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.

 

CHICKPEA FLATBREADS WITH CHESTNUT MUSHROOMS, SMOKED MOZZARELLA AND TRUFFLE OIL

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.

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

  5. 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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