It's time to enjoy the great outdoors. Pack a summer picnic basket with simple salads, herb foccacia and perfect cakes
Gammon, peach and parsley salad Photographs: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer
I suspect that the most successful picnics are the impromptu ones, careful planning usually being a guaranteed bringer of rain. But those who like to do more than pick their outdoor feast up from the nearest deli might like to take a big, rustic-looking salad, some homemade bread and a tin of little cakes like the blackberry friands. When packing a salad for a picnic, I tend to take the ingredients for the dressing with me and make it at the location: that way your salad remains crisp and fresh.
feta 400g olive oil 4 tbsp red chillies 1 or 2 coriander a good fistful of leaves limejuice 1 tbsp or more to taste cherry tomatoes 250g red onion 1
Break the feta into large, jagged pieces and put them into a dish. Pour the olive oil into a small mixing bowl. Discard the stalks and seeds from the chillies and chop the flesh finely, then add to the oil. Chop the coriander leaves and add them to the oil and chillies with the lime juice. Unless your feta is very mild, you probably won't need salt.
Halve the tomatoes, peel and very finely slice the onion, then toss gently with the dressing. Pour over the feta and set aside for an hour in the fridge before serving with the focaccia below.
Rosemary and thyme focaccia
MAKES 1 BREAD ABOUT 22CM SQUARE
SERVES 4-6 strong bread flour 450g salt 1½ tsp fast-acting yeast 1 packet, 7g warm water 400ml (ish) cornmeal garlic 1 clove rosemary the leaves of 3 sprigs thyme the leaves from 4 sprigs sea salt flakes olive oil 3 tbsp
You will also need: a shallow baking tin about 22cm square and 5cm deep
Put the flour and salt and yeast into a large bowl, mix well then pour in the water to make a sticky dough.
Flour the work surface generously, then turn out the dough and knead lightly. Knead in some of the flour from the work surface, adding a little more if the dough remains sticky. It should come away from the work surface cleanly but should be a little more moist than the usual bread dough. Keep kneading until the dough no longer sticks to the board. Continue kneading in no particular fashion for a full 5 minutes, then put the dough into a floured bowl and set aside, covered with clingfilm or a tea towel, until it has risen to double its size. This takes anything up to an hour depending on the warmth of your room.
Rub the bottom of the baking tin with a little oil. Scatter it with a thin layer of cornmeal – this will keep the base crisp and prevent it from sticking. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7.
Remove the dough from its bowl (it will sink, but no matter), then push it into the baking tin. Cover as much of the bottom as you can, but don't worry if it doesn't quite cover it. Set aside, covered with clingfilm, for 30 minutes, till well risen. Peel and finely chop the garlic, rosemary and thyme leaves.
With a floured finger, push several holes deep into the dough, then spread the herb mixture over the dough. Scatter liberally with salt flakes. Bake for 25-30 minutes till pale gold, crisp on top and springy within. Trickle over the olive oil then allow to settle before serving. While still warm, free the bread from the pan with a palette knife, then cut or tear into pieces.
Gammon, peach and parsley salad
SERVES 4-6 ham smoked or unsmoked, in the piece 500g water peppercorns 8 bay leaves 3 parsley stalks 3 or 4 lentils such as Le Puy 125g olive oil a little ripe peaches 4 lemon juice a little parsley a good bunch
For the dressing: white or tarragon wine vinegar 1 tbsp olive oil 4 tbsp creme fraiche 4 tbsp basil a small bunch, about 20 medium-sized leaves
Put the ham in a large, deep saucepan, pour in enough cold water to cover, then bring to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour off the liquid. Pour more cold water into the pan, again to just cover the meat, then bring to the boil. Lower the heat so the ham bubbles gently in its water. Add the peppercorns, bay leaves and parsley stalks and leave the ham to simmer for a good hour. Turn off the heat and leave the ham to cool in its liquid.
While the ham cools a little, cook the lentils in deep, unsalted water for 20-25 minutes or so till tender but not soft – they should have a nutty bite. Drain, season with salt and just enough olive oil to make them glisten, then set aside.
Slice the peaches in half, pull out their stones and slice each half into three, then toss with the lemon juice. Remove the parsley leaves from their stalks, but leave them whole unless they are really very large, in which case roughly chop them. (The exact ratio of parsley to lentils is up to you, but I like about equal quantities.)
Make the dressing by putting the vinegar in a small bowl and stirring in a pinch of sea salt. Gently beat in the olive oil and creme fraiche to give a creamy dressing. Whisk thoroughly (if it appears to curdle) and don't dress your salad till the last minute. Tear the basil leaves and stir them in. Season with coarsely ground black pepper.
Pull the ham into juicy, unevenly sized chunks. Add it to the peaches, then scatter over the lentils. Scrape the dressing into the ham and peaches with a rubber spatula and toss very gently, just until the lentils and ham are coated with the dressing.
Note: If this is for a picnic, take the dressing ingredients separately, then quickly make it up at the location.
Chicken, tarragon and asparagus salad
SERVES 4 chicken thighs or breasts 500g olive oil a little lemon ½ asparagus 250g cucumber 250g
For the dressing: egg yolks 2 Dijon mustard ½ tsp groundnut oil 250ml olive oil 250ml lemon juice of ½ tarragon 2 tbsp, chopped parsley 2 tbsp, chopped gherkins 6 small
Place the chicken pieces in a roasting tin, add the oil and juice from the lemon, massage in a little salt and black pepper, then roast at 200C/gas mark 6 for about 30 minutes, till the skin is golden and the juices run clear.
Meanwhile cook the asparagus in boiling water or steam it till tender. (I prefer to keep it a little on the crisp side for this recipe, about 6 minutes.) Drain and set aside.
Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to cool. Peel the cucumber, remove the seeds with a teaspoon and cut the flesh into small chunks, then put it into a sieve or colander over the sink. Grind a little salt over the cucumber, toss gently, then leave it for 30 minutes, until some of the juices have run out. (If you skip this point, your salad will be "wet".)
Make the dressing by putting the egg yolks in a mixing bowl with the mustard and a little salt and black pepper. Add the oils, starting with a drop at a time then slowly increasing to a trickle, beating firmly with a large whisk as if you were making mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice, chopped tarragon and parsley. Roughly chop the gherkins and stir them in. If the dressing seems a little thick or "claggy" (much will depend on your oil), then whisk in a little hot water till you get it to a consistency you like.
Tear the chicken into big, meaty pieces, but small enough that you can eat with a fork, then gently fold in the cucumber with as much of the dressing as you need to make a creamy salad. You want enough dressing to bind the salad, but not to swamp it, so use about half of it then add the rest a little at a time till you get the ratio of chicken to dressing as you like it. Keep any extra dressing in the fridge for a day or two.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Lightly butter 12 shallow bun tins.
Put the butter in a small pan and melt over a moderate heat, then watch it carefully until it becomes a dark, nutty gold. Take great care not to let it burn. Leave it to cool a little.
Sieve the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl, then add the ground almonds. Add the lemon zest. Beat the egg whites to a soft foam – they shouldn't be able to stand up.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients then pour in the egg whites, together with the melted butter. Mix lightly but thoroughly, then pour into the buttered tins. Roughly chop the blackberries and drop into the tins. Bake for 10-15 minutes, remove from oven, then leave to settle before carefully removing from the tins with a palette knife.