I shall not give up the Sunday roast just because the sun has at last deigned to show its face, but the greens-and-potato entourage seems suddenly quite unnecessary. In fact, I am not sure I can face a roast potato when the sun is high in the sky, no matter that I could normally kill for one. There must be a summer alternative.
There is salad, of course, but that has always been part of a Sunday lunch for me and, I suspect, for many others who dislike the meat-and-two-veg thing. A roast without a bowl of accompanying floppy leaves is unthinkable, really, and far more efficient than bread or spuds for wiping the gravy from your plate. The bags of ready-washed baby spinach I once wrote off as yet another convenience for the supermarket are in fact perfect for the job, the leaves tender as butter and just what you need to accompany a hunk of pink, garlicky lamb. I dress them with nothing but oil and red-wine vinegar to save the whole thing getting complicated.
Salade mesclun - that frilly basket of frisée, lamb's lettuce, baby oak leaf, rocket, dandelion and radicchio - is ideal here. This is the salad that one thinks of as sold in quaint wicker baskets in every French street market. Truth told, they too have discovered the supermarket salad pillow-pack. When you can find it, there is a clean and summery lightness to this mixture, and a myriad of flavours, from pepper to lemon. Sometimes I don't dress the leaves at all, letting that job be done by the juices already on my plate.
But Sunday lunch is not what it used to be. Much of the pomp has been traded in for something altogether more laid-back. So informal has our sacred roast become, it is a wonder anybody bothers to turn up - but they do, of course, though they are even less likely to be on time than in the winter. It is somehow more difficult to get people to come to the table now that meals are starting to be served out of doors, and I do love my meals in the open air, if only to watch the clouds of bees and ladybirds that have taken up residence in my still-overgrown garden. A Sunday roast in the shade is one of the great pleasures of the British summer, especially now that most of us have finally got the point of putting garlic in the lamb and basil in the salad.
A plate is not an essential outdoors. At its most informal, a summer roast can be served between two pieces of bread. This works best when the bread is crusty and the meat is juicy, so you get the same sort of meat-juices-soaking-into-bread effect that you do in a really good hamburger. I like some lettuce in mine, too, something bitter like radicchio, rocket or watercress to offset the sweetness of the meat. The essential bit is remembering to use the juices from the roast to moisten the bread. Failing that, a splash of gravy or even mayonnaise will do. Melted mayonnaise and hot roast beef is surprisingly good.
Flavours can be high in the garden. You can get away with any amount of garlic if the sun is out. Anchovies, too. There are several ways of getting garlic into a summer roast, either sliced and pushed deep into the flesh - in which case you need to bore your holes first with a skewer and then widen them with a finger - or tucked, whole and unpeeled, into the ribcage of a bird. You can also introduce it in a marinade for the meat. I often mash rosemary, garlic, salt and olive oil, and massage the resulting paste (it is really more of a savoury slush) into the lamb, chicken or pork. This tends to work most effectively if the joint has flesh you can get at - a loosely rolled loin, say, rather than a leg that is wholly encased in fat.
But you can make garlic butter, too, and slather it on to the bread just as you put on the sliced meat. The hot meat will melt the butter and soak into the loaf. Before you know it, you have the best sandwich in the world on your hands - not to mention your chin and your shirt. Just think of it: crisp bread, warm garlicky meat juices, soft salad leaves, and the buzz-buzz of bees in the garden. Of course the reality is that no one took the bread out of the plastic carrier bag and it's gone limp overnight, the lamb is overcooked, three people don't want garlic, and the bumblebees turn out to be flying ants. But get it right and we are talking of a light, casual Sunday lunch just as good as the piled plates so welcome in the depths of winter. The garlic butter option, incidentally, is a boon for those families who have not brought the children up on garlic and might otherwise have to roast a little one without it just for them.
So, if we are having a herbal roast either on a plate, with salad afterwards, or sliced and stuffed inside a wodge of crackly baguette with garlic mayonnaise or a slice of herb butter, then what do we have to follow? A bowl of English cherries, perhaps, served on crushed ice so their crimson flesh tightens up, or strawberries that you have hulled and halved and left to marinate a while with orange zest, passion fruit juice and mint.
Roast lamb with oregano and anchovy
The olive oil and garlic rub give a salty, herbal note to the meat, and to its fat. If you are eating this in a sandwich, then you could use either of the butters below. Mixed salad leaves or baby spinach would be quite perfect. Especially when they wilt from the heat of the meat. For a very informal lunch, you will need some sourdough bread or crusty white rolls.
a small leg of lamb
for the rub
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 anchovy fillets, rinsed
a small palmful of dried oregano
6 tbsps olive oil
Make the rub: crush the garlic with a little salt under the flat of a knife blade, then scrape the resulting slush into a small bowl. Chop the anchovies very finely, then stir them, along with the dried oregano and a grinding of black pepper, into the garlic. Beat in the olive oil with a fork or small whisk.
Lay the lamb in a roasting tin and massage with the herbal rub, making sure to get into the exposed flesh as much as you can. Set aside for at least half an hour, or longer, if you can.
Set the oven at 200 C/gas mark 6, roast the lamb for 15 minutes per 500g, plus an extra 20 minutes. This will give you lamb that is pink inside.
Let the meat rest for 15 minutes in the switched-off oven with the door open before carving.
Roast chicken baps with lime and mint
Citrus fruits add a welcome sharpness to summer roasts. This could mean merely pushing a halved lemon up a chicken's backside as it roasts, but may also involve a marinade. In warm weather, the oil-rich winter herbs, such as thyme and bay, can be replaced with the softer varieties, such as mint and lemon verbena. Rather than roasting an entire bird for what amounts to little more than a posh sandwich, choose breasts and thighs, and pull the meat from the bones when they come from the oven.
6 free-range chicken pieces, bone in (thighs
for the marinade
a healthy bunch of mint
2 juicy cloves of garlic
the juice of two large, juicy lemons
an equal amount of fruity olive oil
6 soft, floury baps or crusty rolls
mayonnaise or garlic mayonnaise for spreading,
or one of the butters below
Pull the leaves from the mint and discard the stems, then chop the leaves roughly. Peel and crush the garlic and mix it with the lemon juice, oil and a few turns of the peppermill. You will have a loose paste.
Lay the chicken in a shallow dish and rub it with the lemon and mint. Set aside somewhere cool, but not cold, for an hour or so. Set the oven at 200 C/ gas mark 6, grind over a little salt, then roast the chicken for30-40 minutes, occasionally turning over the pieces so that they colour nicely all over.
Remove from the oven and, when the meat has cooled enough to handle, pull it from the bones - it should come away easily in thick, juicy strips. Split the rolls or baps and spread the cut sides generously with mayonnaise, then lay some washed watercress or rocket on the bottom halves. Toss the torn chicken in any oil that is left in the dish, then stuff it into the rolls with watercress or rocket.
A few good things to put in your sandwich
Peel and crush four new-season white garlic cloves with a little salt. They need to be squashed to a pulp. Mash them with 100g of butter and a small handful of chopped parsley. Warm the butter gently in a small pan, pour over the cut sides of the bread so it soaks down, then add the leaves and sliced meat. This is especially good with roast lamb.
Tarragon mustard butter
Pull the leaves from a small bunch of tarragon and chop them quite finely. Mash with 100g of soft butter, a little salt and 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard. Spread on to the bread and place the hot roast meat on it so it softens even further but does not quite melt.