Picnic in a Jar
  • Prep time:

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  • Portion/Yield:

    Fills 10 x 350ml glass jars with metal clip tops (such as Kilner-type jars)
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I’m like a dog with a bone. Once I get an idea into my head I will not let it go without trying it at least once. I love this fabulous idea of a picnic in a jar. I know it’s not revolutionary as the lunchbox was invented before I even existed, but hey, it’s making me feel good!

The pasta that I use in this recipe is little pieces of pasta called orzo pasta. It’s now regularly available from most supermarkets, but a few years ago that was not the case. When on holiday in other countries, Mr. P and I like to visit their supermarkets to look for unusual ingredients that we might not get here. We brought a packet of orzo pasta back from the Greek island of Santorini a few years ago and learned the lesson that you can find culinary inspiration wherever you go.

This recipe is perfect for a picnic (or lunch boxes) and al fresco dining, so simply pack it all in jars, take some spoons and enjoy it with your friends!photo of Picnic in a Jar

photo of Picnic in a Jar

Ingredients & Method

For the meatballs

  • 1 slice white or wholemeal bread
  • 50ml milk
  • 350g lean minced beef
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed soft herbs (such as parsley, chervil and oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the pasta and roasted tomato salad

  • 600g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 orange peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200g orzo pasta (or use any small pasta of your choice)
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons Roasted Tomato Mayonnaise (see recipe below)

For the roasted tomato mayonnaise

  • 100g roasted tomato mixture (from the salad recipe above)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon creamed horseradish
  • 200ml sunflower oil or groundnut oil

To serve

  • 200g feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons pitted kalamata olives, chopped

First, make the meatballs. Place the bread in a shallow dish, pour over the milk and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. Place the soaked bread, minced beef and all the remaining ingredients for the meatballs, except the sunflower oil, in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. I like to get my hands dirty so give it all a good mix together using your hands. Divide the meatball mixture into 30 equal portions, then roll each portion into a walnut-sized ball. Place the meatballs on a large plate and leave them to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large, non-stick frying pan until hot, then pan-fry the meatballs over a medium heat for 12–14 minutes or until golden brown all over and cooked through, carefully turning them regularly (see Cook’s Notes). Remove the cooked meatballs to a plate and leave to cool completely. Once cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Next, prepare the pasta and roasted tomato salad. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Put the tomatoes, peppers, chillies, tomato purée, balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic and bay leaves in a deep casserole and mix together. Cover and roast in the oven for 50 minutes or until the mixture is reduced, glossy and a deep red colour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely, then weigh out 100g of the mixture for the mayonnaise and keep it separate. Refrigerate both portions of the roasted tomato salad.

Cook the orzo pasta in a pan of boiling salted water for 8–10 minutes or until cooked or al dente. Drain, refresh in cold water, then drain again. Toss the cold pasta in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Put the cold pasta in a bowl, add the spring onions, coriander, lemon zest and juice and the chilled roasted tomato salad mixture and mix well, then set aside at room temperature while you make the mayonnaise.

Make the roasted tomato mayonnaise. Put the reserved 100g roasted tomato mixture, the egg yolks, mustard, horseradish and salt and pepper in a small blender and blend together until smooth. With the motor running, gradually and slowly add the sunflower oil until the mixture forms an emulsion and the mayonnaise is thick. If the mayonnaise becomes a bit too thick before you have added all the oil, whisk in 1 tablespoon hot water, then continue slowly adding the oil until it is all incorporated. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Measure 4 tablespoons of the roasted tomato mayonnaise, add it to the pasta and roasted tomato salad and toss to mix.

To assemble the picnic pots, divide the pasta and roasted tomato salad evenly between ten 350ml glass jars with metal clip tops (such as Kilner-type jars), filling each one about half full. Place 3 cold cooked meatballs into each jar, then to finish, crumble the feta cheese over the meatballs and top with a sprinkling of the pine nuts and olives. Finish each portion with a small dollop of the roasted tomato mayonnaise, then cover the jars and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 days. Take the filled picnic pots along with you on a picnic or serve instead of packed lunches, remembering to pack teaspoons or small forks and a few napkins for serving.

Cook’s Notes

Instead of pan-frying the meatballs, place them on a large baking tray in a single layer and roast in a preheated oven at 200°C/Gas Mark 6 for 12–14 minutes or until cooked and golden brown. Cool, then refrigerate, as directed.

Put any remaining roasted tomato mayonnaise into an airtight container, store in the fridge and use within 3 days. Combine the leftover mayonnaise with cold cooked peeled prawns and use as a filling for a sandwich, or toss the mayonnaise with cold cooked new potatoes and serve with slices of cold cooked ham, hard-boiled eggs and some cheese for a light lunch or supper.