“In our current bustle, lunch has been overlooked. The bulk of lunch has been sourced out to stand-up counters and takeout platters, wrapped and rolled and packaged, and it is now mostly a pass-through of time and of food. We fly on by lunch, as we often fly on by seasons and needs and signals. We have ways to keep us from noting that we are hungry, or tired, or simply need to take a break.”
The above is from a delightful little book I just finished reading called, “Lunch at the Shop. The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal” by Peter Miller, and I couldn’t agree more with his sentiment. Add in DoorDash and Uber Eats, and I think that about covers lunch these days for so many of us.
This year, short of Zoom-ing the office party, gatherings and events of all sorts and sizes have been tabled or called off altogether. And, whether or not you’ll be making merry with your social bubble members (abiding by the “limit of 10”) or hosting a celebration for just one or two folks, I propose (pause for effect) lunch.
Hello and happy holidays! Some superbly positive news coming to the world these past few weeks, and the timing couldn’t be better for a global gift. But winter, I ruefully admit, has arrived, and while I’m not particularly thrilled about the cold weather, I am excited about cozy dinners, nights by the fire (ornamental parlance for “watching Netflix”) and, inspired by the book I just mentioned, lunches!
Earlier in December, my husband returned home from an errand, carrying among the building supplies and car parts he’d gone shopping for, a pound of fresh Nantucket sea scallops because, well, you just never know and it’s 2020, thus, very little makes sense! But as ’tis the season and all that, we quickly hatched a lunch plan, lacking the self-restraint to wait until dinner to nose-dive into this saline plunder. Greedy, I know. But, hey, it’s Christmastime.
Marcella Hazan’s “Classic Italian Cooking” was a no-brainer for vital information about how to not screw up a scallop, and I’m pleased to say she absolutely, as ever she does, delivered a homerun. Yes, (and I stress this) the meal was crazy-delicious, but I honestly think a tuna fish sandwich might have been equally memorable, though that might be a mild exaggeration. The point is, this lunch felt like an actual occasion, rather than merely a routine, perfunctory interruption of the deceptively “important” tasks and duties that tend to fill, and often congest, our days.
It was just the two of us, so there were no other schedules or windows to work around, and we had the luxury of time, as Saturdays with no kids at home tend to provide, which in turn allowed us to avoid rushing through the cooking and risking tough, rubbery results. Plus, we had an open bottle of French Riesling in the fridge (bam!). A quick sauté for the scallops followed by a few fistfuls of fresh spinach thrown in (with a splash or three of the wine), and a nest of freshly boiled linguine to snuggle it all into; we sat ourselves at the dining room table, set out some festive candles, kept a leisurely pace and savored every single garlicy, olive-oil-kissed morsel of those tiny, sweet mollusks. A sparkling holiday luncheon I won’t soon forget.
I want more of these lunches, the tiniest bit decadent, or stripped down to a regular old homemade tuna fish sandwich. The time feels as much a luxury as the food. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that absorbing and appreciating the simplest pleasures in our lives really is the whole enchilada.
Give lunch a long-overdue reboot in 2021. Winnie the Pooh once said, “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words, but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’” I think he was on to something.
Stay safe and eat well this holiday season. – H.K.
Scallop Sauce with Olive Oil,
Garlic and Hot Pepper
Recipe from “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan
1 pound of fresh bay or deep sea scallops
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Chopped hot red chili peppers, to taste
1 to 1½ pounds of pasta, cooked and drained
½ cup dry, unflavored bread crumbs, lightly roasted in the oven or in a skillet
Recommended pasta: As in so many other seafood sauces, spaghettini — thin spaghetti — is the most congenial shape, but spaghetti is an equally valid choice.
1. Wash the scallops in cold water, pat thoroughly dry with a cloth towel, and cut up into pieces about 3/8-inch thick.
2. Put the olive oil and garlic in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes colored a light gold. Add the parsley and hot pepper. Stir once or twice, then add the scallops and one or two large pinches of salt. Turn the heat up to high and cook for about 1½ minutes, stirring frequently, until the scallops lose their shine and turn a flat white. Do not overcook the scallops or they will become tough. Taste and correct for salt and hot pepper. If the scallops should shed a lot of liquid, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon, and boil down the watery juices. Return the scallops to the pan, turn them over quickly, then turn off the heat.
3. Toss thoroughly with cooked drained spaghettini, add the bread crumbs, toss again and serve at once.