Pictured: Pearl Ngcobo, Namhla Zungu and Chef JP le Roux.
Traditional picnics are magical and, with the arrival of summer and school holidays as well as that ever-lurking problem with Covid-19 and crowded indoor spaces, this could be the ideal way to enjoy creative cuisine in a beautiful natural setting, writes Shirley le Guern.
The good thing about picnics is that it’s definitely not one size fits all. For the most part, the South African picnic has been sarmies on the beach or the inevitable add-on to a braai. Then again, there’s also that romantic picnic in a scenic spot at sunset.
According to executive chef, JP le Roux, the new trend is for picnickers to get far more creative. Book clubbers are going al fresco with individual members hosting different themed events with the added challenge of finding a spot that many may not have thought of as picnic worthy – until now.
Mom’s groups, too, are spreading their blankets far and wide while those social bubbles that are tired of stoking the coals on the same old stoeps are now packing their baskets as well as some board games and settling under a cool tree a little further afield.
Instead of being lured into picking up that inevitable takeaway, those that aren’t culinary artistes do have the option of buying a ready prepared picnic feast through the likes of Dial A Picnic which caters for high teas, gourmet feast boxes, children’s parties and can combine your food with a venue or activity of choice.
There’s also do a DIY version where they provide the food and you do the rest.
Other good options for a pre-prepared basket are the Gwahumbe nature reserve in mid-Illovo or The Harvest store at Hillcrest’s Camp Orchards.
But, according to Chef JP, much of the fun is in packing your own basket to either cater for a crowd or to spread around in bring-and-share style.
To prove his point, he created his own which he entitled JP’s Flamboyant Forage Feast – a perfectly practical picnic that incorporates food that can be easily assembled and served at room temperature.
JP starts with a Mediterranean salad that combines fresh radishes, pitted Kalamata olives, peppered feta, rocket, Picante pepper dews, baby spinach leaves, a sweet basil herb dressing and homemade traditional tzatziki, made from double cream yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and fresh lime.
Then comes the crispy tempura prawns with a taramasalata dip. Just prior to leaving home, he dunked his prawns in a tempura flour mix and panko breadcrumbs, deep-fried them and left them on a kitchen towel to cool. He serves them with fresh lime and taramasalata (a fish row dip).
Also on JP’s picnic menu is charred melon wedges which have been pre-prepared in a pan with olive oil and a dash of brown sugar. He adds trimmings such as streaks of prosciutto (a delicate Italian ham), Austrian cream cheese, fresh rocket and then dresses it with a tangy olive and balsamic vinaigrette and pomegranate molasses.
JP’s phyllo pastry pockets are made by pressing squares of thawed phyllo pastry into muffin pans, brushing them with olive oil and then baking them for about eight minutes. Pack when cooled. The filling – grilled chicken breast, grilled pineapple, a dash of coconut cream, fresh dhania and smoked paprika can be mixed and stored separately and then spooned into the pastry cups before serving.
His Perfect Peppa dish includes roasted bell peppers, thyme, garlic cut Spanish chorizo, peppadews, blistered Romanita tomatoes, roasted sunflower seeds, and fresh Italian parsley. All can be mixed together in a salad bowl with a lid and then packed in the basket.
His two sides are homemade beetroot hummus (chickpeas mashed with salt and pepper and a dash of beetroot juice or beetroot vinegar to add some bright picnic colour) served on toasted olive bread and melba toast with creamy blue cheese, traditional biltong and fig preserve.