Charlie Hibbert, our Thyme chef correspondent, is mad about picnics. With a fascinating French political association, the pique-nique was brought to England by escaping 'high-society' from the Revolution. In 1801, the Pic Nic society was formed in London where extravagant gatherings required each attendant to bring a dish and six bottles of wine! After dinner there was singing, dancing, gambling, and a play... somewhat less innocent and 'genteel' than the countryside connotation we now have!
Concentrating on the food, Charlie keeps to the original spirit by erring on the side of excess when it comes to catering for them, but he likes to keep things simple to reduce any potential stress from prepping.
- Go for crowd-pleasing tucker – photographed, you’ll see grilled chicken & homemade mayo (always a winner), courgettes, fennel & burrata (recipe below with photograph by Romas Foord for The Times), potato & roasted radish salad, Victoria sponge, Eton mess and a crusty sourdough loaf with lots of salty butter.
- Don’t prepare anything too oily or runny – it’s bound to drip or splodge. If you’re taking olive oil (and I’d strongly recommend it), decant a little into a jam jar or small Kilner bottle.
- Use the freshest possible seasonal produce – the flavours and aromas will definitely enhance your bucolic feast!
- Always pack good serving utensils.
- Keep lids or foil for leftovers.
- Don’t forget salt, pepper, bottle openers and a bin bag.
- Don’t forget the vegetarians & vegans!
- Wine and water need to be served cold, so bring your freezer blocks.
- Take a dog bowl for your dog (if you have one) – they need water too.
Charlie’s courgettes, fennel & burrata
(Image: Romas Foord)
Charlie says "This summery dish is exactly what I want to eat on a warm day. Creamy burrata, crisp vegetables, bitter leaves and salty almonds, all good things. If you can’t get hold of burrata, you could use a good buffalo mozzarella."
A good handful of blanched almonds (Valencia almonds are best), roughly chopped
2 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled & grated
½ a lemon, zest (for the almonds) and juice (for the dressing)
2 courgettes, peeled with a vegetable peeler into strips
1 head of fennel, cut into thin strips with a spiralizer or knife, put the fennel in iced water until you are ready to assemble the dish (this keeps it nice and crunchy)
A good handful of bitter leaves, like rocket, nasturtium leaves or something similar
4 balls of burrata
Best extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt flakes & pepper
Fry the almonds in a pan on a medium heat with the vegetable oil until they start to turn golden. Just before they are ready to come off the heat, add the grated garlic, a couple of grinds of black pepper and the lemon zest, and toss through the nuts. Carefully tip the almonds out of the pan onto a paper towel to drain.
If you can keep the dressing, almonds and rest apart until you get to the picnic – that’s the best way round, so nothing goes soggy. Just remember to take a good sized bowl with you to mix and serve it in. When you’re ready to serve, dress the courgette and fennel with plenty of lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and gently combine with the bitter leaves. Tear the burrata open and season. Tumble over the courgette and fennel, scatter over the almonds and dress with a little olive oil.
For more recipes, please click here.
Charlie’s lunch and dinner menus at Thyme reflect all the goodness to be found in the gardens at Thyme, so if it really is too soggy to picnic and you happen to be in the Cotswolds – bag yourself a table at the Ox Barn for a lazy lunch.