Who doesn't love a picnic? Ok, so maybe just as there are a few Scrooges out there who don't love Christmas, I'm sure there are also a few ne'er sayers when it comes to picnicing, but for the most part a good picnic seems to be universally popular. Whether you're six or sixty, whether you'd rather hike for several hours to some remote destination or simply throw a rug on the living room floor, there's something about the informality of a picnic which transports most of us to that "happy place". Of course, like all good things, timing is everything. Unless you're planning your feast on a rug in front of a blazing fire, winter time when the wind is howling and the snow is six inches deep is probably not ideal. Likewise, I personally think that summer is not great for a picnic either - it can generally be too hot, all the ideal spots are usually completely overcrowded, and here in New Zealand at least you will spend the whole time fighting with the ants who want to eat your food and the sandflies who want to have a feast on you. Spring and autumn though always seem to me like the perfect time to pack up the basket and head outdoors for a little alfresco dining.
In my part of the world, right now is absolutely perfect picnic time. The weather is glorious. It's still plenty warm enough to be outside in something sleeveless, but without the harsh intensity of summer's heat. There's scarcely a breath of wind, and the light has that beautiful golden quality that is unique to autumn. Doesn't hurt also that here in New Zealand we can experience breathtaking scenery at just about every turn - sounds braggy I know, but it's actually true. I only have to look out my front windows for a vista which sweeps from the sea to The Grampians. Everything is so lushly green, after last week's heavy rain, punctuated by a blaze of gold and russet as leaves turn and trees begin to shed their autumn cloaks. If ever there was a siren call to the great outdoors, this is it, and so it couldn't be better timing that this week our I Heart Cooking Clubs' theme is "What's in your picnic basket?".
We continue to cook with Nigel Slater, and I found that he had loads of great dishes which were either suitable for, or easily adaptable to, picnic fare. I happened to have a pile of mushrooms on hand, so when I stumbled upon his recipe for "Mushrooms with Basil and Lemon" in a Marie Claire cookbook written by Nigel I knew I'd found just the thing. I love a raw mushroom salad - it's the kind of thing that doesn't need to be refrigerated, and only gets better the longer it sits around, which makes it positively ideal for taking to a picnic. Layer it up in a big Agee jar, as I have done, and you have something which transports well and looks like you've done something really special. If you want to be even more fancy schmancy, you could actually put this into several smaller jars for individual servings - just remember though that, whilst that might look cool, all that extra glass weighs something and, unless you have a party of Sherpas available to help out, you are probably going to be the one who has to carry it!
This salad gets plenty of flavour from loads of basil, parsley, and lemon, a nice bit of extra texture from crunchy coriander seeds, and a good kick of heat from some chilli. I used a small, hot chilli with the seeds left in, but if you prefer just a whisper of heat choose a milder chilli and remove the seeds - it's totally up to you. This would be a great salad alongside some cold chicken or smoked salmon, or something as simple as a crusty baguette to mop up all the salad juices. It would also be great to take along to a barbeque - it won't mind sitting around, and would be delicious with grilled meats, vegetables or fish.
Mushroom, Basil & Lemon Salad Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Nigel Slater
from Marie Claire Cookbook
Serves 2-4 depending on what else you have to go with it
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
250g (9 oz) mushrooms
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
large handful of basil leaves
large handful of flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 red chilli, finely chopped
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Grate the zest of the lemon into a small bowl and set aside.
Wipe the mushrooms clean with a barely damp paper towel (do not wash them) and cut into quarters, or wedges if they are large. Place mushrooms in a medium sized bowl, add the red wine vinegar and juice of the lemon. Mix gently together and leave aside for about an hour to marinate.
Roughly chop the herbs and add to the bowl containing the lemon zest, adding also the coriander seeds, chilli, salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix together well.
Spoon alternating layers of mushrooms and herb mixture into a clean preserving jar, pour over any vinegar or oil remaining in your bowls, seal the jar and head for the great outdoors.
If you would like to get to know Nigel Slater a little better, and to see what everyone else has in their picnic basket this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links ...
... or check out Marie Claire Cookbook by Nigel Slater and Nigel's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.
I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the delightful Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays hosted by my lovely friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollum, and at Cook Your Books hosted by the lovely Joyce at Kitchen Flavours.
Lastly, I'm also sharing this post at a new to me event - Cooking with Herbs hosted by the very lovely Karen at Lavender and Lovage. Thanks, Karen, for the invitation to participate. Check out the links below to see all the other lovely "herby" dishes.