The family table: family picnics

Categories: Expert guidance

Nicole Pisani, formerly of Nopi and now a school chef at Gayhurst Community School in Hackney, answers food questions asked by parents and offers a family-friendly recipe to try out

Dear Nicole, do you have some tips for our family picnics?

Ever the optimist, I am hoping the British weather might improve sufficiently for us all to enjoy a picnic or two this summer. I was recently in Malta, where I am from, and I was reminded of my childhood spent going to the beach with baskets of hobz biz-zejt (meaning ‘bread with oil’), a type of sandwich made with Maltese bread, ripe tomatoes or paste, olive oil, olives, capers and garlic. The juice of the tomatoes seeps into the soft inside part of the bread and is the ultimate taste of a hot Maltese summer.

Now, to be honest if I served hobz biz zejt for the children’s pack lunches at school I don’t think I would win many popularity contests. Although many of the children have surprised me by how much they enjoy olives, capers and also feta, which have quite strong flavours, tomatoes seem to divide them down the middle and some will go to extreme and creative lengths not to have to eat them.

Leftover chicken
Bagels are very popular with the children. My friend is a big Marmite fan and says the best combination is to have cream cheese, cucumber and Marmite. I also love to use leftover roast chicken and add just a few drops of orange blossom water to thick yoghurt instead of using mayonnaise.

I think the best lettuce for picnic sandwiches or salads is baby gem as it will stay pretty crisp even when wrapped up in foil or kept in Tupperware. And I have discovered that the children love to help with baking their own bread—soda bread is the easiest to start with as it’s so quick and doesn’t require any proving. 

Flavour of the Greek islands
Frittatas or baked omelettes are perfect for picnics as you can make them with all kinds of flavourful ingredients and they are easy to slice up and serve. You might add some cooked chorizo for that Spanish paprika taste, or feta for a flavour of the Greek islands.

I always make a bowl of potato salad, with boiled new potatoes, natural yoghurt and chives—you might swap the chives for a little chopped preserved lemon and a scattering of sumac. I have become a fan of homemade scotch eggs made with quail’s eggs, a good quality sausage meat and panko breadcrumbs. You can see I really like eggs! Even a simple hardboiled egg is such a great addition to a picnic, easy to transport and very sustaining.

In Malta, we would simply enjoy a soft peach for dessert, the juice rinsed off by another swim in the sea. Here in the UK you just can’t beat a punnet of fresh strawberries—it’s what our summers are made of. 

Read Nicole’s recipe for a family-friendly dish of watercress, feta and olive baked omelette