Let’s talk about lunch: Sunday lunch. We had roast veal and crispy rosemary potatoes. I made a spring vegetable tart – which depending on where in the world you’re from, you might prefer to call a ‘quiche’, but basically is buttery pastry with a comforting egg-y, creamy filling. Threw together a cold salad of garden peas, barely blanched and drenched in grassy olive oil, then tossed with sprigs of fresh mint, tarragon and chunks of roughly chopped almonds. We had bread from the baker – a soft, pillowy, salty focaccia, covered in caramelised fennel, and a second loaf topped with finely sliced potatoes and heaps of rosemary (one of those odd Italian breads that you feel shouldn’t work but somehow really do). And then, of course, we had pudding: a simple ricotta cake, and a plate of frozen summer berries smothered in white chocolate sauce laced with golden saffron. We lingered on at the dining table into what you might charitably call late afternoon but really qualified as something closer to early evening – and it was bliss. In that way that somehow only Sunday lunches, spent in the company of good friends, can be.
There is so much we need to catch up on, so much to tell; and it is so very long since I wrote last, that I bow my head in an uncomfortable mingling of shame and guilt. I have many excuses and yet I have no excuse. But I’m sorry it’s been such a while, I miss it here and I will write more. All of which leads me to: let’s talk about lunch.
I don’t know if you are too, but I am one of these people who, given the choice, would choose lunch over dinner everyday. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good dinner, be it in party form or a-plate-of-pasta-con-pesto-kitchen-supper. But lunch is so very relaxing; it has a seductive way of stretching out through the day, and Sunday lunch particularly so. In a world that never seems to stop, taking a full day to enjoy a meal is one of the greatest of luxuries – yet, joyfully, also one of the simplest.
Of course, your Sunday lunch needn’t look like mine, it needn’t take all day. That’s mostly just a me-thing: I enjoy being in the kitchen, it remains when all else crumbles around me – my happy place, when life feels breezy – my happier-still place; and I indulge myself by lingering there. But food tastes just as good when it’s fast; and lunch, hastily thrown together, is no less enjoyable for and every bit as appreciated by those gathered to eat it.
The recipes here are simple and easy, and would do equally well for lunch or dinner, rushed or lazy. My only insistence that you take the time to make the pastry for the Spring vegetable tart from scratch: only because it’s a (Nigel Slater) recipe that I have fallen somewhat head over heels for; it tastes so very, very good and towers so very tall over any other pastry I have ever had before – that I believe it to be well and beyond worth the little effort required for its making. And I do not say that lightly.
To go with the meat and the Spring greens and to finish the meal off, try this recipe for orange blossom ricotta cake – which I contributed to the Sunday Times what feels like a million moons ago now and which, tellingly, still remains a beloved favourite in our kitchen.
Torta Salata alla Primavera
Spring Vegetable Tart
So-called because I make it with a verdant mix of fresh green vegetables, just like a Risotto alla Primavera which we eat in copious quantities at this time of year. I made this tart with asparagus, peas, zucchine and I laid my hands on some beautiful saffron hued zucchine flowers, which are so delicate both in flavour and appearance, but are far from integral for the success of the tart – so do leave them out if you can’t find them. I was still indulging in leftovers for this some two days after it was first baked.
FOR THE PASTRY
300g plain flour
180g chilled butter
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A very generous pinch of fine salt
2 egg yolks
FOR THE FILLING
10 asparagus spears
1 medium sized zucchine
150g garden peas
8-10 zucchine blossoms
500ml double cream
60g grated parmesan
First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, roughly chop the butter into small pieces and, using your thumb and forefinger, rub it into the flour until you have the consistency of coarse sand. Add the pepper and the salt, and stir with a wooden spoon, until well combined. Crack in the egg yolks and use your hands to bring the dough together. If it feels too dry and crumbly, add 2-3 tbsp of cold water. You want to bring the mixture to be a smooth, pliable dough. Roll it into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 mins.
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to the boil on a medium heat. Trim the asparagus by bending the stalks – you will find that they snap at exactly the point where tough stalk meets tender spear; then cut the asparagus into short lengths and when the water begins to gallop throw the pieces into the pot. Cook for roughly 5 mins, until they are almost tender, then lift out of the water using a slatted spoon, and set to one side. Roughly chop the zucchine into small pieces and set to one side also.
Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Roll out the pastry into a large round, roughly as thick as a £1 coin and lower it into a 28cm diameter loose-bottomed tart tin. Prick the bottom of the tart here and there with a fork, then cover with baking paper, fill with baking beans (or rice) and bake in the oven for 15-20 mins until lightly golden. Remove and discard the paper and baking beans, and bake for a further 5 mins until dry to touch. Take the tart out of the oven and set to one side to cool for a few minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 180˚C. In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the cream, eggs and grated parmesan. Place the asparagus, chopped zucchine and peas into the pastry case. Gently pry open the petals of the zucchine blossoms, tear out the stamen and arrange the flowers, still whole, on the top of the tart. Pour the custard into the tart case, press the zucchine blossoms down a little so they are at least partially covered by the creamy filling, and set the tart back in the oven to bake for a further 40 mins, until firm in the middle and golden on top. Eat either warm, straight from the oven, or chilled – delicious either way.
Arrosto di Vitello Cotto in Pentola
Pot Roast Veal
This is an Italian classic, and one of those blissful recipes where – broadly speaking – you pop the dish in the oven and then set about entertaining yourself until it’s done.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 celery stalk
1.5 kg rolled and tied veal shoulder
A small bunch of fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic
150ml white wine
350ml chicken or vegetable stock
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to fit the joint of veal, and add the oil. Finely chop the carrot, celery and onion and cook them in the saucepan on a medium heat until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent, then add the joint of veal and brown gently on all four sides. Toss the thyme into the pot, bash the cloves of garlic and toss them in too; then pour in the white wine and stock and leave to bubble away for a few minutes.
Cover the pot and set in the oven to cook 1 hour, basting the meat every now and then with its delicious cooking juices. After an hour, take the veal out of the oven, take off the lid, and put it back in the oven to cook uncovered for a further hour. Cook until the meat is very tender and its juices run clear. Allow to rest for 10-15 mins before serving, then slice thinly and eat with copious quantities of mustard.