Question: how many people still ‘do’ Sunday lunch these days? Meaning, as the high point of the gastronomic week, as the family get-together nexus, as the excuse to invite good friends for a slow-paced convivial experience?
Culturally speaking, I associate this ‘special’ Sunday meal with the rightly famous British Sunday Roast and with the Italian “Pranzo della Domenica”. Meaning, question again, was the Sunday lunch a big deal in other countries too? I’ve not heard of it being celebrated in North America, or France or Spain or the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Germany/Austria/Switzerland or Eastern Europe – but of course that’s not to mean that it does not exist in these geographical parts, simply that I’ve not heard about it.
So far as my family is concerned, this was never a tradition chez nous. I’m of maverick stock. So no one would say that I am an ardent proponent of the Sunday luncheon. That said, it’s primarily because it means having to prepare much of the meal the day before, and wake up at the crack of dawn on the day to get everything done spit-spot. It’s the timing that’s tiring for me. Drinking wine is most definitely part and parcel of the pranzo della domenica and then what happens, eh?, I ask you? One gets sleepy and yearns to catch forty winks – what better way to book-end the experience than a Sunday nap? But if one is with friends, or not in one’s own home, this is not an option and it becomes hard work staving off the droopy eyelids despite the copious cups of post prandial coffee. Sigh. I get woozy after a boozy dinner too but going to bed is the natural next step and falling asleep is simply bliss. So, yes, these are just some of the reasons why I prefer a dinner on the whole.
They say that the mundane is to be cherished. True. How much more, then, should a ‘special’ occasion be appreciated ! It stands to reason. Which is why I heartily accepted an invitation to Stefania Barzini’s for Sunday lunch the other day. This was not the first time I had enjoyed a Sicilian menu cooked by her and her friend Paolo Colombo (if you have not heard about Stefania, you can read all about her in this piece I wrote: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/kale-crostini-by-stefania-barzini/).
Another attraction (well, for me at least) is that because the invitation is open to people who are interested in a top-notch home-cooked meal presented in the chef’s own home, you never know who you are going to meet. Some are friends of Stefania’s, some are acquaintances, and others are complete newcomers. The atmosphere is one of a hail-fellow-well-met welcome, sit yourself down, and eat and drink. Very little fuss, people are supposed to cooperate. They are expected to mix and mingle as Stefania and Paola see to the finishing touches and bring in the food, course upon course.
Since, on the whole, it is mostly I who do the cooking for dinner parties, on top of the mundande-to-be-cherished daily meals, I confess that not having to lift a finger (other than to eat) for a change is a feeling I embraced to the hilt. I felt so spoilt. My delightful daughter who loves Sunday lunches (as well as all things Sicilian) decided to join me and that was an added and unexpected bonus. I love Stefania and her husband’s home, not to mention the kitchen!, it seems made for this kind of entertaining.
Stefani’as kitchen before the onslaught of the guests.
I served some fantastic just-fried saffron-steeped rice balls as an ice-breaker to a group of people sitting on the sofas around the large coffee table. “Since you are all too shy to be the first to grab one, I shall pass the plate around,” I said encouragingly. No further chivvying was required after that – we all partook with a vengeance of whatever was put before us as nibbles before sitting at the tables for the main courses.
Oh this citrus-buttressed chicken liver paté … I couldn’t get enough of it.
There was also a large platter of cured meats from Sicily (silly me, didn’t take any photos) as well as home-cured olives and pepper flecked cheese from the Nebrodi region of Sicily. Nibbles galore.
And then, once seated at the table(s), we were served our pasta course. Ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta and dressed with a mint and sage sauce. A sprinkling of pecorino cheese.
And were they good? Is the pope catholic ….? No, seriously. They were excellent. The texture of the home-made pasta was incredble, it was as silky as the ricotta stuffing. The flavour was of course a savoury one but there was just a hint of sweetness that the mint and sage offset beautifully. Very more-ish indeed.
The pièce de résistance … the brioche salata, or “brioscia”. A pie named after the French brioche, I presume. This, as well as the other recipes, were all from Fabrizia Tasca Lanza’s repertoire, for which Stefania was most grateful, as were we.
By the time the ‘brioscia’ arrived on our table, I was feeling pretty much full. It is a very rich dish, sumptuous. It was served with an intriguing lentil dish.
It may not look like much but these lentils were super. They were cooked with an orange and a lemon, and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, a little bit of chilli and fresh mint. It’s definitely a recipe I want to incorporate in my repertoire.
The bottom of the brioscia was slightly burned but no matter.
And then came the dessert. Two desserts.
A superb cassata.
This was my helping, I simply couldn’t eat any more but I can tell you – it was really delicious. And I’m not usually a great pudding eater.
And here is the tangerine ‘gelo’ – il gelo di mandarino.
A gelo is a bit like a jelly in consistency. The tangerine flavour coupled with the pistachio (and don’t the colours pair well too!) was intensely satisfying. And it ‘cleaned’ the palate, so to speak.
It was definitely time for coffee. What a meal!
Here is a lovely photo of Paola, Stefania’s friend and co-host. And no, I didn’t take any photos of Stefania. Normally I’m the one taking photos of everything and everyone but today I was just relaxing and involved in the various conversations. What’s a Sunday lunch about after all!
The photo of Stefania below, and a few of the above, were taken by Stefania’s friend Donatella Monachesi.
Stefania looking after her guests.
And this one is of Donatella holding forth and intriguing us all with her witty conversation.
The lunch was followed by a viewing of a documentary all about Sicilian food traditions. I had to miss this opportunity because it was time to go home for me.