There’s nothing more life affirming than having a gang of friends over for a slap-up all-afternoon weekend lunch. It’s so sociable and fun, especially when you’re lucky with the weather which is always a bit of a lottery if you live in Ireland!
Throwing a lunch party is so much less pressure than a dinner party – no-one has high expectations and you’re not expected to do starters or fancy desserts. You also have less time to faff around with preparations which IS a good thing. I find that if I’ve spent most of the day preparing for a dinner, by the time I’ve eaten I am usually just about ready for bed, but after a late lunch I have plenty of staying power left to party on into the evening.
But you do have to be realistic about it – you can’t do everything, and nobody wants a martyr host / hostess collapsing from exhaustion. So when a few kind friends offer to bring something or contribute in some way – accept!
To help you get into lunch party mode I’ve assembled my Top Tips for a Weekend Feast:
1) Think through your 3 main dishes a few days ahead, and write a shopping list
2) Prepare what you can the day before – marinades, dressings etc
3) Also do any grunt work like moving furniture or mowing the lawn the day before, so you’re not worn out
4) Try to keep the guest ratio in favour of adults to avoid too much kiddie chaos. Line up some outdoor games, and stock up on kid-friendly healthy treats (popcorn, smoothies etc)
5) Keep it real: while a few little humble flourishes like home grown flowers in jam jars are nice, don’t go too crazy with table decorations, matching china, starched linens and so on. You’re not Martha Stewart….
6) …And nobody cares if your house isn’t perfect so RELAX!
7) Leave time for a quick shower or lie-down before the guests arrive.
Now on to the food…
The Starter: Don’t bother. Really. Save your energy for the main course instead. Olives, nuts, pretzel, crudités or other snacky finger foods are fine to keep everyone going.
The Main Course: Unless you’re fabulously wealthy don’t attempt to feed 14-18 hungry adults on beef fillet, pork fillet or rack of lamb. Aside from being expensive (and overrated) fillet is the high maintenance Prima Donna of meats and requires you to dance attendance when you would much rather be having a glass of wine with your guests instead.
So if you’re doing a roast I recommend you use a cheaper cut like pork shoulder (which you can get from your local butcher). You can slow roast it for 6-7 hours or even overnight at a low temperature for meltingly tender results. It’s an all-round crowd pleaser.
I recently used this excellent recipe for pork shoulder from Jamie Oliver – the crackling was just sensational. I didn’t bother with the veg in the roasting tray, but instead made a quick jus in the roasting pan after tipping out most of the fat. I added a dash of balsamic vinegar, honey and a small cup of stock – and served in a little jug alongside the pulled pork.
Stews, curries, tagines or cassoulets are also great for big numbers, and cheaper cuts and long slow cooking are the way to go. Add plenty of veg or beans to bulk out and “stretch” the dish. Serve with flatbread or rolls to mop up.
For the kids: Have some pasta ready prepared that you can heat it up for the kids. Most kids eat bolognese sauce so that’s the safest bet. Older kids may want to eat the adult’s dinner so factor them in.
On the side: Salads are by far the easiest option and don’t mind sitting around. Do around 3; one carb-based (e.g. potato salad or couscous) , one green salad, and one bean or lentil salad for the veggies or those like me who just eat less meat. I threw together the bean salad pictured above for a recent feast. Scroll down for the recipe…
Celeriac remoulade is also pretty essential (and really easy) if you’re serving roast pork; the gentle fennel/aniseed flavour and sharp vinaigrette help balance out the fattiness of the meat.
Ottolenghi is the undisputed King of Salads – check out his gorgeous salad recipes whenever you’re in need of inspiration.
Dessert: Hopefully you have accepted 2 friends’ offers to bring a dessert. Failing that, a good shop-bought pear or peach tart always goes down well. Serve a pile of fresh fruit or strawberries if they’re in season.
Cheese: Cheese, crackers and red grapes take zero preparation, look lovely and your cheesy friends will adore you. Cheese is excellent soakage food and no-one will get too drunk if they have something to nibble on. This is science folks. And freeze the grapes if you remember – trust me, they’re like delicious little sorbet balls.
Friends, food, wine, music…. add a lucky dash of sunshine… and you have all the ingredients for a Weekend Feast to remember!
Recipe: Mean Bean Salad: I was originally planning to use cannellini beans but ended up using chickpeas instead and it was delicious. Ingredients: 3-4 cans chickpeas or cannellini beans (drained and rinsed), 1 finely grated carrot, cherry tomatoes (halved), chopped curly parsley, salt, olive oil, 1 minced clove of garlic, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Combine and leave for at least an hour so the beans absorb the other flavours. You can also add crumbled goats cheese or feta – use less salt if you do.