Eating outdoors throughout the seasons

E
Eating outdoors throughout the seasons is one of my greatest delights – Spring, Summer of course, as well as Autumn and even Winter. I always have several picnic baskets packed and ready to go. Old rugs folded, some are slightly tattered and moth-eaten, each with a story – a tartan rug from my boarding school days, a truly beautiful hand-woven rug, a present from Alice Roden, several treasured relics from the old Country Shop in Dublin’s Stephens Green, (a favourite childhood haunt, now long since gone), and finally several posh new rugs with waterproof lining and handles for ease of carrying.
One picnic basket has several cheap frying pans, tongs, egg slice, a large bottle of sunflower oil, a bag of kindling, firelighters, newspapers (mostly the sports sections) and matches. This is my kit for breakfast picnics - delicious in the Comeraghs or Knockmealdowns, or on the cliffs overlooking the little sandy coves on the coast. We bake a few loaves of soda bread and spotted dog, grab the basket of assorted jam and honey, squeeze some citrus fruit for fresh juice. Pack the hurricane kettle, also fill some flasks of boiling water in case the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.
When we reach our chosen site, preferably overlooking the sea, a shimmering lake or a babbling brook, we make several stone circles to enclose our fires, the children gather extra driftwood or ‘cipins’ and we get to work.
Nothing smells or tastes so tantalisingly irresistible as rashers and freshly laid eggs, sizzling sausages and fine flat mushrooms when they are cooked outdoors.
Our picnics are usually very simple, I rarely make fancy terrines or quiches. A frittata is certainly worth considering, but more often its just a piece of freshly boiled bacon, a simple roast chicken, a plump free-range organic one from Dan Aherne at Midleton Market, or one of Nora Aherne’s ducks. A few relishes and pickles, a bowl of freshly boiled shrimps and some homemade mayonnaise. A crisp cucumber and some ripe tomatoes are a must. If one is fortunate enough to have a Farmers Market locally, a visit will usually yield a variety of salami, chorizo, smoked fish, farmhouse cheese and if you are lucky enough to visit Midleton Farmers Market – crusty loaves of Declan Ryan’s Arbutus Breads.
Cool boxes are an ace invention, such a pity they usually look so ghastly. I’m ludicrously fussy about the aesthetics of a picnic, lots of napkins, a mixture of favourite mismatched cutlery bound with raffia or a rubber band to stop them rattling about. Speckled enamel plates and our local Shanagarry Pottery, glasses and pretty Bridgewater mugs, as well as brightly coloured plastic. For seaside picnics particularly, its fun to pop a chilled melon – Charentais, Gallia or Ogen, or a Water Melon, into the cold box with some home-made lemonade or elderflower cordial, and masses of ice.
For cold frosty Winter days which we can scarcely visualise by the end of May – flasks of hot soup and a hay box containing a pot of bubbling stew, unfailingly produce gasps of delight.
Basically, I virtually never travel without a picnic, as those who sit beside me on trains, buses and planes will no doubt be aware. Occasionally I bring it home untouched, but more often than not, I am so glad to have it.
Hugo Arnold, author of the indispensable Avoca Cookbooks, is also passionate about outdoor eating. In his new book ‘Barbecues and other Outdoor Feasts’, he writes, ‘Fresh air, the warmth of the sun on my back and the gentle rustle of trees, all help to sharpen the senses. How well the wine tastes, how more delicious is the bread, the fleshy sun-rich olives and the moist, golden-yellow, mayonnaise-laden salmon sandwiches. If there is a lake or babbling brook nearby, so much the better. It is time to relax. There is no better way to eat.
This beautifully illustrated book published by Kyle Cathie, includes Chapters on Eating in the open, Soups and hearty sandwiches; Pates, terrines and purees; Tarts, pies and pizzas; Picnic dishes for feasts and parties; Barbecues and fires; Vegetables both in and out of salads, Desserts. You may want to seek it out before you launch into the Summer outdoor feasting season – its worth the €19.99 for Hugo’s mouth-watering prose alone.

‘Barbecues and other Outdoor Feasts’ by Hugo Arnold, published by Kyle Cathie.

Seafood Salad, Lime and Chilli Dressing

From Barbecues and other Outdoor Feasts by Hugo Arnold
Serves 6-8 as a starter

250g/9oz shell-on prawns
200g/7oz shelled scallops, patted dry with kitchen paper
500g/1lb squid, cleaned and cut into 2cm/¾ inch pieces
salt and pepper
500g/1lb shell-on clams, cleaned
1kg/2lb 4oz shell-on mussels, cleaned
bunch of parsley, picked over
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
zest of 2 limes and the juice of 1

Preheat a grill or ridged griddle pan.
Season the prawns, scallops and squid with salt and pepper and grill until just done, about 2 minutes each side, transferring to a shallow bowl.
Put the clams and mussels in a saucepan, cover and cook over a medium heat until they open, about 5 minutes. Discard any shells that have not opened in that time.
Remove some of the excess half shells, they will only be discarded anyway, and add to the prawns, scallops and squid.
When all the fish is cooked, add the parsley to the bowl along with the chilli, lots of olive oil and the lime zest and juice.
Season, toss gently and serve.

Char-grilled Squid with Chilli Oil, Houmous and Rocket Salad

Serves 4
125g/4oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a pulp with a little salt
2 tablepsoons tahini*
1 bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
juice of 2-3 lemons
2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
olive oil
1kg/2lb 4oz squid, prepared as described below
4 handfuls of rocket
1 lemon, quartered

Cook the chickpeas in fresh boiling water until tender – 45 mins to 1 hour. They should be nutty, but certainly not al dente.
Strain, reserving the cooking water, and puree the peas along with the garlic and tahini, adding the reserved cooking water until you have a puree the consistency of whipping cream.
Stir in the coriander and lemon juice to taste and set aside.
Combine the chilli with 125ml/4fl.oz of olive oil, gently heat until just warm and set aside.
Barbecue the squid for 2 minutes each side and serve with the houmous, rocket dressed with the chilli oil.
*It makes the task of extracting the tahini from the jar much easier if you sit it in a jug of boiling water 5 minutes before you need it.

To prepare squid:
Slide your finger down the cartilage and pull away from the body sac along with the head.
Slice off just behind the eyes and discard everything but the tubular body sac, head, tentacles and ink sack.
Run a knife down the body sac, open out and with your fingers take off the wings. With a knife scrape off the darker-coloured skin and cut into 5cm/2 in squares and rectangles. Wash thoroughly and drain.
With a sharp knife score the outside of the squid in a criss-cross pattern, making sure you don’t cut through the flesh.
This helps to stop it curling.

Meat & Chicken Satay

Serves 4
1 walnut sized piece of tamarind pulp
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3cm/1in piece of fresh root ginger, roughly grated
500g/1lb shoulder of lamb, cubed
500g/1lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into 3cm/1in cubes

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons plain un roasted peanuts, roughly crushed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
juice and zest of 1 lime
125ml/4fl oz coconut milk.

Place the tamarind in a small cup of warm water and as the pulp becomes malleable squeeze out as much as you can. Drain through a sieve, squeezing out as much liquid from the solids as possible. Discard the pulp.
Combine the tamarind liquor with the garlic, shallots, lime juice and zest, soy sauce and ginger.
Thread the meat on to soaked skewers* and brush over the marinade.
To make the sauce, fry the peanuts in the oil until browned.
Place the chillies, garlic and shallots in a processor and blitz.
Add to the peanuts and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent sticking. Add the lime juice and zest and the coconut milk and stir well so everything is amalgamated.
Cook the skewers over a moderate heat for 20 minutes, turning frequently and basting with any remaining marinade. Serve with the sauce.

* You need to soak the skewers in cold water for about 1 hour to prevent them burning. If you can’t wait for that long, wrap the exposed ends in a bit of foil, fiddly, but it does the trick.

Grilled Entrecote with Field Mushroom and Béarnaise Sauce

Barbecued steaks are great, but it is also worth buying a cut like entrecote in a large piece. That way you get the smoky charred outside and a pink, delicate inside. It is much easier to carve along the short side.
Serves 6-8

For the reduction:
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
few sprigs fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon peppercorns

To make the Béarnaise Sauce:
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon reduction
250g/9oz butter
1 tablespoon fresh herbs, eg tarragon, chervil, chopped
salt and pepper

12cm/4in-piece of entrecote weighing about 1.5kg/3lb
garlic
olive oil
8 medium sized field mushrooms

Combine all the reduction ingredients in a saucepan and add 4 tablespoons of water.
Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 1 tablespoon of liquid left.
Push through a sieve and set aside.
For the Béarnaise sauce, combine the egg yolks with the reduction in a bain-marie or in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of gently boiling water. Add the butter, a lump at a time stirring constantly until it thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the herbs and check seasoning. It will sit, quite happily, for half an hour or so provided it is warm.
Rub the entrecote all over with the garlic and then a few tablespoons of olive oil, season well with salt and pepper and barbecue for 1015 minutes, turning frequently (10 minutes will give rare, 15 minutes medium and 20 minutes almost, though not quite, well done).
Brush the mushrooms with olive oil and cook/barbecue, gill side up, at the same time. Serve the entrecote with the mushrooms and Béarnaise sauce. 

Foolproof Food

Barbecue Sauce

Makes 225ml (8fl oz) approx. can be used to marinade lamb chicken or pork or even sausages
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
110g (4oz) finely chopped onion
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes
7 tablespoons tomato puree
7 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons pure Irish honey
4 tablespoons Worcester sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic, onion and sweat gently for 4-5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and juice, cook for a further 4 or 5 minutes, season with salt, freshly ground pepper. Puree in a liquidiser or food processor, add the remainder of the ingredients and bring to the boil, simmer for 4 or 5 minutes. Use as a sauce or marinade.
Note: Don’t marinade for longer than 15-20 minutes or the meat will be inclined to burn easily.

Top Tips

For picnics - Bring a damp J-cloth or two in a plastic bag to deal with sticky or charcoal covered fingers.
Several old recycled carrier bags are terrific for food scraps or refuse.
A packet of good sausages are a must for any picnic. You may want to bring some honey wholegrain mustard and rosemary mixed in a pot.

1-day Barbecue Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Friday 25th June – 021-4646785 www.cookingisfun.ie  

AGA – Chef Seamus O’Connell will perform an AGA cookery demonstration at the National Country Fair on Sunday June 6th and Monday June 7th at Emo Court, Emo, Co Laois. Seamus of Cork’s Ivory Tower Restaurant and presenter of Soul Food series on RTE, recently won the title of Best Chef of the Year from the National Restaurant Association of Ireland. 

Schull Farmers Market is worth a detour - every Sunday 11-3 – on a recent visit the stalls were laden with local food, farmhouse cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, plants and crafts.

Gudrun and Frank Shinnick have been making cheese in Fermoy for several years. Recently I came across some of their wonderful cheese, a delicious hard St Gall and a sublime gooey melting St Brigid Rua. They can scarcely keep up with demand at the moment but try some of the selected outlets they supply – On the Pig’s Back in Cork’s English Market, Sheridan's in Dublin, Country Choice in Nenagh, the Quay Food Company in Kinsale or Mark Hosford at the Coal Quay Market in Cork on Saturdays. You may also like to look out for their 3rd cheese called Cáis Rua. Contact Gudrun or Frank at the Fermoy Natural Cheese Company 025-31310 to find the outlet nearest you.
CHASE Gala Summer Ball – Friday 11th June at Rochestown Park Hotel – Champagne Reception, dinner, dancing plus lots more – all proceeds to CHASE
Contact Katie Cullinane 4863467, Debra Hurley 4843932, Hillary O’Malley 4841361

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

Letters

Back to List
Latest Letter
All Recipes
Back to Website
All Darinas Letters are published each week in The Examiner

Past Letters

  • Recipes