What started innocently with breakfast co-opting weekend lunch (yes, I’m looking at you, brunch) was fully realized in the Information Age, when a meal once enjoyed as a social noontime restorative began being furtively consumed alone in the cold flicker of email—and don’t even ask what COVID-19 did to it. But I say it’s time to fight back against the decline of lunch, and the surest way to do that is to go big, with what I call “long lunch”—an expansive savory meal with friends or family that features inspired conversation and in which day drinking is both elevated and de rigueur.
You might be tempted to ask “Isn’t that just dinner eight hours before?” Although they look very similar, the meals are quite different. Which sounds better: long lunch or long evening? The former is a sign of anticipation and bubbling excitement. The latter? Deflating dread. On a long, exhausting day, dinner is the final curtain. The day is complete with a long lunch. You bring your best, most relaxed and energized self to a room filled with light and a table full of friends, food and wine. After a long meal, you may yawn, struggle to keep your head upright, and then, you fall asleep, swollen from the alcohol.
So how should a long lunch be measured—in hours or courses or bottles of wine? All of these. You should make it your only calendar entry. It is better than being forced to leave early because of an obligation. Here are some guidelines for those who are new to long lunching.
First, a hamburger doesn’t make a long meal. A proper long lunch should include plenty of food, but not too much. Take your time and eat slowly. The best lunch foods are on the lighter side—salads and oysters, followed by poultry or fish. Keep portions small if red meat or pork are on the menu.
Beyond that, alcohol is the key component. Healthy afternoon drinks can be a great way to energize and stimulate creativity and humor. A long lunch should not include the fatal three-martini tradition. Instead, at least two types of alcohol are recommended. You will need wine.
Lunch wine used to be the polite term for a wine that lacked the profundity to be served with dinner, but for long lunchers, it’s the highest compliment—quaffable wine, bright and crisp as a spring afternoon, bringing verve to the whole table. Selections of wine should be enjoyable and spark interest. They don’t have to be trophies.
Drinks should be like a conductor for an orchestra. They set the tone and pace of the meal. Aperitifs can be used to start the meal, before you move onto a white wine and then a red. Perhaps finish the meal with a glass of Calvados or Armagnac. Then, if the conversation doesn’t go your way, continue on with a zesty beer before you head home. I suggest Uber.
It’s easy for one to envision this scenario at a restaurant with a fully-stocked bar. However, the recipes below celebrate the tradition of a long, home-cooked lunch, which has been a European tradition for many years. Although the long, home-cooked meal is not a common American tradition, it should be. For these reasons,
Here’s a recipe for a long, delicious lunch. This is easy to do at home and requires little planning so you, as the host, don’t miss a minute. You can set yourself up to succeed by creating simple and delicious dishes that don’t require much active cooking.
The end will leave you feeling invigorated and not heavy. You may feel contented and want to go for a walk before going to bed. Such is the genius of the long lunch—a meal that can redeem our stolen afternoons.
Shellfish conserva, a staple on the Iberian Seaboard is a great starter. Although it is usually sold in cans, it tastes great when it’s made from scratch. It’s perfect for finger food, as the buttery-briny sweetness from the mollusks can be brilliantly cut by the vinegar and lemon. It’s also easy and, conveniently, can be made not only a day in advance, but days—it just gets better the longer the flavors coalesce. A strong olive oil like Ligurian will make the dish too sour. The leftover liquid can be used to dip bread, make a pasta sauce or even risotto broth. A conserva like this will welcome any number of dry whites, but I love the cut of Champagnes like those from Vouette et Sorbée, from the Aube region, just a stone’s throw from Chablis. Both regions have soils made from decomposed seabeds that magically create harmony between wine and shellfish.
Next, transition to red by using a light, refreshing Langhe Nebiolo. I love the one from Piedmont’s Fratelli Alessandria set against a hearty mushroom pasta. When they made pasta a primo, and not a secondo, the Italians were on the right track. Bitter greens—if you can’t find dandelion, try mustard, turnip, or, in a pinch, spinach—supply springlike verve, while mushrooms evoke cozy comfort; use a combination of dried and fresh fungi for depth and complexity. Tarragon and mustard echo Nebbiolo’s floral notes. The wine is a classic in the Piedmont region of Italy for its earthy undertones. Cool the wine in the refrigerator at around 55 degrees. The ragù is perfect for entertaining, as it can be made up to three days in advance. Simply warm the ragu and serve it with wilted greens or al dente bucatini.
Grill-roasted chicken makes a great main dish. It is light, easy to cook, and can be paired with a variety of wines. It contrasts beautifully with Piedrasassi’s elegant, but substantial Santa Barbara County Syrah. You can prepare most of the dish well in advance. The chicken’s seasoning happens days in advance, so all you have to do is roast it on the grill—which, thanks to natural convection, doesn’t take long. You need to position the grill vents so smoke can be pulled across the chicken. It’s this kiss of smoke which connects with Syrah’s wildness. You can prepare the potatoes ahead of time. A classic shallot vinaigrette may also be prepared a day or so in advance. It’s the cleverly heroic through line that combines with the juices from the cutting board, contrasts with the smoky poultry, and makes the salad sing.
A selection of cheeses with Lingua Franca Avni Chadonnay 2018.
After you have removed the chicken bones, put the salad aside and get a few pieces of great cheese. The cheese is a win-win. It can be used as a transitional dish to dessert, prolonging wine drinking and allowing for more conversation. Keep pouring until there is still some red wine left in the bottle. The great thing about cheese is that it gives you the opportunity to go back to white wine. This brings you an extra boost of energy. Although it might seem strange to drink white wine again after drinking red wine, it is something we do all the time in our house. It’s refreshing to do this. White wine goes well with all cheeses. There’s no better time to drink Chardonnay. Larry Stone, my friend, is a master sommelier and I love Larry’s Lingua Franca Avni. His irresistible, mineral style connects Willamette Valley and Burgundy. The course should consist of three large hunks cheese, some butter and some toasty sourdough. My wife, Christie, and I like to mix it up—hard and soft; sheep, cow, and goat—but Comté, Chardonnay’s greatest friend, has a permanent spot at the head of our cheeseboard.
Linger, Linger, Linger…
Madeira, the world’s most underrated but delicious wine, was featured in this epic fig-and nut tart. This ancient wine, from a subtropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, combines everything wonderful—salty caramel, roasted nuts, dried figs, and brown butter—with powerful acidity and just enough sweetness. Verdelho by Rare Wine Co. is a delicious example of this unique flavor profile. This tart perfectly reflects the wine’s essence. You can keep the tart from becoming too sweet by toasting the nuts, and baking the caramel until it reaches the edges without burning. You’ll likely finish the bottle with plenty of people at your table. If you want to continue drinking, keep a few drops of brandy or Calvados on hand. You can also enjoy a cup of coffee here. After all—it’s still the afternoon!
You can have a relaxing lunch if you start early. Make the conserva, the ragù, and the tart 3 to 5 days ahead; they’ll keep in the fridge. Season the chicken two days before you prepare the meal. Whisk the vinaigrette and cook the potatoes the day before. The white wines should be chilled. The next morning, open the white wines and bring cheeses up to room temperature. Make sure to prepare the conserva an hour ahead of the meal. Then, boil some water for the pasta and grill the chicken if you wish. Enjoy your lunch and then go back to work on the next course.
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