Picnic in the Fourth Dimension

There’s a plant that explodes into life in Oxford’s Uni­ver­sity Parks each year that, for me, sounds the klax­on for spring. It far out­strips me in size and its shock of yel­low, sprout­ing branches, shoot­ing wildly from a car­pet of blue flowers, is so joy­ously absurd that every­one stops to stare.

Its start­ling col­ours and eccent­ric shape always remind me of the work of Joan Miro. ‘For me, an object is alive’, the Span­ish artist once said. ‘I see a tree, I get a shock, as if it were some­thing breath­ing, talk­ing. A tree too is some­thing human…’ Miro would have liked this crazy hair-cut of a plant. I feel sure it would have helped him with his work on the appar­ently impossible notion of four-dimen­sion­al art, since it’s a plant with just too much life, too much exuber­ance to be trapped by only three dimen­sions.

Being some­thing of a pic­nic-obsess­ive, the flower­ing of what I think of as the ‘Miro plant’ is my sig­nal for meals out­side (although winter often brings good pic­nic oppor­tun­it­ies too, for the thick-coat own­er). I have a long rep­er­toire of pic­nic recipes by now. But I’ve just devised this new one, in cel­eb­ra­tion of the Miro plant’s arrival.



Serves 4

For the flat­breads

  • 130g chick­pea or gram flour
  • 280ml water
  • 1/2 tea­spoon salt
  • 1 1/2 table­spoons olive oil

For the top­ping

  • 500g chest­nut mush­rooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves gar­lic, crushed
  • Hand­ful fresh thyme leaves
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Knob of but­ter
  • Season­ing
  • Trickle of truffle oil
  • 1 ball of smoked moz­zarella (plain moz­zarella is good too, if you’re stuck)

Make the flat­bread bat­ter by whisk­ing all the ingredi­ents togeth­er and allow­ing to rest for at least two hours, or overnight if your prefer, covered. The mix­ture will make six flat­breads — two left over for the sug­ges­tion at the bot­tom of this recipe.

Heat a small, non stick fry­ing pan/skillet on the hob until hot. Ladle in a spoon­ful of bat­ter — about 1/6th of your mix­ture and enough to coat the pan — and cook on a high heat for 2 minutes, until the bot­tom of the flat­bread has browned nicely. Flip it over with a spat­ula and cook the oth­er side for a fur­ther one to two minutes. Repeat until you’ve used up all the bat­ter. Stack up the flat­breads and turn to the mush­rooms.

Melt the but­ter with the olive oil in a large fry­ing pan over a medi­um heat. Add the mush­rooms, gar­lic, thyme and season­ing and cook until the mush­rooms are softly golden. Remove from the heat.

When ready to assemble your flat­breads, pre­heat your grill. Slice the smoked moz­zarella and divide between the four flat­breads. Divide the mush­rooms evenly too and pile on top of the moz­zarella — you can do this neatly or cas­u­ally, whichever meth­od suits your patience and your aes­thet­ics. Place the breads on a grill pan and grill until the moz­zarella has become mol­ten. Remove from the heat and trickle over a little truffle oil. Either eat them in the warmth of your kit­chen, or fold them over and wrap them up ready for your pic­nic.

You will have two flat­breads left over — these are good spread with hum­ous. They’re also deli­cious if you dip pieces into a little olive oil and then dab them into a mix­ture of crushed pista­chios, cumin, sumac and salt.

Joan Miro was both invent­ive and revolu­tion­ary. He once said of his art that ‘the more loc­al some­thing is, the more it is uni­ver­sal’. The man who brought us sear­ingly vivid litho­graphs, tapestries, paint­ings and sculp­tures also, as it turned out, devised the most per­fect man­tra for eat­ing too. Loc­al equals uni­ver­sal. Bril­liant.

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23 thoughts on “Picnic in the Fourth Dimension

  1. I want to eat that right now. Is it a ver­sion of socca? My loc­al Tesco sells big bags of gram flour which I’ve used to make bha­jis. I think I’ll invest in anoth­er bag, my kids will love these (minus the mush­rooms).

    • It’s a kind of socca, although I think socca is usu­ally grilled or broiled rather than cooked on the hob. Would your chil­dren eat sweet red pep­pers, cooked with gar­lic? They would be good with the flat­breads and moz­zarella too.

          • Made these tonight Charlie to great acclaim. Have put them on my blog and linked here- hope that’s ok. Many thanks for a fab­ulous recipe.

          • That’s really great to hear, Sue — I’m delighted. And it’s won­der­ful to see your new top­ping for them. Per­fect.

  2. So true that it is ever more import­ant to grow our food loc­ally, I think Joan Miro nailed that right on the head. And this truly does look great Charlie. As always I will be pop­ping off to the super­mar­ket to get my sup­plies!

    • As a strug­gling artist, Miro was so poor that it was said his paint­ings res­ul­ted from the hal­lu­cin­a­tions brought on by hun­ger. He would prob­ably have eaten any­thing he could find. But I do like his concept, don’t you? He used the phrase with ref­er­ence to his quest for anonym­ity in paint­ing, but I think it applies to so many oth­er things too.

  3. I’ve meant to make chick­pea bread for a long time but I think these pan­cakes are even nicer espe­cially with the mush­rooms. Also like the idea of a fried egg (although not on a pic­nic!)
    Must reaquaint myself with the works of Miro — great man­tra for food or life.

  4. The lovely shot of the yel­low wil­lows and blue­bells is a bonus lead­ing to the great pic­tures of what looks like a bonus for pic­nics. The flat­breads look deli­cious whatever you put on them — what about sliced auber­gines? Per­haps not so good cold.
    I wouldn’t have made the link with Miro but I see your allu­sion — col­our­ful and swirly. For some reas­on I think red and black in par­tic­u­lar, the black being cal­li­graph­ic, when I think of Miro. I think I would go for Van Gogh: he liked yel­low and was pretty swirly. Great post.

    • You’re abso­lutely right about the red and black, but also canary yel­low and sky blue. Miro always said he was bril­liant with col­our but hope­less with form — he felt he could only get shapes right by clos­ing his eyes and ima­gin­ing how things would feel. I love the idea of him wrest­ling in the flower­bed with that Oxford plant to get the shape right.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post . The won­der­ful thing about the chick­pea flat­breads is that they go with so many things — I’m sure auber­gine would be great too.

  5. Anoth­er use of truffle oil to take into account. I usu­ally add it to pizza or pasta, not very excit­ing. Love your pho­tos, they are works of art.

    • I’m so glad if you think so — thank you very much. I adore truffle oil — v good on celeri­ac soup too, I think

  6. Oh CHARLIE! I am now in the grip of such desire for these… I think it was the smoked moz­zarella and the truffle oil that did me in. Fas­cin­ated that the flat­breads are so easy to make — def­in­itely going to have to try those. In any avail­able dimen­sion 😉

    • They’re ridicu­lously easy to make, Jeanne — the whole recipe is. It’s one of those cre­ations that looks tricky but can be made — and eaten — in a flash.

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