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The recipe for serving an ace picnic

Wimbledon is here, so it must be time for the English to eat al fresco. This week’s recipes for outdoor eating, however, have a Gallic inspiration, because to me, perversely, Wimbledon always conjures up the flavours of France. The Proustian roots of this connection are somewhat tangled. I have a feeling it goes back to 1983, and the semi-final between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe. I was 13, a plump and increasingly self-conscious boy. School had broken up early, so I had gone to stay with a friend’s parents in France. We all gathered to watch the match in the rather grand, formal sitting room in their diplomatic residence.

Ignoring the anxious mutterings of my friend’s mother, I took a berth on the window seat, with my back slouched against the windowpane. When Lendl (for some reason my childhood hero) pulled off a rare stroke of genius, I made a clumsy, air-punching convulsion and heard a terrible crack behind me, followed by a rush of air around the ears as I somersaulted backwards through the broken window and landed with a plumph on the flower bed outside.

I was physically unscathed, but the embarrassment of that moment – looking back up at the window, and seeing the entire party staring back at me, agog – makes it easily my most vivid Wimbledon memory.

There was a silver lining, however, and that was that my friend’s mum was an absolutely amazing cook. Both Lendl’s inevitable defeat and my shame were soon washed away by a slap-up picnic lunch in the garden. I hope this lunch will help you recover from even the gravest setbacks.


You can use a flaky pastry recipe, such as the one from our Back to Basics pasty recipe. A pizza dough works too.If you are feeling rushed, bought puff pastry makes a good substitute.

Serves 6-8
325g flaky puff pastry
2 tbsp olive oil
3 onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 red onions, thinly sliced
A sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
12 anchovies in oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
A pinch of sugar
15-20 pitted black olives

1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Make the pastry as directed. Wrap it in clingfilm and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. When chilled, roll it out on a floured surface into a rough rectangle, about 2mm thick, that will fit on your baking tray. Transfer the pastry to the baking tray and rest in the fridge (or in a cool place ) for another 20 minutes.

2 Now prick the pastry all over with a fork and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool.

3 To cook the onions, heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan. Add the thinly sliced onions along with the thyme and bay. Season and cook slowly, covered, over a low heat for about 45 minutes.

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4 Chop up 4 of the anchovies and add to the onion, along with the garlic and a pinch of sugar. Cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool down.

5 Turn the oven down to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Spread the onion mix over the cooked pastry base. Split the anchovies in half lengthways and arrange on top of the onions in a lattice. Dot with the olives and bake for 10 minutes. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Stuffed vegetables

2 large tomatoes
2-3 courgettes
1 small aubergine
50ml olive oil

For the stuffing

100g soft breadcrumbs
50g gruyere, grated
50g parmesan, grated
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
A pinch of dried thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Prepare the vegetables by scooping out the seeds of the tomatoes, cutting the courgettes in half lengthways and scooping out the centre parts with a melon baller a teaspoon.

2 Cut the aubergine horizontally into 3 rough cylinders and carefully cut out some of their centres with a knife. Drizzle all of the veg with a little olive oil and season well.

3 Make the stuffing by blitzing the stuffing ingredients together with the remaining oil in a food processor for 5 seconds and season well.

4 Fill the vegetables with the stuffing and bake on a tray in a medium oven for about 20 minutes, or until soft and the tops are golden brown.

Vegetable niçoise salad

4 eggs
2 little gem lettuce, washed and dried
150g French beans
150g runner beans
1 head of fennel
4 radishes
200g new potatoes, cooked and sliced

For the dressing

50g piquillo peppers (or other skinned peppers)
Leaves from a small bunch of basil (save some for garnishing)
1 garlic clove, crushed
50ml olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper

1 Cook the eggs in boiling water for 6 minutes. Remove from the pan and refresh under cold running water. Peel and quarter.

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2 Cut the lettuce into thin wedges. Trim the French beans and blanch in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, until tender and “squeaky”. Refresh and drain. Top and tail the runners and cut into thin strips on the diagonal. Cook as the French beans. Toss the beans in a little olive oil and season well.

3 Shave the head of fennel and slice the radishes into thin rounds. Arrange these on a platter along with the lettuce, potatoes and beans.

4 Make the red-pepper dressing by blitzing the rest of the ingredients together with a stick blender or liquidiser and season well. Drizzle over the salad. Top with the quartered eggs and extra torn basil leaves.


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