It's summer time... and more reason than ever to have a picnic! Not that I don't enjoy clever dishes that travel well throughout the entire year, no: I take much pleasure in piste-side meals in and outside chalets, and for poor old me, who is not too keen a swimmer, the beach is just as attractive in the winter as in the summer. Who hasn't had potato & leek or gulyas soup out of a thermos flask before? Well, if you haven't, promise you'll try it! (My father will also always carry a flask of something a wee bit stronger in his skiing jacket - don't try that if you're under age, of course!)
At the danger of sounding repetitive, we Austrians don't tend to do picnics all that often. You might think this is due to the weather, but if you thought Austria was cold, think again! In winter, maybe (but not even nearly enough to give us the length of skiing season we used to have as little kids), but the summers are often swelteringly hot (I am holidaying here at the moment and the past few days, the thermometer hasn't dropped below 35 C!). I don't quite know what the reason is, but the only "picnics" I remember are bread rolls stuffed with cold meats, cheese and cornichons when we stopped en route to Italy, most probably taking advantage of a seemingly endless traffic jam at (or rather 50 km before) the border to Italy, or lake-side lunches out of a cool box, most likely consisting of Wurstsalat, assorted breads and water melon. On other occasions, we would escape the inevitable queues of cars trying to reach the motorways after a hot summer weekend returning from the lakes of the beautiful Salzkammergut and enjoy some freshly caught fish barbecued on a stick or some fillet of smoked trout or Reinanke with potato salad.
Since then, I have become a great fan of picnics, getting addicted to those quintessentially British traditions like the Royal Regatta at Henley, a proper Polo Match at Ham, the great picnic concerts etc and to be honest, ever since we moved and enjoy a beautiful garden, the kids ask to have a picnic under the apple trees at least once a week. It goes without saying that in all this time, I have tried various picnic foods, from quiches to finger food, muffuletta, pastrami bagels and Jaegerwecken. Various times I have tried to take along salads, like melon & prosciutto or peach, spinach & blue cheese, but nothing transports quite as well as my version of the Waldorf salad and this recipe here: my Mum's (even though she insists she only ever made it once and I heavily adapted it) pasta salad with ham, cheese and apples. It sounds like a weird combination at first and I don't know if nostalgia is confusing my palate, but I love this salad, not only because it tastes even better if you prepare it the night before... and god knows how I love to sleep in!
PS: Don't forgat you've got almost two weeks to submit your entry to Waiter, there's something in my... picnic basket! I can't wait to receive your contribution!
Pasta salad with ham, cheese and apples
500 g maccaroni pasta
1 medium red onion
200 g cooked and smoked ham (like Brunswick ham or any prosciutto cotto)
200 g gruyère or emmental cheese
75 g cornichons or cocktail gherkins
1 large apple (preferably crisp and slightly sour)
3 tbsp brine from the cornichons
2 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
3 heaped tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 handful parsley leaves
salt & freshly cracked pepper to season
Cooked the maccaroni to packet instructions, then cool in ice water and drain thoroughly.
Chop the red onion finely. Cut the ham and cheese into tiny cubes/squares. Finely chop the cornichons.
Wash and core the apple, cut it into ca. 20 wedges, then slice finely cross-wise. Roughly chop the parsley.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, leave to stand in the fridge for at least an hour. Season to taste.
Can be prepared the night before for maximum development of flavours.