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!
If UK citizens are honest, they’ll ‘fess up to the fact that although the recent Royal Wedding provided some necessary uplift of spirits in the land, the best part of it was not Pippa Middleton’s derrière (no matter how pert), but the national Royal Wedding holiday that was bestowed on we lowly subjects of HM the Queen.
It meant that between Easter and the first May Bank Holiday, if said subjects took just three days of annual leave, we could enjoy a whopping break of 11 days away from work. Monsieur and I took full advantage of this, having had a pretty rough year to date, enjoying family time, a brief Staycation and a few days in Rome.
One evening, whilst visiting the Italian capital, we ventured across The Tiber to the district of Trastevere, to visit the ancient church of Santa Maria di Trastevere. This delightful area has formed its own distinct character within greater Rome, incorporating tiny winding and cobbled streets, chi-chi boutiques and the all-important business of bars and restaurants abounding in all directions.
As we wandered about, exploring this wonderful microcosm of Italian-ness, we spotted stalls selling juicy Tarocco oranges from Sicily; known for their blood-red flesh, they are popular for being sweet, seedless and having the highest content of Vitamin C of any orange variety.
Around another corner, we came upon florists oozing an abundance of Spring colour, the heady scent of freesias wafting across our path:
We also found purveyors of enough varieties of fresh herbs to keep any local cook happy:
Monsieur and I laughed out loud at the overt gluttony of this image, posted outside a restaurant on one of Trastevere’s busiest restaurant streets. What was his purpose, we wondered, to encourage eating or dieting?
This dog lay outside the church of Santa Maria, gnawing with purpose at the label on a discarded plastic water bottle, until it came away, at which point she panted with satisfaction, stood up and trotted off.
And this canine darling, with diamante-studded collar, sat proudly guarding HER grocery shop. “Hello, dog!” I said by way of greeting, only to be snubbed as one wet nose sniffed the air with a marked disinterest in human interlopers. “Darling, the dogs here don’t speak English. They’re Italian,” Monsieur laughed.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time in Trastevere – just long enough to explore a little and dine before returning to our hotel, but it is a unique place filled with character and, with a little help from the latest coin tossed into the Trevi Fountain, I’d love to return to discover more of its secrets.