Socialising is back on the menu: up your alfresco game with these three dishes
Believe it or not, picnics did exist before the pandemic. Although the alfresco affair has become a Great British staple over the last year, the word ‘picnic’ first appeared in a 1649 French satire, in which a gluttonous character called Pique-Nique guzzles his way through pretty much every item of food in sight (a relatable tale after we’ve had a few wines).
It was in the 18th century that the anglicised Pic-Nic took off. It was still a pretty boozy occasion; the Pic Nic society in London, founded in 1801, even had a rule that members needed to turn up with one item of food and six bottles of wine.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and we have the picnic of the 2020s: a Blyton-esque affair with kitsch hampers, supermarket hummus and bottles of bubbly. Love it though we may, it’s a concept that Max Halley (owner of Max’s Sandwich Shop in London) and Ben Benton have decided to completely reinvent in their new book, Max’s Picnic Book.
To Max and Ben, a picnic is simply a moveable feast – whether that’s a salad sandwich in a service station car park or a meat trifle (yep, you read that right) devoured on a park bench. The book features menus for all sorts of outdoor fun, complete with recipes, stories and imaginary picnic guests, all designed to help you “picnic like a boss”.
So, they’ve shared three of their picnic recipes with us: a full English breakfast shooter’s sandwich, potato samosas and ricotta-filled cannoli – as well as six tips for transforming pretty much any alcohol miniature into a cocktail on the go. You’re welcome.
Full English Breakfast Shooter’s Sandwich
Makes enough for 4 hungry breakfasters
12 rashers smoked streaky bacon
8 pork sausages
8 hash browns
Rapeseed (canola) oil, for frying
400g (14 oz) mushrooms, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ lemon
1 medium round crusty loaf
6 free-range eggs
2 large beefheart tomatoes, sliced into rounds
Relish or ketchup, to serve (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 220°C (430°F/gas 8) and line a couple of trays with foil.
- Lay out the bacon, sausages and hash browns on the baking trays, then cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Check the bacon and turn it if needs be. Return the trays to the oven and keep cooking until the bacon is nice and brown and starting to crisp, about 5 minutes, then remove and set aside on a plate. Turn the sausages and hash browns and keep cooking for a further 10 minutes until golden brown and delicious.
- Heat a frying pan until it is smoking hot, then pour in the oil. Add the mushrooms, settling them into a single layer and leaving them alone for a minute to get some colour. Toss them and then push into a single layer again and leave for a full minute to get more colour. Keep doing this until the mushrooms are browning nicely. At this point, add the garlic and salt and toss. As soon as you can smell garlic, remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice. Leave to one side to cool.
- Cut the top off your loaf, about 2.5 cm (1 in) below the top. Using a small knife, or your fists, remove most of the inside of the loaf. Now start to build up your layers in your hollowed-out loaf: go your own way, but mushrooms are a nice place to start, perhaps followed by bacon, then hash browns, sausages, tomatoes and eggs. Push the layers down and place the lid on.
- Tear off a couple of large sheets of baking parchment and a couple of even larger sheets of foil. Lay the parchment inside the foil and then wrap the shooter tightly. Put the whole thing into a container, place a weight on top and leave in the fridge overnight.
- Next day, unwrap your shooter, take a serrated knife and cut yourself a wedge.
Makes 20 samosas
1 x 270 g (9½ oz) pack of filo pastry
About 2 litres (8 cups) rapeseed (canola) oil, for deep-frying
For the filling:
100 g (3½ oz) butter, 3 tablespoons more, melted, for samosa construction
1 large white onion, diced
750 g (1 lb 10 oz) waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful of mint leaves, torn
- Start by heating the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the potato and cook for a further 10 minutes, then add the garam masala, cumin, chilli powder, turmeric, salt and lemon juice. Stir to coat and cook for a couple more minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool. Once cool, add the mint leaves and stir well.
- To make the samosas, unroll a sheet of filo and place it on a large chopping board. Brush it lightly with melted butter and layer with another sheet of pastry.
- Cut the sheets into three horizontal strips.
- You might want to watch a YouTube video of how to roll samosas, but essentially, you make a conical shape at one end of the strip of filo, place 1 heaped tablespoon of the filling inside the cone, then fold the open side of the cone into the rest of the filo strip to cover and seal it. Keep folding over the rest of the pastry around the cone’s until you come to the end of the strip. Cut off any excess pastry and stick the strip down with a brush of melted butter. Pop the samosa on a tray and repeat.
- All you need to do now is deep-fry your samosas. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-based saucepan and heat it to 180°C (350°F). (If you don’t have a thermometer, test the temperature with a small piece of filo dropped into the oil: it should fizz and turn brown in about 5 seconds. Any quicker and your oil is too hot, any slower, and it’s not hot enough.)
- Fry the samosas, three at a time, for about 3 minutes or until golden brown, lifting them out on to a baking tray (pan) lined with paper towels to drain. Eat hot, warm or cold for all I care, these are sensational regardless of temperature.
Nick Bramham’s Amazing Ricotta-filled Cannoli
Nick Bramham (currently cooking at Quality Wines, next to my favourite restaurant in London, The Quality Chop House) makes the best cannoli I have ever eaten (and I’ve been to Sicily). There are recipes for cannoli that require less equipment, but these are SO GOOD, I just had to give you Nick’s recipe. You’ll need cannoli moulds, a (disposable) piping (pastry) bag, an 8 cm (3 in) pastry ring, a stand mixer and a pasta machine for these.
Makes 30 cannoli
200 g (7 oz) type ‛00’ flour
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
1 generous tablespoon of lard (pork fat)
80 ml (3 fl oz) red wine
Rapeseed (canola) oil, for deep-frying
For the filling:
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) ricotta (the best you can find)
75 g (2½ oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar
75 g (2½ oz) dark chocolate, chopped into shards
35 g (1¼ oz) candied peel, finely chopped
- First, make the pastry. Combine all the dry ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook and combine. Add the lard and the wine and knead in the stand mixer for 5 minutes until a smooth ball of dough has formed. Wrap the dough in cling film (plastic wrap) and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes to relax.
- For the filling, combine the ricotta and icing sugar in a large bowl and beat to combine, then stir in the chocolate and peel. Chill in the fridge until needed.
- Roll the dough through the pasta machine going down one notch at a time until you reach the thinnest setting. Cut the dough sheet into circles with the pastry ring and wrap around the moulds, sealing the join with egg white. Using your fingers, make sure the ends are dramatically sloped and the dough is an even thickness.
- To fry the cannoli, turn on your deep-fryer or pour oil into a heavy-based saucepan until it is two-thirds full then heat it to 190°C (370°F). Roll each pastry disc around a cannoli mould, sealing the end with a little water and a good press of your finger. Once you have rolled six or so, carefully slip them into the hot oil, mould and all, and fry for 1–2 minutes, until they are golden brown and just starting to blister. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool slightly.
- Using tongs, carefully slip the cannoli off their moulds, then roll and fry the next batch. Repeat until all the cannoli are cooked.
- To fill, spoon your filling into a piping bag with quite a wide nozzle. Start at one end of each cannoli and pipe from the centre out to the edge, then do the same at the other end. All you need to do now is mangare!
Six picnicker’s cocktails made with booze miniatures
- Bloody Hell Mary: gin or vodka added to leftover gazpacho or shop-bought tomato soup.
- The Wake and Shake: rum, Amaretto or Baileys added to milkshakes – works a dream whether they’re from a fast-food chain or store-bought.
- A Park Bench Pina Colada: white rum, Malibu and a dash of coconut milk, cut with pineapple juice (pour the rest of the coconut milk over some tinned or fresh fruit if it tickles your fancy).
- Sgroppino Bambino: a big scoop of lemon sorbet (‘a cup, not a cone, please’), a splash from a mini prosecco bottle and half a vodka miniature, all beaten into submission/ slushie heaven…
- So Nearly Sangria: mini red wine bottle and a can of Sprite… plus a brandy miniature if you’ve got one.
- Running the Gimlet: Jif lime juice squeezed into a miniature of gin and DOWNED. Hahahaha.
Extracted from Max’s Picnic Book by Max Halley & Ben Benton (Hardie Grant, £16.99) Photography: Louise Hagger