Saturday, 2 May 2009
Why is Sunday lunch so revered as a mark of Britishness, while Saturday lunch tends to be swept under the carpet somewhat? True, a good roast is something we Brits do extremely well - nomenclature alone attests to that, with Yorkshire puddings being a staple of a roast lunch, and even the usually anglophobic French deigning to name custard crème à l’anglaise. Sunday lunch is undoubtedly a huge contribution to the gastronomic tapestry.
But what of Saturday lunch? You barely ever hear of the notion, yet I think it's something that ought to be celebrated, embraced, indulged in. Let's imagine, for a second, that we don't live in a Godless country, and that some people do actually go to church on Sunday (or, for the sake of argument, let's put this in the context of Christmas Day when everyone really should go to church, if only to give abstract thanks to the possibly less abstract man who gave us an excuse to spend an entire day shitfaced once a year). Trying to cook lunch around churchgoing is a complete nightmare, especially if you have demanding and habitual grandparents who insist on sitting down for lunch at 1. On Saturday, however, there is no such problem (unless you are observing the Sabbath, in which case cooking anything is pretty much out of the question). It is a wonderful day, especially at this time of year.
For students it's a good day to get stuck in to an essay or revision without the interruption of lectures. For young professionals, it's a day to have a lie in, watch Soccer A.M. or Friends repeats in your dressing gown before spending the afternoon in a beer garden. For parents, you can take the kids round the park, to the zoo or a city farm (probably avoiding the pig section), and stick 'em in front of Britain's Got Talent while you do the crossword with a hefty glass of wine. Whatever it is you get up to, what I am getting at, is that it is also the perfect day for cooking. I have, of late, been using my Saturdays to bake bread using a sourdough starter (indeed, the latest batch is rising at the moment). It works well - I feed the starter on Tuesday, build it up for baking on Friday, and bake on Saturday. The method (which I will write about, I hope, in the not too distant future), requires your effort every couple of hours for about 3 minutes at a time, and by 6 you have a couple of beautiful sourdough loaves, ideal for bruschetta for supper, or toast on Sunday morning. It's an incredibly therapeutic process.
Lunch ought to be similarly reparative. While a Sunday roast requires a pretty large amount of work and washing up, Saturday lunch is at its best when mediterranean in feel. Breads, salads, cheeses - that kind of thing. Today I bought (though next Saturday I will make and tell you about it) a wedge of focaccia from the deli, a ball of mozzarella, a few slices of parma ham and some tomatoes. Between two of us (and it could have fed more) it cost £3 each. Less than a sandwich and coke from the library cafe, much less than a pub lunch. The recipe follows. Beer essential.
1 good hunk of focaccia bread (home-made version to follow in the next week or so)
1 small red onion
4 sage leaves
A few slices of Parma ham
A few mint or basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 240C.
Peel and slice the onion and scatter over the bread. Finely chop the sage, tear up the mozzarella and slice the tomato. Spread out over the bread, season with salt and pepper, and put in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the mozzarella is starting to colour. Remove from oven and plonk the Parma ham on here and there, with a few torn mint leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with a green salad.