Picnics can be fussy, fancy things; glamorous outside lunches featuring a perfect wicker basket with straps for ceramic plates and cutlery, romantic affairs with prosecco and tiny sandwiches, a sort of afternoon tea on a blanket, write William Murray and James Kavanagh.
Picnics can also be less fluffy and formal, however.
When we go on picnics, up to the woods in Currabinny or down to Phoenix Park, we see them as more of a nice excuse to eat lunch outside when the weather is good.
This doesn’t mean that our version of a picnic isn’t delicious or even special. It should always be special to find some time to eat your lunch outside on a sunny day.
In this sort of cobbled together picnic of ours, it is always good to have a nice collection of lunchboxes, Tupperware, small reusable containers, jars, and flasks.
We have also recently discovered beeswax paper, which is a reusable, sustainable way of wrapping food and sealing containers. It also usually comes in very pretty, eclectic patterns which adds to its charm, especially for an outside lunch.
What should and shouldn’t go into a lunchtime picnic?
This is completely up to you. Assuming you are eating outside because it is blue skies rather than because you enjoy eating your sandwiches in the rain, we shall focus on largely summery things.
Indeed, sandwiches are a great start, filled with whatever is good and in season, along with cold meats or good cheese (or both).
The one we have included here is absolutely perfect for a picnic, filled with layers of very good things surrounded by some satisfying bread.
A salad that travels well is key. We like to make a lunchbox salad in a few different containers which we then can mix together when we are ready, sitting on a large blanket in the sun.
The possibilities for drinks are endless really, but sometimes sticking to something traditional like a homemade lemonade is all you need, and requires little effort.
Staying true to our remit of a no-fuss lunchtime picnic, all of the recipes included require very little preparation, but are still impressive.
The muffuletta does need to be weighed down for an hour or so, but the whole thing can be made the night before. The lemonade can be made in about five minutes in a Kilner jar.
The muffuletta originates from Italian immigrants in New Orleans, where a distinctive round loaf would be cut in half and filled with an olive salad, cold cured meats and cheese.
The traditional bread used is something like a focaccia or ciabatta. We like to use a good, round sourdough with a nice crust which we feel holds everything together really well, sealing in all the goodness without everything getting soggy.
The olive salad is super easy to pull together and keeps really well if you want to make it ahead. You can in fact make this whole sandwich the night before, it will benefit from all the ingredients being bound together.
In terms of meats, we generally use whatever cured meats we have available, including leftover roast chicken which is wonderful in this sort of thing, the same with cheese, use whatever you like best. Here is our suggested muffuletta.
1 round sourdough or ciabatta loaf
120g of good salami, sliced very thinly
120g of good chorizo, sliced very thinly
120g of good Irish Farmhouse cheese, thin shavings or slices
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, sliced into rounds
200g of cooked chicken, preferably leg or thigh meat
Handful of mixed salad leaves
For the Olive and Pepper Salad
1 small red chilli, sliced thinly
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g of good quality pitted green olives, roughly chopped
150g of jarred roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
200ml of good extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp of drained capers
3 tbsp of red wine vinegar
Handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt & black pepper
For the olive and red pepper salad: Simply combine all the prepared ingredients in a bowl and mix together with a fork until everything comes together evenly.
To assemble the muffuletta, slice the top one-third of the round loaf of bread off completely and leave this ‘lid’ to the side. Next, cut out the middle of the soft bread being careful not to cut down too deep as you want to have a solid bottom.
Leave around 1 inch of bread around the perimeter.
You now essentially have a bread bowl with a lid.
Assemble the layers in this order: A good bit of olive and pepper salad on the bottom, a layer of salami, chicken, cheese, salad leaves, mozzarella and then finally a lid of chorizo.
Brush the lid with a little of the oil from the salad and place on top.
Next, wrap the whole thing tightly in beeswax paper and place on a large plate.
Place another large plate on top and top that with a good heavy weight such as a granite mortar or heavy pot (or two).
Leave for at least one hour before unwrapping and cutting into wedges
This is a super simple salad which again requires very little in the way of prep.
It does, however, rely on having very good fresh, in season, ingredients. We like to assemble this in different components as the contents have to last a short journey knocking around in a picnic basket.
Everything can be brought together when you are nice and settled in your desired picnic location.
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, sliced into rounds
1 bunch of thin asparagus stalks
3 - 4 heirloom tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Handful of mixed organic leaves
2 spring onions, white parts only, sliced thinly
Leftover olive and pepper salad from the muffuletta
Salt and pepper
For the lunchbox salad dressing:
2 tbsp of mild dijon mustard
2 tbsp of good quality balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot , very finely diced or minced
6 tbsp of olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of salt and pepper
For your main box, season the sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper and assemble them in the box with some torn basil.
Blanch the thin asparagus for one minute in boiling water, or even less than one minute if you wish.
Refresh with cold water, pat down with a tea towel so they are dry and place in the box with the tomatoes and a little pinch of sea salt.
Place the sliced mozzarella in its own small container with a good bunch of basil and season with salt and pepper.
Place mixed leaves and spring onion in its own small container, lightly seasoned.
Place any leftover olive and pepper salad in its own small container.
To make the salad dressing, place the ingredients in a jar, screw the lid on tight and shake until well combined.
Taste for seasoning.
Serve everything together in a large bowl or lunchbox with the dressing drizzled over.