Lunch menu Saturday 10th August 2019
Pork tonnato, tomato salad and Sam’s bread
Apricot galettes and ice cream
Variously we drank: Campari spritz, delicious natural wine from Leila’s shop in Shoreditch, Portuguese white wine given to us by Sam’s visiting friends, and very wonderful pink champagne left from Ian & Olivia’s wedding.
I’d never hosted a lunch party before. Often dinner, sometimes breakfast, but never lunch. A summer lunch has different requirements to dinner. Temperature, heaviness and ease of service became factors in a new way, at least to me. This lunch was the reciprocation of a perfectly executed lunch by the poet and scholar Ian Patterson, spouse to the writer and critic Olivia Laing, when I interviewed about her exquisite garden. In late April Ian served Pissaladière tart, which I’d somehow managed never to try before (how??!): Entirely soft and sweet onions atop crisp pastry criss-crossed with anchovies and dotted with black salty olives. To that, salad with a dice of tomato and cucumber and lamb’s lettuce, excellent bread, fizzy water, a bottle of white wine, and finally, a refreshing and bitter Campari and blood orange sorbet. A high bar for relaxed indulgence.
As well as Olivia and Ian, I invited the writer Charlie Porter (whose book about the clothes artists wear, forthcoming with Penguin, I am very excited about) and his husband, the artist Richard Porter (whose artistic practice and publishing projects I admire greatly). We bumped into Charlie and Richard in Harwich (the Essex seaside town where we have moved) and found out that they were great friends with Olivia and Ian, so it seemed like a good idea to invite everyone over. Seeing as people were taking a train to come to this lunch, and it was the first time I had cooked for any of them, I wanted it to be worth the journey. In the end we had a bloody lovely time and I am now a full convert to lunch parties. We ate and drank a lot, talked a lot, and walked around Harwich to look at the wildly windy sea and the allotment, getting briefly rained on before eating pudding and putting everyone back on the train 5 hours later.
Details of what I cooked and how are below.
To eat with drinks – rather than make a starter which I decided would be too much fuss – I made the all-time-classic Piedmontese peppers from Elizabeth David’s book Italian Food. These are served cold/room temperature (so no last minute cooking), are lip-smackingly good, and aren’t too heavy to eat before a main course. My only adaptation of this dish as given in ED’s book, is to make them more bite-sized by cutting each red pepper into six lengthways, rather than 2, before filling the slice with a bit of raw garlic, sliced raw tomato, 1/2 an anchovy fillet, a dot of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and baking for 20-30 minutes in the oven. David’s use of butter as well as olive oil in this dish makes for divine juices during the cooking process. I also like to eat them with little pieces of toasted bread to soak up the buttery juices. The intense flavour can stand up to a strong drink.
Tonnato is an Italian dish of cold sliced meat with tuna-flavoured mayonnaise sauce that I’ve mainly seen prepared with veal, but was glad too find out that it’s often made with pork, too. I’ve been curious about it for a while on account of the fishy sauce with meat. The useful thing about tonnato for a summer lunch is that almost everything is done ahead of time and it is served cold / room temperature. I consulted my books – River Café Book Two and Elizabeth David Italian Food again, and I eventually decided to mostly stick to the River Café method, with some changes and an integration of some of Elizabeth David’s method for the sauce. There were some details missing from the River Café recipe about how to deal with the pork, which I worked out in the end after some messaging with the very wise cooks/chefs Rachel Roddy and Anna Tobias. NB you can make this using leftover roast pork! The quantity of pork I had (2.7kg, boned weight) meant we had plenty leftover.
The night before I rolled and tied up 2.7kg of pork loin (cut into two pieces to fit in the oven) with bones removed and which had had its skin removed and about 1cm of fat remaining. I rubbed it with 2tbsp of salt, finely chopped rosemary and 4 cloves of crushed garlic. I cooked it for around an 1 hour at 200C, basting well 3 times during that time. I checked it was cooked just pink with a meat thermometer. I let it cool overnight covered with foil.
On the morning of the lunch I made the tonnato sauce adapted from River Cafe instructions (2 egg yolks beaten with a wooden spoon and then mixed VERY SLOWLY DRIP BY DRIP with 500ml extra virgin olive oil, with the juice of 1 lemon added at intervals when it becomes too thick. Then after olive oil is incorporated, add 12 anchovies and 200g tuna in oil and blitz with a blender and seasoned). I thinned the sauce to double cream consistency with a little of the pork roasting juices mixed in a cup with boiling water – a touch from Elizabeth David’s method in her Italian Cooking.
30 minutes before everyone arrived, we sliced the pork quite thinly (c. 1/2 cm), laid it flat on plates and covered it lightly with cling film. When we were ready to eat after drinks and the peppers, I dressed the pork with the tonnato sauce, some small salted capers, a little salt, and a scant amount of chopped parsley.
We ate the tonnato with a large plate of cut up tomatoes and fresh basil dressed only with olive oil and salt (tomato tonnato is a dish in its own right, I believe), and Sam’s brilliant rye-mix bread with salted butter.
To my surprise, the sauce had a rich umami flavour rather than tasting explicitly fishy as such, and was broken up by the little capers and lemon juice. It was an excellent match for the sweet pork. I was very happy too, that thanks to the basting (as instructed by RC book) and not cooking for too long, the pork was very soft. My greatest fear about the dish, apart from that it might be weird, was that the pork could be dry.
Also made on Friday and warmed gently in the oven just before eating on Saturday.
For pudding, I was initially thinking of an apricot frangipane tart using apricots frozen from our allotment tree. Finally, though I decided that after all of the rich tonnato sauce that a simpler tart would be better. I was lucky to happen upon American chef Alice Waters’s utterly brilliant recipe for apricot galette, which scatters some ground almonds, flour, sugar and a few crushed amaretto under the apricots rather than making a full on frangipane batter. The pastry-making instructions are excellent, and the final touch of brushing the crust with butter and sugar make it worthwhile eating every bit of the tart. I made one galette using the apricots defrosted and one with them still frozen and both worked well, so either is fine I guess! I glazed them with warm apricot jam. I am looking forward to using this method to make plum tart soon! We had the tart with vanilla and pistachio ice cream.