You eat lunch.

You pack up last night’s leftover curry and microwave it in the office kitchen. Or hop to the deli for pepper turkey and swiss on a hard roll. Or stroll to the corner for a streaming box of chicken and rice from a shiny silver cart.

But how often do you luncheon?

If you’re like me, the word alone conjures scenes of well-heeled ladies over their bridge games, an expanse of pressed pastel linen, the clinking of gold bangles against bone china, and the demure scent of day lilies and Chanel No.5.

Which is most definitely not my life.

Still, it’s an idea that appeals: pausing for a moment of calm in the middle of the day. Sitting down and sharing a meal — not just shoveling grub down your gullet and getting back to email. Being generous to yourself.

So, with J working evenings — and therefore missing dinner — lately the proper luncheon meal is something I’ve been endeavoring to resurrect. Nothing fussy: just a few light, spare arrangements of vegetables and maybe a nibble or two of chicken or smoked fish or cold hard-boiled eggs, enriched with a buttery sauce, or a drizzle of oil, or that gut-wrenchingly expensive but goodness-so-glorious balsamic vinegar I’ve been hiding in the back of the pantry.

This one, a riff on vitello tonnato — one of the quintessential luncheon dishes, indeed an institution of elegance! — never gets old, and can be put together in a matter of minutes as long as you have some cold chicken on hand. Cool and crunchy, and punctuated by warm bursts of tart tomato, it also happens to be ideal for these long, wilting summer days. Just put some flowers in a jar, pull out the good silverware, and set a table for two. Pour yourselves two glasses of wine. Sup.

And congratulate yourselves on being so goddamn civilized.

2 egg yolks
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets
1 can tuna in olive oil, drained
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons capers
salt and pepper
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
1 endive
2 skinless chicken breasts: cooked, chilled, and sliced

1. Make the tonnato sauce: Combine the egg yolks and 1/4 cup olive oil in a small food processor or blender. Process for 2 minutes, until smooth and golden. Drizzle in another 1/4 cup of olive oil, a little at a time, replace the cover and process for another few minutes, until slickly thickened, pale yellow, and well-emulsified. Add the anchovies and tuna to the mixture and process again until smooth. Add lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of capers and blend. Mix in the remaining capers, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir. Note: this recipe makes about 1 cup of sauce, but you probably won’t want to use it all for one meal. So: when you’re done blending it, pour the sauce into a glass jar with a lid, close it up, and set it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour or two (or until you are ready to use it) and then spoon out only what you need. The rest will keep, chilled, for 2-3 days: you can use it as a dip for vegetables or hard-boiled eggs or a spread on toast etc, etc, etc.

2. Turn on broiler. Toss tomatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Broil for 6-8 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft, their skins have split, and are slightly charred. Remove from broiler and set aside.

3. Trim the end from the endive and separate the leaves. Arrange the leaves on a large plate. Top the endives with thin slices of chilled chicken breast. Remove tonnato sauce from the refrigerator and spoon generously over the chicken and endives. Scatter the plate with the roasted tomatoes. Season once more with salt and pepper to taste.


3 Responses to “7-22-10”

  1. oh my, I don’t know why I have not heard of tonnato sauce before, and now I feel like life is going to begin. This looks delicious and I’m for sure trying your tonnato sauce this week.

  2. This sounds absolutely divine! I’m having friends for lunch on Sunday, and I bet this would be very popular: I’m a bit worried about the anchovies with two teenage girls, but I can have the sauce on the side.

    I love your blog: such a witty, cheerful, realistic read! Thank you.

    • Kristen: you must try it — it’s so easy and so perfect for summer. And if they don’t see you drop the anchovies into the blender, I bet your girls will never know they’re there. (Sometimes sneaky is called for…) Meantime, thanks very much for your kind words. Hope you’ll keep reading!

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