perfect filling to be ... baked beans!


  1. Kit, I just love that picture of you in your hat and pinny, providing lunch. I'm sure you must have made many tourists happy with your fabulous picnics, just as I'm sure your family loves your sandwiches!

    (I do find that kids can't really concentrate on food when they eat outdoors - there is always something better to do. Sandwiches are about all my lot can manage.)

  2. Great photos. I like your picnic pose. Cool hat! The rosemary foccacia sounds wonderful. I have a healthy rosemary plant by the kitchen door waiting for this recipe.

  3. That photo of you is the most charming thing I've seen all day! I can well understand that you are all picnicked out though. My memories of picnics are rather more of eating at those little roadside tables in South Africa on long car journeys. Roast chicken, mayo, Granny Smith apples, cheddar, Liquifruit, ProVitas and olives - all in a tartan coolbag. Good times, good times.

    And I love the fake focaccia - what's not to love about rosemary-olive oil-salt breadrolls? As for the baked bean filling, a thousand Italian Nonnas are spinning in their graves :o)

  4. I love a good sandwich. Your son has a good idea!

  5. i'm with you... you can never go wrong with delicious, home-made bread for a picnic!
    having visited the montalcino area (with your great tips) i can sooo picture you in this surrounding and just wish you had served ME up a picnic like that... some time soon, maybe???


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!