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
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
- 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.