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The perfect summer Saturday lunch

Sunday lunch is so last year – and so much effort. This year it’s all about Saturdays ‘Effortless entertaining’ – is there a more ridiculous phrase in the language? These two concepts are mutually exclusive.


Effortless entertaining is opening a tin of Heinz tomato soup to share with your best friend. But since that’s for only one other person, it can’t really be said to be ‘entertaining’, can it?

Entertaining, by definition, requires effort, and I am guilty of giving out advice on how to do that without pain (‘make most dishes the day before, don’t be too ambitious’) and then not following it myself. Plans for six people eating roast chicken easily mutate into 14 people eating seven dishes I’ve never cooked before.

But as summer approaches and the notion of having friends round to enjoy warm days becomes more appealing – all that lounging in the garden with chilled rosé in hand – I have had a good think about weekend entertaining and how to do it in a way that allows me to enjoy it more. And I am making one big change. I am not going to do Sunday lunch. I am going to do Saturday lunch. Even good cooks who get their timings right and serve a decent roast (with vegetables that are still hot) can find the whole scenario a tyranny.

But Saturday is a different ball game. You don’t have to serve a roast; indeed for some reason you have to serve much less substantial fare (maybe because people will be eating again in the evening). The dishes that come to mind are altogether different from those for Sunday lunch: home-made soup, bread and a big salad; massive bowls of spaghetti dispensed with Italian-like warmth (yes, you can be in a Fellini film, if only for two hours on a sunny British Saturday afternoon); a savoury tart – something I absolutely adore – as a centrepiece; or a mezze spread that everyone can just pick at and share.

Starters are not obligatory. If you do want one it should segue into the main course. Try radishes with warm hard-boiled eggs and smoked salt, or sourdough toasts with mashed avocado and crab. Only leave one dish to cook or assemble on the day, don’t offer lots of things on the side and do a simple pudding; puds are so easy at this time of year and the plainer they are the more chic they seem. Offer a bowl of peaches with chilled moscato – guests slice the peaches and drop them into the wine at the table – or strawberries macerated in beaujolais and sugar.

The spread below is as difficult as it should get. Stick with the programme – I will if you will – and keep it simple, if not completely effortless. And enjoy Saturday lunch safe in the knowledge that you have a lovely night ahead, with work still a day away…

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