When I was growing up I thought that twenty-four hours was the perfect length for a day. With age, this has changed: I’d now like thirty-six at least so that, among other things, I’d have more time to cook delicious things which take ages to prepare. As it is, I am your typical time-poor, full-time, professional woman with limited stamina and a pile of ironing that I’m never quite on top of. In spite of this, I’m ready meal-averse so at the end of most workdays, I cook. Sometimes I get so tired that by the end of it, I have no energy left to eat. Ironic, I know, but apparently quite common among my ilk.
Roll on the weekend – that blissful ideal of rest over two whole days, which seldom happens by the time housework, paperwork, special occasions and familial duties are taken into account. For just those times when hunger pangs hit but there’s little time to spare, I’ve got just the thing: a quick and easy lunch that can be thrown together in a jiffy.
Fill a bowl with cherry tomatoes cut in half, cubes of feta cheese, plenty of chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Toss and spoon onto your plate. Leftovers can be added to another meal later. Put slices of mozzarella onto slices of beef tomato, season and heat in the oven until just melted (just a few minutes at 150C). Add a few of these to the plate and garnish each with a basil leaf. That’s the hard part. Now just add anything vaguely Mediterranean you might have to your lunch: slices of prosciutto or salami, a handful of olives, some lettuce leaves topped with emergency artichokes (from the jar that dwells in the pantry) – their preserving juice creates an immediate dressing so no vinaigrette-concocting required.
For the above example I grabbed some herby ciabatta from our local deli and warmed it through while I was heating the tomatoes. Other additions might include marinated anchovies, leftover grilled vegetables, a spoonful of couscous drizzled with lime juice and coriander, a few slices of grilled halloumi tossed in lemon juice and parsley, marinated peppers, some burrata (if you’re lucky enough to have it in the fridge) sprinkled with a handful of sliced green grapes.
One last point: if you have visitors and don’t want to spend too much time wearing your trusty oven gloves, just set out all of the Mediterranean foods that you have to hand, give them each a plate and tell them to help themselves, buffet-style. Couldn’t be easier! This is a seriously low-maintenance lunch that’s tasty, healthy and just as easy to make for a crowd as it is for one person.
If you have guests and want to show that some sort of effort was made in the feeding of them, you can even tailor this lunch to a specific Mediterranean country with a minimum of hassle. For instance, if you want to put the emphasis on things Italian, drinks might include San Pellegrino with a slice of lemon, prosecco, a glass of Pinot Grigio or a chilled Nastro Azzuro. Don’t fuss over dessert: just put out some fresh fruit or have a scoop of gelato. A really snazzy ice cream trick is to serve lemon gelato with a shot of limoncello poured over the top, but don’t plan on finishing the laundry afterwards! It works just as well with strawberry gelato and fragolino… divinISSimo! Finish with espresso. If you have a machine, all well and good, but if not, there are some really good instant espresso grounds on the market nowadays - trust me, I’m über- fussy about my coffee. Serve it with a bacio or two and get everyone to read out the love messages wrapped inside. Now, that’s what I call la dolce vita.
Buon appetito a tutti!
Porto Rotondo is a place of fantasy: an artificial port and marina filled with luxe and super-boats. The one below is charming instead of the usual gin palace that’s the size of a house on water.
The sad thing is that these super-vessels only get used for a few weeks each summer. The rest of the time they sit idle, waiting for their pop star/ movie mogul/ politician/ Swiss banker owners to arrive for a bit of show-off time with their loaded friends; a sure case of ‘my boat’s bigger than your boat’. Some, like this one, are real whoppers.
Regardless, Porto Rotondo is a beautiful place to visit, an easy drive from the big Sardinian town of Olbia. Bougainvillaea blooms in all directions, the main pedestrian drag of Via del Molo is paved with fish and shark mosaics, crew in matching polo shirts bustle about preparing yachts for visitors and real Pucci maxi-dresses float casually by in the warm sea breeze. You get the picture. There’s another magnet to the lush sanctuary of Porto Rotondo, though: The Bar-Gelateria Del Molo.
Monsieur and I first found the Del Molo when we visited Sardinia three years ago. We loved their breakfasts so much that we decided to fly our new Lear jet over for lunch. (Okay, okay, I lie. We were there again on holiday and found ourselves in the area…No Lear jets at our disposal. Easyjet works perfectly well for us. )We just wanted something quick and light, but ended up going the whole hog with three courses each. Monsieur kicked off with prosciutto and cantaloupe, the melon perfectly ripe and oozing with juice, the ham deep with flavour. This was no supermarket-shelf ham, but slim cuts with little fat, ever so slightly thicker than parchment.
In the mood for cool, fresh, raw food, I chose the mozzarella and tomato salad. Sprinkled with oregano and fresh basil, I splashed some extra virgin olive oil onto the plate and tucked in. Admittedly, the tomatoes were a tad hard – a couple more days on the vine would have done them no harm, but the mozzarella was superb – rich dairy goodness with a consistency part-way to burrata, it stole the show.
Monsieur does enjoy a good club sandwich from time to time. Here’s how the Del Molo does it:
Once more, only the freshest ingredients were used, including the egg mayonnaise, salad and tender chunks of Sardinian chook. Even the bread was toasted to just the right shade of gold, but it was my main that will go down in the Epic book of all-time favourite dishes: tuna carpaccio with artichoke. I’m a carpaccio queen and I swear to the gods of all things culinary that this was the best tuna carpaccio I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.
I think the trick was in lightly smoking the fish, for there was the vaguest hint of smokiness in the flavour. Sliced paper thin, dotted with fresh tomato salsa and preserved artichokes, all of it posing prettily in that same peppery extra virgin olive oil, each tiny mouthful contained a fishlover’s fireworks. At once fine yet unexpectedly fulsome, I ate slowly, allowing it all to seep into my cheeks so that I could hold the flavour for as long as possible. In the greatest gesture of generosity, I forked a bite’s worth onto Monsieur’s plate, keen to share the experience. It will be a long time before I forget such a wonderful culinary treat.
Our waiter was a proper character – tri-lingual at least, generally displaying his trio of international skills in the same sentence: “Monsieur, your order, per favore,” or “tutto a posto, Missus, oui? C’est bon?”. Cleverly, this covered all the bases. Now he suggested “un’ gelato, ice cream, glace?” It would have been rude not to, although at €10.00 per three scoop sundae, stabbed with a branded wafer and squirt of whipped cream, the cost was excessive in a country where you can buy decent gelato at a euro a scoop. Still, we bore it with a smile, as the lunch had been fantastic, we were looking out at a stunning marine-lover’s vista, and it seemed sad to leave without something sweet on the tongue. The Sicilian cassata ice cream was excellent. Don’t leave Porto Rotondo without trying it. Homemade glacé fruit makes such a difference. NB If you don’t want to fork out €10.00 for a sit-down sundae, you can always opt for the take-away option for about half that.
A clue to the excellence of our Porto Rotondo lunch lay just inside this doorway:
That’s where I spotted a shelf absolutely groaning with well-thumbed, sauce-flecked cook books.
Certainly, this was an expensive visit at around €90.00 for just the two of us, including diet cokes and bottled water but no wine or alcohol, yet for the memory, it was definitely worth it. As for the tuna carpaccio – it’s the stuff my dreams are made of.
Bar-Gelateria Del Molo - Walk all the way down the Via Del Molo until you reach the water. The Del Molo is tucked just around the corner on the right hand side. Local phone number: 0789 34338.
Click here to see my last post about the Del Molo, where I talk about breakfast.
It was getting dark as Monsieur and I set off to explore something of Palermo on our first day in Sicily. We enjoyed the window-shopping along the Via R Settimo, later rejoining the broad Via Roma, where discount shops and mobile phone outlets were busy with post-Christmas sale business. My favourite window was for a deli-stroke-drinks shop where pyramids of prosecco bottles stood interspersed with beautiful boxes of candied fruit, marzipan and other sweet treats, ready for New Year’s revellers to come shopping. We visited San Domenico, the church where the great and the good of Palermo are buried, and there I spent ages in front of the giant Nativity display, or ‘Presepi’, as they’re known in this part of the world. It was garish, with larger-than-usual figures, pot plants, straw, bowls of citrus and figures of sheep. At the centre of everything was the inanimate model of Baby Jesus. For some reason, this Nativity made me want to laugh; it was such a happy, kitsch scene compared to many.
Back outside we wandered through a market off the Via Roma, passing the usual knock-off stands and stalls loaded with anything and everything from kids’ slippers to pyjamas or fake Calvin Klein underwear and kitchen implements in the alluring colours of lime or fuchsia plastic. On the way back to the hotel we passed the Teatro Massimo, seasonally decked out in fairy lights, twinkling their way to a massive civic electricity bill, with a carpet of red-leafed poinsettias running down its main stairs. This was the theatre where the attempted assassination of Michael Corleone takes place in Godfather part III. I was only sorry that it was closed for the holidays so we couldn’t see how they’d decorated the interior. I bet it was über chic.
Having endured a long day with only the most basic of nourishment, we were ready for an early dinner. The clerks at the hotel had recommended a restaurant for our first supper in Sicily: Zafferano. The reception was such a vivid example of pricey modern chic that it felt more like the entrance to a top hair salon than an eatery. Put it this way – there were pony hide chairs and a tweed-suited receptionist, only the tweed wasn’t fusty musty old English countryside smelling vaguely of mothballs; this girl was confident in her 5 inch heels and the suit hugged each of her curves as if she’d been born wearing it.
Down a few stairs we entered a space with exposed brick walls, a couple of didgeridoos, a knee-high vase carved of the darkest wood, and some splashy abstract canvases eating up the wall space. However, it wasn’t any of the above that distracted me; at the end of the room hung red and white poinsettias ‘planted’ in hanging tiers of plastic bags and ‘fed’ from IV bags. I’d never seen anything like it.
The maître d’ greeted us with champagne flutes, filling them half-way with prosecco. An elegant plate of small zucchini, carrot and potato dumplings then arrived and we selected a bottle of sauvignon/viognier called ‘La Segreta’ from the Planeta vineyard which is well-known throughout Sicily. Just as the wine appeared, the waiter whisked our unfinished glasses of prosecco away before we could say “Don Corleone!” but the wine was so crisp and fruity that we were soon distracted from the absence of a few extra bubbles trickling down our throats.
To start, Monsieur chose a carpaccio of smoked salmon, swordfish and tuna, whilst I enjoyed a plate of cernia or dusky grouper tartare on a bed of cress. On Monsieur’s side of the table the carpaccio disappeared with the silence of a satisfied diner and the cernia was so delicate that it dissolved in my mouth, leaving the sensation of a dream of fish flavoured gently with fennel, dill and lemon. The peppery cress brought the perfect tartare back down to earth with just the right amount of earthy leaf texture.
We weren’t kept waiting by the staff. Our glasses were refilled with a couple of fingers of wine at a time and were soon savouring our main courses. Monsieur’s suckling pig tournedos was served with fries and an orange sauce that perfumed not only the pork, but the air above it so that an orange grove appeared to be invisible around us. Meanwhile, my linguine with dried sea urchin and tuna roe was served in an ideal portion so as not to bloat the diner. The sea urchin brought with it a subtle taste of the sea and the roe slipped about the plate in an attempt to evade my eager tastebuds; it was so soft and cool that it disappeared with each press of the tongue against the palate. To top it all off, the sweet juice of cherry tomatoes cut through the saltiness of the other ingredients, making this a new top favourite on the Epicurienne List of Ideal Pasta Dishes.
We decided against taking a dessert at Zafferano, opting instead for a gelateria stop on the way back to the hotel. This was one of those good-ideas-at-the-time. The gelato was certainly refreshing but the flavours were all wrong. The coconut scoop tasted vaguely of pineapple and the stracciatella was sadly lacking in chocolate bits. “Never mind,” I told Monsieur, “we’ll just have to make it our week’s work to find a better gelato experience.” Besides, we’d enjoyed a superb dinner and a long, energising sleep awaited us, as did more adventures Sicilian style. There would be plenty of gelato cups to look forward to during the coming week.