So, it doesn't really feel like it as I'm writing today in the rain, but this week is National Picnic Week, running from June 21-30th. Did you know, that 'picnic' is such a great word, it was even imported to Italy!
Back in the UK we need to grab our sunshine opportunities where we can, so our picnics are often quite spontaneous. When I lived by the coast we would dash to our local shop and stock up with plastic pots of olives, tomatoes, dips and bread as soon as the sun looked like it might be sticking around for an hour or so, before heading to the beach. Whilst this was great fun, on reflection it created a lot more waste than the pre-planned picnics of my childhood (when it was always sunny right?) or those I have experienced in Italy.
However, we think we have the solution to this dilemma at Olive and Rosy! Next time the sky looks slightly hopeful, pack a few of your favourite picnic tubs, jars and other containers before leaving home then if you are suddenly grabbed by the urge to fare un pic-nic, pop in and fill them up for a perfect zero-waste feast. Here are some of the some of our favourites.
Giardiniera (jar - din - air - ah) means ‘from the garden’ and originated as a means of preserving produce for the winter using brine, vinegar and/or oil. It first became popular in Chicago from the 1920s when introduced by its Italian community. Bite sized chunks of vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, onions or olives are marinated with mustard seeds, oregano or chili depending on how spicy you like it!
Try giardiniera with a selection of charcuterie, as part of a sandwich or mixed through cold rice to create a salad.
2. Mostarda di Cremona
Mostarda is a condiment made with candied fruit and a mustard essential oil syrup originating from Cremona in North Eastern Italy. The story of its discovery tells of a medieval apothecary where a piece of melon fell into a barrel of honey. Later when found, the fruit was still as fresh and fragrant as if it had just been picked and even more delicious!
After its invention, quinces or grapes were most commonly used but a variety of fruits now feature, such as cherries, figs, plums, pears and peaches.The fruits are candied whole before being immersed in the sweet, mustard syrup.
Traditionally it was served with boiled meats but now it is more commonly used as an accompaniment to cheese. Try it with some pecorino and bread. Bring a sturdy tub or screw top jar for this one, it’s very sticky.
3. Truffle honey and pecorino cheese
For the slightly more earthy palate, how about a little jar of honey with truffle to accompany your cheese. This truffle honey is made with Italian acacia honey from the Marche region and black summer truffles. Due to their strong smell and flavour, in Roman times, truffles were considered to have healing and mythical properties.
It also tastes amazing with creamy Gorgonzola.
4. Gaetas Olives
Olives have been part human diet for thousands of years. They were first cultivated by the Assyrians, who discovered that they could be eaten and used for oil.Olives are given their colour by the time at which they are picked, with black olives being those that have ripened.
These Gaetas are picked late in the harvesting season, in mid-March. They have a lovely purple tone, a satisfying bite with them and are preserved in brine, accentuating that famous olive tang. Perfect just nibbled by themselves. Sadly you can only grow olive trees from the pits of fresh olives but take them home with you, give them a clean and use to intensify the flavour of a small amount of olive oil for a few days before you use it. (Other great ideas for using up food scraps can be found here)
Foccacia is much older than pizza, about 2000 years or so! The name comes from the Latin meaning 'fireplace'. Historically it was unleavened as it would rise a little naturally within the mediteranean climate before being cooked in the ashes of the fire. In Italy, there are a lot of regional based focaccia variations. In the Veneto and South Tyrol regions the focaccia is a sweet bread, almost like a cake in the Veneto, typically served at Easter. We currently stock Rosemary and Cornish Sea Salt and Goat's Cheese and Red Onion varieties.
Slice it up to build your sandwiches or eat it more traditionally in chunks dipped in some olive oil from our refill service.
Due to its olive oil content it lasts pretty well once taken home and many types can also be frozen.
6. Preserved artichokes
I discovered the joys of carciofi pretty late in life, unlike our son who adored them on first try at 6 months from Nonna's table. Now he gets to eat them year round thanks to the preserved ones we have at the deli. Artichokes are one of the oldest vegetables to have been cultivated, even mentioned by Homer back in the 8th century BC. I often spotted preserved ones sliced up with some prosciutto in a tramezzino. These are Italian style sandwiches, said to have originated in Venice, consisting of crustless soft white bread, spread usually with mayonnaise, various fillings added then cut into triangles. Not dissimilar in fact, to an afternoon tea, school lunch box or picnic sandwich back here in the UK.
7. A charcuterie or cheese selection
Pick from a range of cheeses and cured meats, all sliced to the quantity you require and wrapped the traditional way, in paper. As a vegan alternative we recommend a Sumac and Cumin Cashew Chease. These are super fresh so need to be eaten quickly, but we are pretty sure you will have no difficulty doing so!
By the way, I did once plan a fabulous picnic in Italy complete with jars of gazpacho, marinated olives, artichoke tramezzini, cannellini dip, herb frittata and more...it rained! A proper continental flash flood kind of downpour. So we created a blanket fort complete with fairy lights and had an indoor one instead. Grab a few cushions, there's always the right moment for a good picnic!