Poolside picnic by Annabel Langbein
Between Christmas and New Year, the whole country comes to a grinding halt. Christmas is over, and we can take a collective sigh of relief, relax and unplug.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re lounging around a pool, camping by the sea or out adventuring in the wilderness, for a brief few days, life can be gloriously simple.
With all the family feasts and entertaining, there are usually so many leftovers in the fridge that lunches can be pick-and-mix affairs. The trick to transforming those leftovers into something yummy and inspired is called a picnic.
Everything tastes so much better in the great outdoors, and the habit of picnicking is enjoyed all over the world (yes in summer they’ll pack a picnic in Antarctica too).
While the word ‘picnic’ first appeared in a 17th-century French dictionary as "pique-nique," the actual usage began as "pique un niche" meaning to "pick a place," an isolated spot where family or friends could enjoy a convivial meal together out in nature, away from the demands of everyday life.
The term morphed into "pique-nique" and the habit was taken up with gusto by the French when, after the Revolution, it became possible for ordinary people to visit and mingle in the country’s royal parks. In the 18th and 19th centuries, picnics were elaborate social events with complex meals that sometimes took days to prepare. These days, and especially at this time of year, they are all about grabbing the moment, with little or no fuss or bother.
Leftover Christmas ham can be layered into crusty filled rolls with a slather of salsa verde or mustard, roasted peppers, rocket and sliced gruyere. Or perhaps chopped into a frittata, with the addition of sliced leftover boiled potatoes, a little cooked diced onion and some chopped parsley.
I always cook lots of extra new potatoes at this time of year so I can use them in salads over the ensuing days. One of my favourite potato salads to serve with leftover cold meats or ham involves draining and quartering a can of artichokes, then tossing them through sliced cold leftover potatoes with a handful of chopped kalamata olives, a clove of crushed garlic, a handful of chopped coriander and a garlicky vinaigrette. I like to serve this on a bed of lettuce leaves. Mixing leftover cold potatoes with diced ham, a few chopped gherkins, diced hard-boiled egg, spring onions and a mustardy mayo produces another fabulous potato salad for a picnic.
Having some decent bread in the freezer means you can always be ready for an impromptu picnic. Freeze French sticks or ciabatta in the brown paper bags they come in. When you take them out of the freezer, run the bag (with the bread inside) quickly under cold water to wet it, before you put it into an oven preheated to 180˚C for 10-12 minutes to freshen up. The wet paper produces steam, which gives the crust a wonderful crunch and ensures the bread inside is soft and tender.