Three ways with… picnic food

There’s a long weekend on the horizon and – though the weather is unlikely to be playing ball – I’m still hopeful that there will be enough sunshine for a picnic.

Photo: Ross Giblin/Fairfax Media

This week’s Three Ways With… has a trio of picnic-friendly recipes for you to try. If all else fails, eat them while sitting on a picnic blanket in the lounge. Add lashings of ginger beer and some spy-catching for a frisson of Famous Five-style fun.

Happy weekend!

The perfect tuna sandwich

No blog posts for ages and then, what? A sandwich? I’m afraid so. Truth is, I feel like I’ve lost my food mojo in the last couple of weeks. Life seems to have overtaken me; there seems to be too much going on and not enough time to do it in. I’ve been doing a lot of running, so I’m perpetually hungry (and tired), and spending hours in the kitchen is a luxury I don’t seem to have. 

Anyway, I’m hoping normal(ish) service will resume soon. In the meantime, here’s a sandwich I perfected earlier in the year, when I was on holiday, combining lots of running with lots of gardening, lots of reading and lots of sitting on our newly finished deck, thinking how life was pretty sweet.

The perfect tuna sandwich

Not surprisingly, good tuna and good bread are essential to the success of this sandwich. The absolute best baguettes I’ve found in Wellington are the Acme sourdough baguettes from Prefab, the best tuna is the Sirena brand (the one with the mermaid on the tin).

1 x 185g tin good quality tuna in oil, drained (reserve the oil)

2 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained

2 tsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped

zest and juice of a lemon

2 tbsp mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put everything in a small bowl and mix well. Add a little more oil if necessary. Pile into a halved baguette with some crunchy lettuce. Eat immediately.

What have you been up to while I’ve been away?

Lemon verbena syrup + an elegant fruit salad

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime

We are blessed with the best neighbours in the world. They are great neighbours for all sorts of reasons, but for the purposes of a food blog, they are the best neighbours because they do things like turn up with freshly caught crayfish, or duck, or smoked trout. Now they’ve just set the bar even higher by bringing us three massive paua. It’s going to take a lot of reciprocal bottles of wine and cakes to beat that one.

Paua With Garlic, Chilli, Coriander And Lime

I can’t remember the last time I had fresh paua – it appears in dishes on restaurant menus sometimes but my sources tell me it’s usually squid, so I never order it. When I was 13 I remember a magical holiday with cousins in the Far North of New Zealand, where the crayfish and paua were in such abundance we begged to have sausages as a treat. If you happen to have excellent neighbours, or a source of paua, here’s a way to cook it.

Fast And Easy Paua With Asian Flavours

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime
Paua is notoriously tough – I remember my cousin beating it with a wine bottle to tenderise it – but my neighbour passed on the ‘boil it first’ method, which works well (and requires a lot less effort). Quantities here are very approximate – adjust to suit the amount of paua you have. If all else fails, do what the restaurants do and use squid instead.

Half-fill a pot with water and bring to the boil. Drop in the paua and cover the pot. Let the water come to the boil and simmer for three minutes. Drain immediately and slice the paua into thin strips.
Heat a couple of sloshes of olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced, some fresh chilli and a bunch of spring onions. Add the paua and cook, stirring frequently, for another couple of minutes.
Scoop onto a warm waiting plate, then squeeze over some fresh lime juice and strew with coriander. Eat immediately.

Pork osso bucco with apples and silverbeet

Whenever I go to the supermarket I take great delight in trying to circumvent all those tricks they use to try to make you buy things you didn’t know you needed. I’m not very successful though, which is how I ended up with two packets of pork osso bucco and a huge bunch of silverbeet when I nipped into Moore Wilson’s on Sunday morning to buy some fish.

Here’s what I did with it…

Pork osso bucco with apples and chard
This requires a maximum of 15 minutes of concentration and chopping at the start, then you can wander away to do its thing unattended in the oven for a couple of hours. Obviously that means it’s not the sort of thing you start making after work, but if you make it on a Sunday it can then wait patiently in the fridge for you to eat on Monday. And I don’t know about you, but coming home on Monday night knowing that dinner is already cooked is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 cup celery (leaves and ribs), finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1.2kg pork osso bucco
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
2 large apples, cored and sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, finely chopped (including stems)
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 150C.
Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot. Add the onions, garlic and celery along with a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon, then return it to the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Brown the pieces of pork on all sides (you may have to do this in batches), then return the vegetables to the pot. Pour in the wine and water – careful, it will spit – then layer the apples and silverbeet on top. Season well, then cover and put in the preheated oven.
Cook for two to two and a half hours, or until the meat has falling off the bones. Taste for seasoning and serve with some crusty bread.

Have a great week, everyone.