Picnic Loaf

A picnic loaf was featured on the BBC bread baking programme of Paul Hollywood, and shortly after that James Martin also prepared a picnic loaf in Saturday Kitchen (also a BBC tv programme). Both looked very delicious, but it took me quite a while to make one for myself. It is a variation on pan bagna, a speciality from Nice (France), where they fill bread with a nicoise salad (tomato, onion, anchovies, boiled eggs, olives, paprika, tuna, artichoke hearts and olive oil). But where the vegetables are raw in a pan bagna, they are grilled in this recipe, which gives the bread extra flavour and a really nice texture. If you’re not a fan of chicken, you could use canned tuna instead.

The bread can serve up to 8 people as lunch, especially if you also serve some other dishes. Because the bread is very sturdy (you pack it full with all the ingredients and then wrap it tightly with cling film) and can be made a day in advance, it is also great for picnics… hence the name. But it is also delicious as dinner, accompany the bread with a salad and it will serve 4 generously.

Of course you will have a lot of bread crumbs left after hollowing out the bread. A great way to use this is frying it in some butter, combining it with roasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts and then sprinkling it over a salad. Add a slice of pate and you have a light and delicious summer meal.

Picnic Bread

Picnic Loaf (serves 4-8)
Slightly adapted from James Martin in Saturday Kitchen

For the pesto
60 g basil leaves
50 g pine nuts
50 g parmesan
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
75-125 ml extra virgin olive oil

For the loaf
2 red paprikas
2 yellow paprikas
2 courgettes
1-2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large red onion
2 chicken breasts
2 balls buffalo mozzarella
1 beef tomato
1 large round loaf (23cm)

Note: to make a small version as on the photo, use half of all the ingredients. It will fill 2 Italian buns and will leave you with some extra vegetables on the side. This will feed two persons very generously.

Slice the paprikas in two, place skin side up in an oven dish and place under a very hot oven grill until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft. Cover and set aside.
Slice the courgettes in long, thin strips. Place in an oven dish, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut the red onion in chunks, place in an oven dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper (alternatively you can slice the onion thinly and leave it raw). Place the courgette and onion in the hot oven until nicely cooked/grilled.
Heat a skillet on high heat. Place the chicken breasts in the hot pan, leave on one side until golden, then turn over and leave until the other side is golden as well. Turn the heat down, place a lid on the skillet and leave until cooked. Set aside for a few minutes to rest, then cut into thin slices and season with salt and pepper.
Cut the mozzarella in thick slices and tomato in thin slices.
Make the pesto. Some people just throw all ingredients in the food processor and then gradually add oil, but I like to do it in an pestle and mortar. Start by roasting the pine nuts, I like them quite brown to give the pesto an extra nutty flavour, but make sure you roast them on medium low heat, toss them regularly and keep an eye on them: pine nuts burn in seconds, which makes them black and inedible. Meanwhile (while keeping an eye on the pine nuts!) peel the garlic, place in the mortar and pestle, add the sea salt and crush until it is a fine paste. Add the roasted pine nuts (while they are still hot, this will take the harshness of the garlic) and crush until it is a fine paste. Add the basil leaves and crush again. Then grate in the parmesan cheese and mix well. Add the oil in a thin stream while mixing, add enough to thin the pesto to a medium paste. Taste: sometimes it needs a little more salt, basil, cheese or oil.
Slice off the top of the loaf of bread. Hollow out the loaf by scooping out the soft bread, leaving 3cm of bread around the edge. Smear pesto all over the inside. Fill the hollow loaf with layers of the peppers, chicken, red onion, courgettes, mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto, pressing it down in between to fill the bread as full as possible. Place the lid of the loaf back on and push down, you can wrap it in cling film and leave overnight or slice straight away. To serve, slice the loaf and place on serving plates.

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