I'm more of an urban picnicker than the type to seek out some remote, beautiful location away from the crowds. I like temperate weather, flushing toilets and - if I've spent a lot of time cooking (because somebody has to prepare the meal) - I don't want the hassle of hiking to the venue. After making these easy dishes, you'll have enough energy left over to haul the food to the picnic table - even if it's a bit further than the balcony.
Roast chicken and avocado sandwiches with lemon-garlic aioli (pictured)
1 chicken, about 1.5kg
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 ripe avocadoes
For the aioli:
2 garlic cloves
2 eggs, at room temperature
125ml extra-virgin olive oil
125 grams canola oil
30ml fresh lemon juice
Bread of your choice
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius.
Sprinkle salt lightly and evenly over the skin of the chicken and in the cavity. Put the chicken breast-side down on a baking tray then bake for 30 minutes. Carefully turn the chicken over so it's breast-side up. Cook for about 15 minutes more, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 76 degrees; to test, insert a probe-type thermometer into the thickest part of the leg - near where the thigh meets the body, but not touching any bone. When the chicken is done, take it from the oven and leave it to cool to room temperature.
While the chicken is cooling, make the aioli. Pour the oils into a measuring jug with a spout. Put the garlic cloves in a mortar and add quarter of a teaspoon of salt. Use the pestle to crush the garlic to a paste. Scrape the garlic into a medium-sized bowl. Dampen a clean dish cloth then twist it into a loose rope and shape it into a ring. Nestle the bowl holding the garlic into the ring; the towel will keep the bowl secure as you are whisking. Separate the egg yolks from the whites; reserve the whites for another use. Put the yolks into the bowl with the crushed garlic and immediately start whisking. Start adding the oil very slowly - just a few drops - then whisk to incorporate it fully. Continue adding the oil a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once you've established a stable emulsion, start adding the oil in a thin drizzle - just enough so you can whisk it in quickly. When the emulsion gets too thick, mix in a little of the lemon juice and, when you've added in all of that, whisk in some warm water. After adding all the oil, season the aioli with salt - if you like a sharper taste, add more lemon juice.
When the chicken is cool, strip off the skin (don't throw it away; it's delicious when re-crisped in the oven). Tear the chicken into medium-size shreds and put them in a bowl. Mix in about half the aioli - enough to lightly coat the meat, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut the avocado in half and remove and discard the pit. With the avocado flesh still in the skin, carefully cut the avocado into small chunks. Use a large spoon to scoop the avocado chunks out of the skin. Put the avocado into the bowl with the chicken and mix gently, adding more of the aioli as needed to moisten the mixture. Make the sandwiches using the bread of your choice then wrap them securely in baking paper (don't use cling-film, which will make the sandwiches soggy).
Orzo salad with lemon and olive oil dressing, zucchini, tomatoes, pine nuts and parmesan
When taking this on a picnic, mix the orzo with the dressing and put it in a container. Put all the other ingredients - zucchini, tomatoes, shallots, pine nuts, olives and parmesan - on top, then close the container. Mix everything together when you get to the picnic site.
250 grams orzo (or another rice-shaped pasta)
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
40ml fresh lemon juice
The freshly grated zest of one lemon
1 zucchini, about 150 grams
100 grams small cherry tomatoes
30 grams pine nuts
20 Kalamata olives (or another type of good-quality olive with pits)
30 grams freshly grated parmesan
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the orzo and cook until done. Ladle off about 500ml of the cooking water then drain the orzo in a colander. Don't rinse it - put it immediately into a bowl. Mix the olive oil with the lemon juice, then pour this over the hot orzo. Cover the bowl tightly with cling-film and leave for 15 minutes. Remove the cling-film then add the lemon zest and a light sprinkling of salt.
Cut the zucchini into 5mm dice. Put the reserved cooking water into a small saucepan, bring to the boil then add the zucchini. Cook for about 15 seconds, then drain in a colander. Quarter the tomatoes. Toast the pine nuts by putting them into a small unoiled skillet and shake them constantly over a medium flame until lightly browned. Pit the olives: put them on a cutting board and press each one firmly with the flat blade of the knife - this will loosen the flesh from the pit. Remove the pits then cut the olives in half. Mince the shallot.
Put the zucchini, tomatoes, pine nuts, olives, shallot and parmesan cheese on top of the orzo in a bowl, then sprinkle with pepper. Just before serving, thoroughly combine all the ingredients.
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