There’s an overwhelming rightness to the way the French approach all things culinary. Particularly their lunches. Having just spent the most idyllic of weeks in the countryside of Provence, I have once again renewed my conviction that they’re just, well, better than us. And rather than moping around wishing I was back there as I eat my sad-looking sandwich, I’ve decided that I’m going to bring a little bit of Provence back to Clapham. I’m going to start doing Saturday lunches.
And I’m not talking the British version of a lunch – all starched tablecloth, vegetable side dishes and two puddings. I mean long, lazy, relaxed lunches, eaten in the shade of the garden, and probably extended through until tea time.
What I love about these meals is their simplicity. There will probably only be one or two things that have actually been cooked – the rest will just be thoughtful purchases from what looked good at the market. A huge bunch of peppery radishes, served with sea salt and proper butter to smear onto them is a good place to start. A couple of delicious cured hams, or a saucisson, plonked on the table with a knife for people to help themselves to. Some ripe vine tomatoes, dressed with a fruity extra virgin oil, and a bowl of bitter frisee salad, tossed through with some crispy lardons if you’re feeling energetic, and dressed with lemon juice, black pepper and oil. And of course, a cheese. For me it’s an Epoisses so ripe it runs away from the table, paired with freshly baked crusty baguette. Divine.
For the centrepiece of a lunch table, you can’t go wrong with a big tart, and this onion and goat’s cheese tart recipe is one of my absolute favourites. As long as you give the onions time to properly soften and caramelise, you will end up with the most gorgeously deep flavour, perfectly offset by crumbly pastry (please, please use all-butter, think of what the French would say), and ripe, tangy goat’s cheese.
Or, if you’re feeling seasonal, this asparagus and olive tart is so simple, and won’t leave you feeling over-indulged.
And for pudding, I can’t think of many things I like better than cake. Not a Victoria sponge or a dense chocolate cake, those are better suited to the tea table. Outdoor lunches require something nutty, something with fruit, something along the lines of this beauty. It’s heavenly served with thick, honeyed natural yogurt, or a big dollop of crème fraiche.
Who says we can’t be as fabulous as the French?!