For many years I spent summers sailing along the coastlines of Normandy and Brittany. Our boat could house quite a few of us, but cooking on board was reduced to hot chocolates and coffee at breakfast and jambon beurre sandwiches if the wind or tides did not take us into harbour in time for lunch or dinner. Sometimes, we would pick up mussels, oysters or crab and have a simple feast on board, but generally, it felt as if the boat’s main purpose was to sail us pleasantly from one harbour bistro or crêperie to the next.
When I crewed for a summer on a large ketch in the Eastern Mediterranean, the galley was run as a tiny but supremely busy restaurant, feeding four crew members and up to ten guests at any one time. Our biggest daily headache was not the catering, but generating enough electricity to keep the wine chilled in various locations around the boat, and the freezers freezing. But what an education it was, food shopping with the chef, Pascale (my part was mostly translating her French and lugging her bags and boxes), from boats and markets in Corsica, Sardinia, Greece, Turkey and on what seemed like every small island in between.
Entertaining guests on a boat, beach, poolside or simply taking the family on a picnic, can at times require what feels like similarly large scale planning and logistics. At the risk of sounding like a certain Pippa – formerly Middleton – with my party truisms, firstly, unless you have Out of Africa-type staff to administer to your china, crystal and silver, you will need a set of unbreakable, or at least properly recyclable, kit. Next priority, keeping as much of the food and drink as cool as possible. If your fridge and freezer are out of reach, make sure you have an adequate cool box to hand, or a tub or bucket full of ice. Freeze your drinks (not wine!) in reusable plastic, then have them act as cooling elements for the food, particularly if you have a long way to travel. The important thing is always to start with these practical considerations, thinking through every detail like a TV food shoot director, and then work backwards to your menu.
As far as the food is concerned, do most of the work for your guests beforehand – and I’m not talking about a Caesar or Niçoise self-assembly line, housed in half a dozen tupperwares. No, with a little thought and preparation, your ready-to-serve salads will be multi-ingredient, special-requirement friendly delights, your sandwiches and other finger-foodlets varied and quirky and your drinks both chilled and garnished.
Most of all, let this summer be your Summer of Veg, preferably raw. If you’re at home in the garden or by the pool, forget the smoky, fussy barbecue, and all the power-struggle arguments it regularly generates. If you are on a boat (but perhaps not in a regatta) no need to cook, take everything up on deck and start chopping before the gulls spot you.
And for your moveable feasts, this year, make them vegetarian with a little vegan thrown in. Save the calorie intake for the perfectly chilled rosé spritzers, and do your bit to protect the beauty of our Irish outdoors as it becomes your dining room for the most convivial months of the year.
Somewhere between our good old poached salmon salad and a true Niçoise, this is filling enough to stand in for more meaty mains, and the colours are beautiful.
For 6-8. 30 minutes cooking and preparation. 1 hour cooling/chilling
400g salmon fillet • 250g small new potatoes • 100g green beans • 4 eggs • 2 heads Little Gem • A dozen or so cherry tomatoes • 4 tbsps small black olives
For the dressing
1 tbsp lemon juice • 1 tsp Dijon mustard • 4 tbsps olive oil • 2 anchovy filets crushed into a rough paste • 1 small shallot, finely chopped • Pepper
1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Place the salmon fillet on a baking sheet or ovenproof dish, season with salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes or so. The centre should still be slightly opalescent. Leave to cool, then chill.
2. Steam the potatoes and the green beans, leave to cool.
3. Boil the eggs for 6 minutes, plunge into cold water and peel. Leave to cool, then chill.
4. Cut the tomatoes in half.
5. Take the leaves from the Little Gem, wash and dry them thoroughly.
6. Whisk the lemon juice with the mustard then add the oil very slowly, whisking as you go, to emulsify. And the anchovies and shallot while you are whisking. Add a little black pepper if needs be.
7. Assemble the salad by tossing the leaves, tomatoes, potatoes and beans in half of the dressing. Place it on a platter or in a shallow box for transporting. Pull the salmon into chunks with a fork. Cut the eggs in half and arrange with the pieces of salmon. Top with the olives and drizzle with the rest of the dressing, or pour it into something which closes tightly to bring along on the picnic.
A true summer lifesaver, easy to make and transport, excellent half-frozen and served as a cooling, spicy green slush. Switch in silken tofu (halve the quantity) for the yoghurt in a vegan version.
For 6-8. 20 minutes preparation. 2 – 3 hours chilling
3 or 4 scallions, washed and chopped • 2 green apples, rinsed and chopped into rough chunks • 1 cucumber, rinsed and chopped into rough chunks • Juice and zest of 1 lime • 2 tbsps chopped fresh basil • 1 tbsp chopped, fresh mint • 2 tbsps chopped fresh flatleaf parsley • 20g fresh ginger, peeled • 1 small garlic clove, peeled • 1/2 green chili (optional) chopped finely • 100g stale focaccia or ciabatta, torn into 2cm chunks • 3 or 4 tbsps olive oil • 200g plain Greek yoghurt • Salt and pepper
1. Toss half of the yoghurt and the oil with all the other ingredients together in a large bowl and leave to infuse for two to three hours.
2. Blitz in a blender until very smooth. Season well and adjust the consistency with yoghurt, oil and water then chill until extremely cold, or freeze.
3. To serve, garnish with more fresh herbs, olive oil and yoghurt. You could also top with fried ciabatta croutons.
Melon and feta salad with rhubarb and radish
Again, the colours here are fantastic, and the combination of sweet, crunchy, creamy, salty and sour is unbeatable.
For 6. 25 minutes preparation
1 canteloupe melon • 1 large slice of watermelon (about 300g) • 250g good feta cheese • 1 medium stick of rhubarb • 8 radishes, topped and tailed • Good olive oil • Salt and pepper • Fresh basil
1. Peel the canteloupe melon and slice the flesh thinly. Cut the watermelon and feta into cubes or small chunks.
2. Dice the radishes and rhubarb very finely then toss them in olive oil and season.
3. Arrange the melon on a dish or in a shallow container. Garnish with the rhubarb and radishes and a few fresh basil leaves.
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