Picnic paradise: Skye Gyngell's al-fresco feast

Sunny days don't require too much blue-sky thinking: just pack up a picnic full of unfussy, easy-to-make food and head for the nearest shady tree. Skye Gyngell lays out her favourites for all to share...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

As I write, it is the most glorious day – still and warm with a clear blue sky. On days such as these, there is nothing nicer than laying a blanket outside and eating under the shade of a tree. I'm talking about simple food that can be prepared ahead of time, food that can be transported easily and without too much fuss. Choose dishes that can be packed away easily, and if possible use substantial crockery and cutlery – it is not nearly as nice eating from plastic or paper plates.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Orange with orange flower water

This is very similar to spremuta d'arancia – a drink favoured by Italians during the blistering summer months when one craves something sweet and cold.

Although it consists of freshly squeezed orange juice, it is perhaps not as healthy as it first may seem, as it is laced with sugar before being poured over ice. It is the addition of orange flower water (available in supermarkets) that gives it a pretty and ethereal feel. Transport it as I do in glass bottles with a screw-top lid – any glass bottle in which you have bought water is perfect. It is important that it is served as chilled as possible, for its flavour is that much better. Ask your greengrocer for oranges that are suitable for squeezing.

Serves 4

1 litre/13/4 pints of freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp orange flower water

Squeeze the orange juice as close as possible to the time of serving. Place in a jug and stir in the sugar and orange flower water. Strain into a glass jar with a screw-top lid and pack in your picnic basket.

Grilled red peppers, aubergine and roasted beetroots

Beetroots are small and sweet at this time of year, and peppers and aubergines have also just come into season. Rather than serving them all separately, toss them all together with plenty of olive oil, red-wine vinegar and herbs such as marjoram, mint and basil.

Serves 4

1 aubergine, sliced into eighth-inch rounds
1kg/2lb small yellow beetroots ( red are fine if these are difficult to find) well rinsed and scrubbed clean
A good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 red peppers, sliced in half, seeds removed and cut into eighths
12 very ripe little tomatoes
1 small bunch marjoram, leaves only
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 small bunch basil, leaves only
1 small bunch mint, leaves only

Turn your grill to high and grill the slices of aubergine – you need not salt them first. Cook on both sides until golden-brown. Remove and set aside.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Put the beetroots into a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over a little of the olive oil. Cover with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Roast for three-quarters of an hour or until the beetroots start to become tender. Now add the sliced peppers and little tomatoes, scatter over the marjoram, and roast for a further 45 minutes, by which time all the vegetables should be tender.

Remove from the oven and, while warm, combine with the aubergine, tear the herbs roughly and add to the salad. Then, drizzle over the rest of the oil and the vinegar and toss together really well.

Roast chicken

Serves 4

1 free-range organic chicken
4 cloves garlic, left whole
1 lemon, sliced in half
4 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme
Salt and pepper
A little olive oil
1 bunch of marjoram
Sea salt
The juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Place the garlic, lemon, bay and thyme in the cavity of the chicken. Season the skin generously all over with the salt, drizzle over a little olive oil, place in a roasting tin and cover loosely with foil. Put on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and roast for a further 45 minutes, at which point turn the oven off, leave the door ajar and allow the chicken to sit for 10-15 minutes.

While the chicken is roasting, pound the marjoram and a generous pinch of salt with a pestle and mortar until the marjoram is dark and bruised, squeeze over the lemon juice and stir in the olive oil. Brush over the skin of the chicken while it is still warm. Allow to cool before packaging for transport. '

Yoghurt and dill

This is just a little bowl of something that really goes with everything: drag bread through it, spoon it over the roast chicken or eat with the roasted vegetables – it brings everything together in a lovely way.

Serves 4

250ml/8fl oz thick, Greek-style yoghurt
The juice of half a lemon
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bunch dill, chopped finely
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper

Place the yoghurt in a mixing bowl and stir in all the ingredients – it's as simple as that. Place in a container with a lid for safe transportation.

Fig and almond biscuits

This is a Spanish sweetmeat, whose closest relative is the Tuscan cake known as panforte. It is chewy, richly chocolately and perfect to take on a picnic, as it is sturdy to carry. It is also simpler than panforte to make, taking no more than 15 minutes to prepare and 25 minutes in the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature before you slice it – if you don't, it is liable to crumble and fall apart.

Serves 4

130g/4oz dark chocolate, chopped
150g/5oz caster sugar
400g/13oz honey
250g/8oz dried figs
400g/13oz roughly chopped, blanched almonds
160g/51/2oz plain flour
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Butter and flour
An 81/2-inch cake tin

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Gently melt the chocolate over a bowl of summering water, making sure that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Warm until the chocolate has just melted. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a separate saucepan, spoon in the caster sugar and honey, then place over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved.

Then mix the figs and almonds in a bowl. Add the flour, cocoa and cinnamon and pour over the melted chocolate and the honey-sugar mixture and mix well using a wooden spoon. It should look like a firm sticky mass.

Butter and dust a cake tin with flour, then pour in the mixture and bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely before slicing. It can be kept covered in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Perfect for a picnic, this is chewy, chocolatey and sturdy