I am a self-proclaimed picnic expert, and I have them down to a science: make a loaf of olive bread, pack up all the cheeses in my fridge, whiz up a quick and yummy dip and throw some crackers in the bag, and poof, I’m a blanket and a park away from a leisurely outdoor meal.
Of course, it helps when your fellow foodies like to eat while sitting on the ground (mine don’t particularly enjoy it). Whether your friends are game or not, it’s the end of summer, and it’s a three-day weekend, so drag them to the nearest patch of public grass if you must. Picnic season is drawing to a close, the weather is finally cooling down – you have no excuse not to relish in the last days of summer by eating outdoors.
Here’s the game plan: make the rosemary olive bread from this book (recipe below), or, if you’re not up to it (or if your picnic is of the spontaneous variety), just grab a good, rustic loaf from your local shop – bonus points if it’s a bakery. Whip up a creamy dip, like hummus, or something more unusual like this basil-flecked green pea number. Keep packing up your picnic basket with little bites – a jar of mixed olives, crowd-pleasing cheeses (Parmesan, cheddar…), a log of salami, some crackers of your choice. For dessert, late summer fruit will do the trick – some sliced peaches would be a hit.
It’s Labor Day weekend – the official un-official end of summer. Whether you’re a picnic person or more backyard-barbecue inclined, make sure you spend the weekend soaking up the last of the nice weather – with good friends and good food, of course.
French Olive Bread:
The day before, make the fermented dough: Mix 2 teaspoons active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm water, and stir until the yeast is dissolved. In another bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour with 2 generous pinches of salt. Pour in the dissolved yeast and mix together. Knead until it forms a smooth ball of dough (it will be sticky at first), place in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour, then refrigerate overnight.
1 tsp active dry yeast
4 tbsp warm water
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
a generous pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter, softened
10 oz fermented dough
1/3 cup pitted green olives
1/3 cup pitted black olives
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 tsp olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the dissolved yeast, butter, and fermented dough and bring it together to form a ball (make sure all of the ingredients are fully incorporated). Turn the ball out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the olives and mix with rosemary and olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a rectangle that is about 3/8 inch thick and slightly larger than a sheet of computer paper. Spread the olive mixture on top. Roll the dough, starting with the long side, to make a large sausage, then place it join side down on a piece of parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut deep slits in the dough to reveal the layers of olives, but don’t cut all the way through (I did one slit down the middle and then one on each side – see the above picture). Cover again with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 475°F with a baking sheet in the middle and a roasting pan at the bottom. Once the oven is at temperature, slide the bread onto the hot baking sheet (still keeping it on the paper) and pour a glass of water into the roasting pan. Bake the loaf for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until golden (the insides of the slits may look a little moist – don’t worry, this is from the olive oil in the filling). Transfer to a wire rack to let cool slightly. Serve warm.