Picture the perfect summer al fresco meal. What do you see? A pretty location for a start, a sunny day and tasty food that’s also easy to eat – all of these ingredients add up to make a great outdoors spread.
From picnics and barbecues to a packed lunch on the beach or lunch in the park before you head back to the office, eating in the fresh air is one of the great benefits of summer.
But why does food taste better when we eat it outdoors? It might be that when we’re taken out of our usual environment, we focus more on the food itself rather than the other things that distract us when we eat indoors, whether that’s watching TV or reading online.
When we’re outdoors we tend to simplify the food we eat too – there’s no need for fancy sauces and complicated recipes when all you need are the staples of life, such as fresh bread, colourful veg and fruit and top quality meat or fish.
There’s also something about feeling a soft summer breeze on your skin that makes it the perfect appetiser, as you scoop a spoon into a tub of ice cream or bite into a simple but tasty sandwich.
The best summer food to have is the stuff you can easily eat with your hands, which is why Prosciutto di San Daniele is the perfect picnic item. You don’t need fiddly forks or added ingredients – just take a slice and eat it just like that, savouring the perfect combination of salty and sweet with no accompaniments. Or you can wrap it around a plump strawberry, pair it with slice of juicy melon or a whole fresh fig or place it between two slices of your favourite bread or atop a slice of ciabatta.
The key to summer eating outdoors is to keep everything light – stodgy food is a big no-no, so think portable and ‘finger food’ instead. Also try to prepare as much as possible at home, before you head for the great outdoors, so that when you get to your destination all you have to do is enjoy the weather and the view.
Eating al fresco, rather than yet another rushed ‘al desko’ lunch in the office, also gives you important time out from office and your day-to-day work – a screen break is also important when it comes to keeping your eyes healthy and your mind alert.
To help make your next al fresco dining experience one to remember, we’ve compiled some of our favourite picnic, beach and barbecue suggestions below.
• Say ‘salute’ with a Hugo cocktail – pronounced ‘Ugo’, this summer cocktail will add some sparkle to your summer. Pour prosecco into a large wine glass, add a dash of elderflower syrup and top with soda or sparkling water, add a slice of lime and ice cubes.
• Cool down with a grape stick – for a delicious alternative to an icy lolly or popsicle, thread large seedless red grapes onto a wooden barbecue skewer – you should be able to add around 7-8, leaving space at the bottom so you can hold it. Place skewers on a plate and place in a freezer until you’re ready to eat.
• Asparagus spears wrapped with prosciutto are a deliciously light summer side dish and a light accompaniment to heavy barbecue meats. Drizzle fresh asparagus stalks with olive oil and season with pepper, then roast in the oven. After cooking, wrap in Prosciutto di San Daniele.
• Avoid soggy salads and sandwiches by keeping dressings and ingredients with a high-water content (such as tomatoes) in a separate container until you are ready to eat.
• For a twist on a white wine spritzer, try a refreshing pre-mixed limoncello spritzer. Add a bottle of sparkling water or soda water to a jug containing the contents of one bottle of prosecco, pour in shots of limoncello to taste and lemon slices for garnish.
• Avoid the need for ice by freezing water bottles in advance – by the time you need a cool drink, the ice will have mostly frozen and the water will be ready to drink.