Thick and thin

Slow roast pork, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, apple sauce and bread sauce.

Bread sauce, I know, a little out-of-place, but someone insisted.


It had been a while since I’d made a stoutly English Sunday lunch, roast meat heavy, roast potatoes, two vegetables, gravy, appropriate sauce and trimmings accompanied by plenty of red wine and eaten in good company. Best followed by a proper pudding with cream and permission to sidle sideways from the table into the nearest comfy chair with the Sunday newspaper from where you may slip into a postprandial nap with aforementioned paper over face at any given moment, low-level snoring allowed.

It’s one of my favourite meals, of which there are many, but one of my favourites nonetheless.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly traditional family and things were far from straightforward, but we did – through thick and very thin – have a traditional Sunday lunch ‘Sunday Roast‘ nearly every week. A meal as much about family, friends, home, and being together as the food.The food, a reassuring rotation of roasts – beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, duck – accompanied by the appropriate sauce – horseradish, mint, apple, bread, Cumberland, prune – the right vegetables, trimmings and stuffing, gravy and always lots of roast potatoes.

As a child I not only adored the lunch, I adored the ritual and routine of it all. Vegetables being peeled as the late Sunday breakfast things were being cleared away, the piece of meat perched on the counter. Setting the table with the nice plates and Grandma Roddy’s bone handle cutlery. The smell of roasting meat curling through the house and the heady whiff of my grandma’s sherry and my Mum’s Gin and it. The flurry of activity and hands needed in the last 10 minutes to drain vegetables, make gravy, decant sauce, warm plates, shout then howl up the stairs to gather everyone to the table. My Dad carving. My grandpa Roddy worried my Mum had undercooked the vegetables and that he may choke to death on a green bean, the clatter of serving spoons and bumping of elbows as everyone filled and the more pedantic arranged their plates. The silence that descended as everyone took the first few mouthfuls….

Ironically it was probably during my unhappy teenage years and the mess of my early twenties, when I struggled my way through such lunches, eating and contributing very little or simply avoided them, that I most valued Sunday lunch, the ritual, the routine, the solidity of it all.It was a fixed point, constant when I wasn’t.

Sunday lunch and all it stood for – good food warmly given – waited for me to come back. Which I did eventually, by which time our Sunday Lunches were broader and more expansive, we all had partners, extended families and homes of our own. The cooking was shared and the lunch eaten at various tables. Of course tensions sometimes bubbled and simmered away like the gravy, occasionally spitting to the surface like potatoes hitting hot fat in the meat tin, But the meal remained constant and at its heart the proud resolute roast, with potatoes, two vegetable and appropriate sauce and trimmings.

I suppose it makes sense that when I came to Italy a stout English Sunday lunch was one of the first things I really missed. Even amongst all the gloriously good Italian food and I mean gloriously good and the joys of I Pranzi di Domenica I missed it. Because it wasn’t just the food -although I missed that too, particularly rib of beef with horseradish – it was the tradition, ritual, family and friends being together however difficult, my other home in England.

I missed it all…

It’s strange but didn’t occur to me for quite some time that could make us an English Sunday lunch in Rome. I think that’s because said lunches had become all muddled up with nostalgia and my homesickness, the here and there, England and Italy which I’d polarized the idea that my life was like that and now it’s like this.  Anyway, it wasn’t as if I was completely bereft of English Sunday lunches, occasional trips back were tiding me over.

It was only when I realised that I was really putting down roots in Rome, slowly starting to assume very Italian eating habits and becoming part of an Italian family with its own deeply entrenched rituals and routines around food that I made a silent promise to myself to cook us English Sunday Lunch at least once a month.

I haven’t quite kept my promise

But nearly.

Last Sunday it was roast pork, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, apple sauce and bread sauce. This is my second favourite Sunday lunch, just piped at the post by rib of beef with yorkshire pudding.

For this kind of lunch I like either a proper roast leg of pork or a shoulder of pork on the bone both cooked with the skin on for a carapace of amber crackling. This presents a problem here in Italy as meat is butchered differently and skin is more often than not removed. Luckily I have a very obliging butcher who will get me most things even strange English cuts if I ask him in advance. Unfortunately I forgot to ask in advance. Fortunately my butcher had a very nice shoulder of pork with no bone and no skin but a nice, thick layer of fat which could handle a slow roast.

Slow roasted shoulder of pork with potatoes

  • 2kg shoulder of pork with skin or a very good layer of fat.
  • salt and freshly round black pepper
  • 2 onions,peeled and halved
  • 6 whole peeled carrots
  • 1.5 potatoes peeled and cut into 4 or 6 depending on size
  • stick of celery
  • bay leaf

Dry the joint. If it has skin score the skin with a sharp knife. Rub the joint with salt and then put if fat/skin side up I put in a hot oven (220°/475f) for 30 minutes.

Cover the joint very snugly with a double layer of foil and put it back in the oven at 170°/325f for 3 hours.

Remove the joint and the foil. Lift the joint aside and pour off most of the meat juices and fat into a small pan leaving just enough to roast the coat the vegetables. Add all the vegetables to the tin. Using a wooden spoon nudge the vegetables around the tin so they are all well coated with fat and meat juices. Put the joint back on top of the vegetables, baste it with a little of the fat and juices you have poured off.

Put the joint back in the oven uncovered for another 45 minutes nudging and turning the potatoes every now and then.

Remove the joint from the oven and lift it onto a carving board and cover it with a layer of foil to rest for 15 minutes. Put the potatoes back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon lift the potatoes and carrots to a warm serving dish.

By now in the little pan the fat should have separated from the meat juices and you should be able to pour the fat off into a little bowl use another day and you are then left with small quantity of intensely flavoured pork juice to use a gravy.

Braised red cabbage

I have a soft spot for this red cabbage, I can be funny and fussy about sweet and sour and too much jammy sweetness in my savory food, but this recipe works beautifully. It is best made a day in advance and gently reheated. I’ve posted about this before, the proper title is Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion and you thicken the cabbage with cream and flour at the end of cooking. For a Sunday lunch like this – especially one with bread sauce – I don’t add the cream and flour but you might like to.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s book How to Eat.

  • A large red cabbage
  • a large spanish onion
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of soft brown muscavado sugar
  • a large cooking apple
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 100ml red wine
  • 200ml water or beef stock

Cut the cabbage into quarters, discard the outer leaves, cut away the hard central core and shred each quarter finely. I prefer to do this by hand but then I have no alternative.

Peel and slice the onion finely. In a large, deep heavy based pan, gently melt the butter and oil over a moderate flame and add the sliced onion. Saute the onion until it is soft and translucent and just starting to colour.

Add the sugar to the onion and stir well. Add the cabbage to the pan and stir well to coat all the cabbage.

Quarter the apple, core but do not peel, chop it into little chunks and add to the pan, stir again.

Add the vinegar to the pan, stir, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and cover. Cook over the moderate flame for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 150°

After 15 mins add the water or stock and red wine and put the pan in the oven to simmer away for for 2 hours.

Taste to check the sweet/ sour balance and add a little more vinegar or sugar – but go easy here

Jane Grigson’s Bread Sauce

Adapted from English food

I adore bread sauce but not quite as much as my little sister Rosie and now rather surprisingly Vincenzo. It’s a bit out-of-place with the Roast pork I know, a better partner for roast chicken or game. But Vincenzo doesn’t eat pork and loves bread sauce with his potatoes and I love him more than our family rules about sauce/meat pairings.

  • 1 small onion, peeled but left whole and stuck with six cloves
  • 500ml rich milk
  • 90 – 125g  fresh breadcrumbs from the soft inside of a very good loaf.
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 50g  butter
  • 2 tbsp thick cream
  • cayenne pepper

Put the milk and clove studded onion into a basin balanced over a pan of simmering water on a low flame and bring to a just below boiling point. The idea is to infuse the milk with the flavour of onion and cloves so the longer the milk takes to come to the boil the better. ( about an hour).

Remove the onion and then keeping the basin over the water whisk in 3/4 of the breadcrumbs. Keep whisking gently until the sauce thickens. If it seems a little thin – bread sauce should not spread very much when spooned on to the plate – add more breadcrumbs. If it seems so firm that the spoon stands up in it, add a little more milk,

Season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

Stir in the butter and cream and put into a warm serving bowl or jug and then sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top.

Put the cayenne pepper on the table for those who like their sauce fairly hot.

Nigella Lawson’s Apple sauce

Adapted from How to eat

  • 50g butter
  • 3 cooking apples (about 1kg) peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 75g sugar
  • 3 cloves
  • juice of half a lemon
  • good pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and then cover the pan and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes – lifting the lid every now and then to prod and turn everything – when the apples should have collapsed into a soft, lumpy, heap.

Pass half the apple mixture through a fine sieve and then mix it back with the unsieved mixture.

Taste adding more sugar, lemon juice or salt of necessary. It should be sweet but not sickly so.

If you feel the mixture is too runny you can boil it down a little – like bread sauce, apple sauce shouldn’t spread too much when you spoon it on the plate, it should sit in a well-behaved little pile. If it seems to thick add more butter or lemon juice.

A note about pudding.

Bread and butter pudding made with panettone. To be continued……


Filed under food, meat, Rachel's Diary, recipes, sauces, vegetables

8 responses to “Thick and thin

  1. you sound like jonny – he still misses a good english roast. thank god i married a brit b/c now i know and understand the beauty of bread sauce.

    • amy’s right, I think (apart from references to eating like an Italian) I could have written that post almost verbatim. I miss sunday lunch terribly. there is something incredibly wholesome and nostalgic and reassuring about that time-worn ritual of preparation and the fact that the meal would always be exactly as I expected. exactly. the trimmings, the sauces, my mother’s face red from standing over the cooker making sure the bread sauce or the onion sauce didn’t scorch on the bottom of the pan, my grandpa’s pair of pre-lunch amontillados, eating off the dining room table on that one occasion per week… In New York, if we’re to have a Sunday lunch of any kind, traditional British or not, we have to make it at home because every restaurant or pub only serves brunch on Sundays and it’s to waste a great opportunity for a leisurely lunch to just eat breakfast foods.
      All nostalgia aside, your lunch looks as good as it gets, even without the skin. And for what it’s worth, i have a love/hate relationship with pork crackling because my grandfather would always nick the best bits leaving me to chew on the not quite so crispy or the hairy pieces.

  2. I’ve never tried to make bread sauce, even though I lived in the UK and spent many a christmas there. Will have to give it a go!

  3. I can identify…being present, but not nearly as much as I should have, but coming back to it later when I grew out of whatever funk it was that I was in. My family always there, together, waiting for me. My mother always tells me how much my aunts and uncles, my grandmother, love it that I am present these days, when all of the other nieces and nephews are not. Now if I could just round up the troups, but they’ll come back, just as I did.

    And I do miss the meals I grew up with, even though I adore the meals I am greeted with on a daily basis presently. So many memories attached to food then and now. My aunt Teri’s deviled eggs…my mom’s crabcakes and cole slaw…my grandmother’s Christmas buffet.

    Your post…it felt like a deep breath just after one finishes crying…or the calm after a ridiculously hearty bought of laughter.

  4. time for me to catch up with you… this was quite the lovely start.

  5. Pingback: Bread sauce « The Ordinary Cook

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