"Wherever you are in the world, the minute you start putting great ingredients together you're guaranteed good eating." Jamie Oliver
The weather is improving, the restrictions are oh so slowly being lifted, so pretty soon we shall be able to picnic in the park with friends and family. In fact we already have - a family BBQ which just scraped in under the current restrictions I think.
Anyway partly inspired by the weather, and partly by various magazine things, I thought I would celebrate how lucky we are in this bounteous multicultural country and remind you that you don't have to be able to cook to put together an amazing meal for however many people you want.
I remember when we first came to Australia we lived in a tiny, not very splendiferous flat whilst we built our first home - the Australian dream - and how I often visited the deli/milk bar on the corner which had a wonderful range of salamis and suchlike. It was wonderful, as at that time, England just did not have those things - unless you lived in Soho. Which isn't to say that Britain does not have its own delicacies.
Indeed that is my starting point. I'm about to (I think) go on to do a tour of some other countries and see what a thrown together platter featuring that country's produce would look like.
Nowadays we can just go to the local supermarket and load ourselves up with all sorts of goodies, including the things, that you could otherwise make yourself - dips, pickles, chutneys and the like. No today I'm not cooking. I'm just buying, and in spite of rubbishing the gourmet snobs recently I do think that this is an occasion that you could indeed lash out and buy the best on offer.
Britain and the ploughman's lunch
"It's a bit like the way you eat on Boxing Day, but you're doing it every day." Jamie Oliver
I'm pretty sure that I have done the ploughman's lunch before so I'm not going to do the whole thing here. Suffice to say that it was actually one of those old delicious. magazines that started me off here - because the November 2014 edition which is the one currently sitting on my desk - has not one but two different ploughman's lunches - but not at all traditional. One was actually a salad from Valli Little and the other was a probiotic ploughman's.
Well probiotic - it just had to be in there. The writer made a big thing about adding pickles to the ploughman's as if this was new. Which it certainly isn't. Pickles of the British kind - onions, gherkins, piccalilli, Branston pickle have always been one of the key components of the Ploughman's lunch. I suppose the yoghurt is a new thing. But still. So what is a ploughman's lunch? Various writers say that it's just a PR invention to promote cheese, but they can't even agree on whether that was in the 50s, 60s or 80s. Personally I can remember as a small child watching my parents eat them in country pubs - and I probably joined in too. They have been around for centuries people! This one is a pretty typical one.
"A ploughman's is about relatively big, strident, readily understandable flavours which, even if the component ingredients are pretty one-dimensional (sadly, they often are), combine to produce something vibrant." Tony Naylor - The Guardian
Tony Naylor wrote an amusing and comprehensive article called How to eat a Ploughman's lunch. Do read it if you are interested. If you do you will see that the above platter is just about perfect - although he is not a fan of the piccalilli. And below are a few more examples: four ideas from Jamie Oliver, a rather beautiful one from Adam Liaw of all people and another equally beautiful but anonymous one.
Simple - you just need some hard cheese, some crunchy vegetable and/or fruit, some 'real' sliced meat (or a pork pie - bought - (nobody makes their own pork pies in England), egg, 'real bread and butter and a pickle or chutney - and if you haven't got them - just mustard. If you want to update a little you could add in some smoked fish, either as is or as a paste. Interestingly a ploughman's lunch is often a dish for just one person but so much more satisfying if you turn it into a platter to share as you can bump up the extras and get a really nice big slab of cheese.
France - now if you were in France and assembling a platter your trip to the hypermarket (or a real market) would allow you to choose between a range of terrines, a mile of cheeses, endless kinds of olives, saucisson - which is quite different from salami - jambon de Bayonne, frisée lettuce, beautiful fresh vegetables and fruit and dried fruit too. Not to mention the baguettes, foie gras and various things in tins. Below is the best example I could find, but it has no vegetables. This kind of alfresco/picnic lunch is so easy to assemble from what you can easily source. It was our standard kind of lunch.
Italy - another easily put together platter - indeed the Bertocchi ad at the top of the page is a fine example. Here the emphasis is on the salami and the ham I guess, plus the mozzarella cheese, the roasted capsicum (and other vegetables too), olives and tomatoes, but not the terrines of France. The bread is different too - and dare I say - inferior. I am never impressed with Italian bread in Italy. Ciabatta and Pane di Casa may be lovely here, but not in Italy. But don't forget the prosciutto.
Spain - in Spain I guess it's tapas, but lots of them are cooked, so go for their somewhat different salamis - chorizo anyone? and their ham and all those trendy Spanish cheeses. Then there are various spicy dips and pastes, and the olives of the Mediterranean. Fresh anchovies perhaps or sardines, maybe even some prawns, roasted vegetables - chillies, membrillo - quince paste to we Australians. Almonds -and you would think you should try to get some kind of orange something in there somehow. I'm not sure what Spanish bread is like.
Scandinavia - fish I think, and pickles - smoked salmon, pickled herrings, indeed herrings a thousand different ways, dill pickles, rye bread, cucumber, rye bread, caviar.
Germany - we tend to think of sauerkraut and sausages when we think of Germany but they do have sausages that can be eaten cold too - and mettwurst is a kind of salami. They do cheese, and pretzels, and all manner of pickles other than sauerkraut - besides what is wrong with sauerkraut? A bit of potato salad perhaps although you would have to prepare that. Pickled herrings and their beautiful rye and pumpernickel breads. With mustards and beer to go with it all.
Moving east - as you move eastwards through Greece, Turkey and beyond you get into the wonderful world of mezze, which is actually rather harder work. Some of these things you can buy - like dolmades for example, and the dips. Maybe you can buy falafel too - yes you can. And now you are into all the many versions of flatbreads that exist throughout the Middle East and beyond. But look you can buy those too - and toasted chick peas ...
I think I'll stop there because frankly I don't know if one could assemble a Japanese grazing platter for example. My knowledge would not extend beyond sushi and sashimi - which you probably should really make yourself. Ditto for the Indians - do they have snacky things that aren't cooked? America? Yes if you put your mind to it you could probably assemble something American - pastrami, bagels, toasted corn something ..
I'll finish with my other sources of inspiration for the day. Two featured pages in the new Woolworths Fresh Ideas magazine. The first is below and is a run down of ideas for things you can just buy in their store and put together for a perfect lunch. No bread I notice. Which is odd as you would think it would be a great opportunity to promote their bread?
The second is rather more beautifully photographed but is marginally more limited. Note the pickled radishes, and the trickle of honey - very pretty but perhaps more a snack than a meal. Pre-dinner nibbles I suppose.
I have often thrown together lunch for visitors from whatever we have in the fridge. Because I do try to keep a supply of salami and ham as the base, and mostly smoked trout and smoked salmon too. There are generally tomatoes though not so much at the moment and sometimes cucumber though I have a tendency to forget that is there. In the pantry are all sorts of pickles and chutneys, and we always have lots of cheese. Fancy biscuits too. Then all you have to do is run to Coles for a Laurent rustic baguette and lunch is sorted. People always seem to be amazed and impressed as if I had performed some magic trick or cooked a gourmet meal when all I've done is gone shopping. Anyone can do it.
Now all we need is for the sun to come back and to be allowed to actually have somebody round for lunch.