Outdoor entertaining Moro-style
With hopefully a few weeks of summer to eke out, I got thinking about how to manage outdoor cooking and eating in a more effortless and stylish way than I have in the past.
When the sun suddenly shines and I decide to throw an impromptu barbecue, it's often the same food that I reach for – sausages, whole mackerel, courgettes halved lengthways and brushed with olive oil; all fine food but it's time for something new.
So who better to ask than Sam and Sam Clark of award-winning restaurant Moro in London? They will be cooking at this weekend’s Wilderness Festival where food is arguably the headlining act (the line-up of chefs also includes Yottam Ottolenghi, Fergus Henderson and Valentine Warner).
Not only are they facing the challenge of cooking for around a thousand hungry and discerning festival-goers on barbecues, they also have a vast experience of outdoor cooking – from a three-month culinary honeymoon spent driving their campervan through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara, to the numerous feasts they cooked on their allotment immortalised in their third book, Moro East.
Sam(antha) Clark shared her tips for eating in the great outdoors as inspired by their travels. "Food seems to taste better outside,” she says. "On Sunday in Spain there is a great tradition of driving to the countryside (campo) to have a picnic. Most natural parks provide permanent barbecues to cook on."
"Keep it seasonal and simple but with fresh, bold flavours. We often cook paella outside for large parties; there is a bit of theatre involved that is a talking point of the party and when ready, it looks stunning."
The Moro team will be using two simple drum barbecues to recreate the flavours of Moro in the wilds of Oxfordshire; but they've even been known to use an old wheelbarrow. After stumbling upon an abandoned one with a flat tyre at their allotment, they couldn't resist turning it into an impromptu grill to prepare Mechouia, a Tunisian dish of smoky-grilled vegetables scented with spices.
So whether you have a barbecue, fire pit, or even an old wheelbarrow, you're halfway there. Sam says: "marinated lamb chops on a barbecue work brilliantly. Finish with ground cumin and paprika and a wedge of lemon like we serve at our tapas bar Morito".
If you have time, marinate the lamb for up to 24 hours. Moro's classic marinade for lamb and chicken is a potent mixture of garlic, lemon, hot and sweet smoked paprikas, ground cumin and olive oil. The smoky notes of the paprika mingle with smoke from the barbecue to give an intense flavour.
Cook in/eat out
Another approach is to prepare as much as you can in advance, using the reliable and controlled environment of your kitchen. Choose dishes that will hold well, such as a selection of mezze or tapas; perhaps white bean or beetroot hummus, or roasted vegetable salad served at room temperature.
Sam Clark is a little more ambitious: "the food I would most like to eat at an outdoor party would be a whole sea trout or sea bass baked in salt with new potatoes, green mayonnaise, young broad beans from the garden and samphire."
If podding broad beans seems like too much work, pile them up in the centre of the table and empower guests to pod their own. Add a young pecorino cheese for a Tuscan touch, or some slices of Iberico ham the way the Clarks encountered it in Spain. "We can't think of any better early-summer lunch than chatting while podding the sweet young beans and eating them with mouthfuls and jamon and a glass of cold fino," they wrote in Moro East.
Picnics or camping
"If it's for a picnic, or to take camping, a tortilla works really well," says Sam, "try a simple one with caramelised onions and potato, or be more seasonal with courgettes and a bit of fresh mint." This also goes well served with a few slices of jamón, or make it go further by serving thick slices in white country-style bread or a baguette. An impromptu pudding of fresh strawberries doused in sweet wine such as Moscatel makes a transportable yet decadent dessert.
And finally, don't forget the setting. Moro will be serving their feasts in a "glorious technicolour berber marquee". If this sounds a little beyond your own one-man tent then you can still add a pinch of Moorish magic. Burn tealights in Moroccan glasses, dump the paper plates in favour of some good china and proper cutlery, or forget plates altogether and use flatbreads warmed over the coals instead. Serve chilled glasses of dry sherry or fresh mint tea made with water from your camping kettle, stare into the dying embers of your portable barbecue and allow the scent of burning coals to transport you to distant lands.
What do you make for al fresco dining? Any great tips on recipes, table settings or camping strategies?