Sunday, 7 June 2009

My perfect date

When I was sixteen, studying for my A-levels, and at my most hopelessly romantic, my perfect date would have been a tasty picnic in a beautiful park with a handsome man, followed by a trip to the theatre to watch a Shakespeare comedy, finished up with a stroll home together in the moonlight. Last night I had exactly that. Twenty years late, but totally worth the wait!

G bought us tickets to go and see Much Ado About Nothing at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. I'd not heard of the Open Air Theatre before but I found out that it has been a London institution since 1932. The theatre opens its doors a couple of hours before the show starts and encourages you to picnic in the beautiful gardens beforehand.
We ate our picnic, and drank our wine, in a beautiful glade, dotted with picnic benches and with fairy lights and flags strung beneath the trees. It felt magical and other-worldly. When it was time for the play to start we crept through the trees to the amphitheatre and settled down with the rest of our wine and a blanket over our knees.
Much Ado is one of my favourite of Shakespeare's plays - so many of the lines were familiar and remembered, nearly two decades after I studied them at school. The production at the Open Air Theatre is a fizzy, funny, romantic romp - perfect for a summer's evening and the outdoor setting.
The play started in the evening sunshine and ended in the dark. We walked back to the tube through Regent's Park - a romantic, low-lit stroll together, chatting about the play and trying to remember all the great one-liners that came so thick and fast all evening.
We had brought our own picnic and wine with us, although you could buy food and drink there. I love picnics and I always keep them simple. I bought a good, big, wedge of ripe brie, some handmade scotch eggs and some crusty rolls from our local deli and then made my favourite lentil salad to go with it. Lentil salad is fantastic picnic food - filling, tasty and best served at room temperature. This is the recipe I always make, based on one in an old Pret A Manger cookbook published in 1996. You need the nutty, brown-black little puy lentils for this - not the orange or green ones that get mushy when they are cooked.
Picnic Perfect Lentil Salad
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 4 cloves
  • good big pinch each of thyme and rosemary
  • butter or olive oil for cooking
  • 150g puy lentils
  • 300ml vegetable stock

For the dressing

  • 1 and a half tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard - any sort
  • pinch each of salt and pepper

Peel the carrot, garlic and onion; top and tail the stick of celery. Put all the vegetables into a food processor and blitz for ten seconds or so until finely chopped. Tip the mixture into a large, heavy based saucepan and add a slug of olive oil or a knob of butter. Snip the bacon into tiny pieces and add to the pan along with the cloves and herbs.

Fry gently until the onion and celery start to become translucent. Turn the heat up a little and add the lentils. Stir well so that they are coated with the butter or oil. Add the stock, put a lid on the pan, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked and the stock is nearly absorbed, but there is still a bit of liquid in the pan. These lentils will still have a chewy texture but they should not be hard.

Remove from the heat and add the dressing ingredients to the pan. Stir to combine, and serve at room temperature.

In the last few years we have done more camping than picnics in the park. Our picnic ware is therefore very practical and durable. The only thing that could have made the whole evening more perfect would have been if I'd made a picnic set, like this one in the first issue of the new SEW magazine. I really love that bottle carrier!


  1. I saw Midsummer Night's Dream there about 15 years ago - I had forgotten about it until you posted but now I remember it as a fabulous, magical evening. I'm glad you had fun too!

  2. what a fabulously romantic evening! and your recipe is making my mouth water. I am definitely going to try that in the next few days. I have never been to open air theatre, only concerts. One in an arboretum and one in Hyde park. Both were lovely summery picnic occassions too. Lovely things to do.x

  3. That sounds fantastic - both the play and the lentils!

  4. how wonderfully romantic, and utterly delicious sounding xox


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