Annabel Langbein recalls memories of a picnic with a difference; Yvonne Lorkin suggests the wine to match
It was early autumn when my husband suggested we escape from Paris to Barbizon for a romantic weekend. Less than an hour's drive southeast of Paris, this charming village owes its fame to the 19th century landscape painters who took up residence here, establishing the Pre-Impressionist movement at the Barbizon School.
The rugged countryside and ancient trees of the Fontainebleau Forest held a powerful attraction for such famous artists as Theodore Rousseau, Corot, Millet, Renoir and Manet, who were drawn together by their passion for painting en plein air (outdoors) and their desire to elevate landscape painting to a subject in its own right.
Manet's famously controversial painting, Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), is perhaps the ultimate Naturalist picnic scene. Depicting a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather at a picnic with two fully dressed men, it caused a great scandal when it was first exhibited.
In preparation for our little adventure, I packed an overnight bag. Two evening dresses (changeable autumn weather), two pairs of high heels (tall husband), a terrific outfit for a stylish lunch and an elegant coat were all I would need.
As I packed, I luxuriated in thoughts of the many amazing restaurants I had read about. At which of these hallowed eating establishments would we indulge ourselves? My husband had other ideas. His bag contained a Swanndri jacket, hiking boots and heavy walking trousers. There were no Michelin stars on his horizon; he had Monsieur Manet and a little countryside dejeuner in mind. "A picnic, my darling, in this beautiful forest. What could be better?"
Enormous mounds of fresh pig-rooting graced the carpark on the outskirts of the village. The silence of this vast forest was broken by an occasional birdsong and the not-so-distant sound of gunfire. He hiked, I stumbled (the heels), trying to quell a sense of rising panic that my faux-fur collar might put me in the firing line of some crack-shot after a Paris dinner plate.
Equipped with the sole weapon of a handy pocket-knife-cum-bottle opener and a brown paper bag of picnic provisions — fresh crusty baguette from the local baker, three fat wedges of oozy French cheese, paper thin slices of prosciutto and luscious salami; and a wonderful bottle of Saint Joseph — we finally made it to the top of a giant rocky outcrop in the forest.
The view stretched out across hundreds of miles of gold-tinged treetops. The air was crisp and fragrant, with the soft scent of woodsmoke spiralling from little chimneys below us in the village. This simplest of meals tasted so much better for these glorious surrounds.
As summer rolls into autumn, pique your senses with a little picnic.
Roasted Red Pepper and Pumpkin Soup
Ready in 1 hour
Served with a swirl of coriander oil, this vibrant soup is rich with the flavours of late summer and travels well for a picnic. Pack the soup into a thermos and the coriander oil into a jar to add at serving time.
500g pumpkin, skinned, seeded and cubed
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 large red peppers, halved and seeded
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp ground ginger
1-2 tsp sambal oelek, to taste
1 tsp fish sauce
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
A large handful of coriander leaves
½ cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower
A pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place pumpkin cubes in a large bowl. Combine honey and soy sauce, then mix through pumpkin to coat. Spread out one prepared baking tray. Place halved peppers cut-side down on second tray and roast both vegetables for 30-35 minutes until pumpkin is golden and tender.
When peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off and discard skins. Transfer peppers and pumpkin to a food processor, add stock, ginger, sambal, fish sauce, salt and pepper and whizz to puree. Transfer to a pot over medium heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
While soup simmers, make the coriander oil. Place coriander leaves in a sieve. Pour over boiling water to wilt, then rinse under cold water. Drain and squeeze dry. Using a wand blender, puree with oil and a pinch of salt until very fine. It will seem creamy but as it settles it will turn to a rich and finely flecked green oil. Strain if you like but it's not necessary.
Serve soup with a swirl of coriander oil. Both the soup and the coriander oil freeze well.
Yvonne's pick: Hands up if you've been hunting high and low for a pinot gris that's both lusciously sweetish up front, yet finishes deliciously dry and long? That would be the perfect thing to team up with the sweetness of the pumpkin and smokiness of the capsicum in this autumnal soupy treat. The team at Obsidian have cracked it well and truly with the Obsidian Waiheke Pinot Gris 2019 ($30). With nashi pear niceness, lemonade apple and baked quince characters which merge into a creamy-rich, textural, elegantly structured style — it's stunning stuff. More please!
Easy Irish Soda Bread
Ready in 50 mins
Makes 1 large loaf
This lovely light, moist loaf tastes like it's the real thing made with yeast, when in fact it's a five-minute throw-together. Sometimes I like to add a cup of sunflower seeds and/or a ½ cup soaked and well-drained kibbled wheat. You can also add a cup of grated carrot or beetroot into the mixture when you add the buttermilk.
1½ cups wholemeal flour
1½ cups high-grade white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda, sifted to remove lumps
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper.
Mix flours, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add buttermilk. Mix to form a sticky, soft dough. Using well-floured hands, shape the dough into a rough ball about 18cm in diameter on the prepared oven tray. Use a sharp knife dipped in hot water or oiled to cut a large cross in the top of the loaf.
Bake until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped (40-45 minutes). If not eating at once, wrap in a clean tea towel and use within a day or serve toasted.
Yvonne's Pick: One of the greatest wine and food combos known to peri-menopausal women the world over is a honking great buttery chard and a sneaky 8-pack of KFC Wicked wings. The other is the stunning Askerne Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2018 ($23.90) and salmon of any description. Make no mistake, this is a no-holds-barred, oak-gloved, tropically-tangy, peachy punch-in-the-face wine that delivers a creamy, cashew and lemon-laced finish. It is honking and it is great. My bottle had a sticker on it saying it got four stars in some magazine. That irked me because I definitely think it's a 5-star sip all the way.
Ready in 20 mins
This delicious potted salmon can be prepared in advance so you're ready for a picnic anytime. Serve on Irish soda bread (above) with a dab of horseradish cream.
250g butter, finely chopped
¼ cup dry vermouth or white wine
Zest of ½ a lemon, finely grated
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
½ tsp fine white pepper
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
600g boneless, skinless salmon
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped dill or tarragon leaves, plus extra to garnish
Place butter, vermouth or white wine, lemon zest, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to melt butter. Once it boils add salmon, bring back to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and break up the salmon a little. Stir in lemon juice and dill or tarragon and pack into 1-2 sterilised jars, pressing to remove air bubbles. Press extra dill or tarragon on top. Cover and store in the fridge for up to a week. Bring to room temperature 10-15 minutes before serving.
Yvonne's pick: The only thing that fills me with more of a sense of wellbeing, contentment and cosiness than the smell of rising dough, is the Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne Grand Cuvee Brut NV ($28). Mainly because it also smells like rising dough. And all manner of lemony loveliness. If you love the elegance, style, richness and cashew butter complexity of Champagne, but you've got just $30 and a couple of mismothered pantry moths in your wallet, then this gorgeous Burgundian bubbly will have you feeling fabulously fizzicle within seconds of that first sip.
Annabel's duo of Essential savoury and sweet books (Annabel Langbein Media, $65 each) create a beautiful compendium of her best-ever recipes and cooking tips. Alone or together, they make a wonderful gift or treat for yourself, and are on sale now at all good bookstores or online at annabel-langbein.com. Follow Annabel Langbein on Facebook or Instagram to find out more.