Al fresco dinners: picnic meal ideas

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Nothing signals the height of summer like al fresco dining – there’s something so simple yet exciting about stretching out on a blanket in the park under the sun and enjoying a picnic.

Take advantage of the best of the British weather while it’s here and plan a picnic – to help you put together a gourmet feast, we’ve put together a list of delicious foods that are quick to prepare and easy to serve.

Planning the menu

Whatever you serve, picnics work best when you get the logistics right. Think about who will be joining you and where you’ll be eating – what you pack for a lunch in the park with your grandchildren will be different than a more sophisticated soiree in your back garden with friends.

How you’ll serve everything is important – pack a few plastic plates and cups and plenty of napkins, plus any other cutlery you might need. The simplest way to do a picnic is by eating with your hands, so choose a menu that’s easy for people to snack on.

Filling mains

  • Roast chicken – Cold chicken is a classic summer treat and one that’s easy to make ahead and serve later. Roast a whole chicken the day before your picnic and let it cool – you can carve and pack into a Tupperware for sandwiches or salad. Take it up a notch by making fried or breaded chicken instead; the crunchy skin will make it a flavourful dish even when served cold.
  • Filled rolls – Sandwiches are a classic picnic meal and will please just about everyone. This one couldn’t be easier; pack a few rolls and make your filling ahead. When you’re ready to eat, cut open the rolls and slater on your fillings. Simple doesn’t need to mean boring – curried chicken is a familiar and flavourful, while a lobster roll is a decadent summer treat. 
  • Savoury palmiers – This one is perfect for both adults and children. Savoury palmiers are easy to make and look impressive too – all you need is your choice of filling and a few sheets of puff pastry. Need inspiration? This smoked salmon palmiers recipe is one of our favourites, as well as this savoury palmiers recipe from Ina Garten.

Delicious sides 

  • Salsa and guacamole – Salsa and guacamole is a great side dish for an al fresco dinner. You can buy these dips fresh from your local store or make them ahead at home, and when served with tortilla chips they don’t need any utensils – perfect for when you want to keep the clean up to a minimum.
  • Corn on the cob – If you’re planning a picnic with your grandchildren, corn is a great way to go. Cut the cobs in half and cook ahead on the stove and let cool. For an even more creative take, sprinkle spices over the corn and cook them on the grill instead.
  • Melon and prosciutto – These two simple Italian flavours taste perfect together and are easier than easy to prepare. Pick up a few slices of good-quality prosciutto from your local grocery store or deli. Cut your melon into long wedges and wrap each in one piece of prosciutto – pack them up and you’re ready to go!
  • Asparagus cigars – Healthy, savoury and delicious, these asparagus cigars are quick and easy to make ahead and are the perfect sophisticated finger food. Find the recipe here.

Simple salads

  • Pasta salad –Pasta Salad is a fuss-free summer dinner and a great dish to serve up at your next picnic. This Greek Pasta Salad recipe from Good Housekeeping is incredibly simple to make and will bring all the flavours of the Mediterranean right to your own backyard. 
  • Couscous salad – BBC Good Food’s 10-minute couscous salad recipe is great as both a side and a main. It’s easy to make ahead and serve later, and tastes great whether served warm, chilled or at room temperature.
  • Moroccan carrot salad – Spicy, fresh and satisfying, this Moroccan carrot salad recipe is the perfect make-ahead picnic salad.

What are your favourite picnic dishes?

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Silversurfers Features Editor

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