Illustration of a leisurely lunch

How to Make Lunch Last All Day Long

It’s time for the expansive midday meal, with great wines and rambling conversations, to reclaim its rightful place at your table.

What started innocently with breakfast co-opting weekend lunch (yes, I'm looking at you, brunch) was fully realized in the Information Age, when a meal once enjoyed as a social noontime restorative began being furtively consumed alone in the cold flicker of email—and don't even ask what COVID-19 did to it. But I say it's time to fight back against the decline of lunch, and the surest way to do that is to go big, with what I call "long lunch"—an expansive savory meal with friends or family that features inspired conversation and in which day drinking is both elevated and de rigueur.

You might object, "Isn't this just dinner served eight hours early?" Superficially, maybe, but the two meals are worlds apart. I mean, which sounds more appealing: long lunch or long dinner? Mention of the former invokes bubbling, anticipatory excitement. The latter? Deflating dread. Dinner draws the curtains on a strenuous, tiring day. Long lunch is the day. To a light-filled room and a table filled with friends, food, and superlative wine, you bring your best, most relaxed, energized self. At a long dinner, you yawn and struggle to keep your head up and then belly flop into bed, swollen and drunk.

"Dinner draws the curtains on a strenuous, tiring day. Long lunch is the day."

So how should a long lunch be measured—in hours or courses or bottles of wine? All of the above. Just make sure it's your only calendar entry, as nothing's worse than having to prematurely excuse yourself because of some sad obligation. That said, if you're new to long lunching, here are a few guidelines.

First, a hamburger does not a long lunch make. A proper long lunch should be expansive, never heavy, with lots of breathing room between dishes. You've got the full afternoon, so spread things out and eat at a leisurely pace. The best lunch foods are on the lighter side—salads and oysters, followed by poultry or fish. If red meat or pork is on the menu, keep portions small.

Beyond that, the critical piece is alcohol: A long lunch is a drinker's meal. A healthy drink in the afternoon energizes and encourages humor and creativity. Decidedly not the classic (and lethal) three-martini affair, a long lunch should include at least two categories of alcohol, if not three. Wine is required.

Lunch wine used to be the polite term for a wine that lacked the profundity to be served with dinner, but for long lunchers, it's the highest compliment—quaffable wine, bright and crisp as a spring afternoon, bringing verve to the whole table. Wine selections should spark interest and pleasure; they don't need to be trophies.

Like a conductor to an orchestra, drinks should guide the meal, setting dynamics, tone, and pace. For instance, you might whet your palate with a crisp aperitif before moving on to a bottle of white, and then a red. After dessert, possibly tidy up with a sip of Calvados or Armagnac. And then, if conversation refuses to flag, push on with a zesty pilsner before heading home. (I suggest Uber.)

It's easy to imagine that progression at a restaurant with a well-stocked bar. The recipes that follow, however, celebrate the idea of a long lunch at home, a tradition in Europe for ages. While the home-cooked long lunch is less an American practice, it should become one. So, for
inspiration, I offer you an ideal long lunch. It's easily accomplished at home, requiring only some planning so that you, the host, don't miss one minute of it. In other words: Set yourself up for success by arranging simple, tasty dishes that require little active cooking time.

At the close, you'll feel invigorated, not heavy. Suffused with a feeling of contentment, you may want to take a short walk and eventually go to bed early. Such is the genius of the long lunch—a meal that can redeem our stolen afternoons.

Start Simple

Clam and Mussel Conserva
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Clam and Mussel Conserva with NV Champagne Vouette et Sorbée Fidèle

A staple of the Iberian Seaboard, shellfish conserva is an ideal starter. Usually it's sold tinned, but it tastes even better made from scratch. The buttery-briny sweetness of the mollusks is brilliantly cut by the lemon and vinegar, and when spooned onto toasted bread or lettuce leaves, it's a perfect finger food. It's also easy and, conveniently, can be made not only a day in advance, but days—it just gets better the longer the flavors coalesce. A grassy olive oil will be too penetrating, so use a milder one, like Ligurian. And save the leftover liquid for dipping bread, for a ready-made pasta sauce, or even for risotto broth. A conserva like this will welcome any number of dry whites, but I love the cut of Champagnes like those from Vouette et Sorbée, from the Aube region, just a stone's throw from Chablis. Both areas sport soils derived from decomposed seabeds, which magically create harmony between the wine and shellfish.

Relax into a Light Red

Bucatini with Mushroom Ragu, Dandelion Greens, and Tarragon
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Bucatini with Mushroom Ragù, Dandelion Greens, and Tarragon with 2018 Fratelli Alessandria Prinsiòt Langhe Nebbiolo

Next, begin the transition into red with a light, refreshing Langhe Nebbiolo; I'm particularly fond of the one from Piedmont's Fratelli Alessandria, set against an earthy mushroom pasta. Italians got pasta right when they decided to deploy it as a primo, not a secondo. Bitter greens—if you can't find dandelion, try mustard, turnip, or, in a pinch, spinach—supply springlike verve, while mushrooms evoke cozy comfort; use a combination of dried and fresh fungi for depth and complexity. Tarragon and mustard echo the floral notes of Nebbiolo, the earthy undertones of which make it a classic mushroom wine in Italy's Piedmont. Serve the wine at cool cellar temperature, around 55 degrees. The ragù is perfect for entertaining, as it can be made up to three days in advance. Just warm it and toss with wilted greens and al dente bucatini.

Now, Wow Them

Grill Roasted Chicken with Crushed Fingerling Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Grill-Roasted Chicken with Crushed Fingerling Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette with 2018 Piedrasassi PS Santa Barbara County Syrah

A grill-roasted chicken is a perfect main course. It's not heavy, it cooks forgivingly, and it is fantastically versatile with wine. I love its contrast with Piedrasassi's graceful but substantial Santa Barbara County Syrah. Most of this dish can be done long before serving. The chicken's seasoning happens days in advance, so all you have to do is roast it on the grill—which, thanks to natural convection, doesn't take long. Make sure you position the grill vents to pull smoke across the chicken, as it's that kiss of smoke that connects with Syrah's wildness. The potatoes can be cooked ahead of time; a classic shallot vinaigrette can be made a day or two in advance, too. It's the sneakily heroic through line, merging with the juices on the cutting board, contrasting with the smoky chicken, perking up the potatoes, and making the salad sing.

Take a Cheese Break

A selection of cheeses
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

A selection of cheeses with 2018 Lingua Franca Avni Chardonnay

After the chicken bones are cleared, leave the salad on the table and bring out a few simple hunks of great cheese. Cheese after the meal is a win-win. It transitions to dessert and prolongs wine drinking and conversation. If there's still red in the bottle, keep pouring. But cheese offers a great excuse to return to white wine, which brings a jolt of fresh energy. It might seem awkward to return to white wine after red, but in my house, we do it all the time. It's a refreshing about-face, and white simply goes better with most cheeses; there's no better time for a Chardonnay. I love the Lingua Franca Avni, from Oregon, made by my friend and sommelier legend Larry Stone; its irresistibly racy, mineral style connects the Willamette Valley with Burgundy. Keep this course simple: three large hunks of cheese, a dish of good butter, and some toasted sourdough. My wife, Christie, and I like to mix it up—hard and soft; sheep, cow, and goat—but Comté, Chardonnay's greatest friend, has a permanent spot at the head of our cheeseboard.

Linger, Linger, Linger...

Fig and Caramel Nut Tart
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Fig and Caramel Nut Tart with The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Savannah Verdelho Madeira

This epic fig-and-nut tart was truly designed to showcase the world's least appreciated yet most delectable wine, Madeira. This ancient wine, from a subtropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, combines everything wonderful—salty caramel, roasted nuts, dried figs, and brown butter—with powerful acidity and just enough sweetness. The Rare Wine Co.'s Verdelho nails the alluring flavor profile. And this tart brilliantly acknowledges every element of the wine. By toasting the nuts and cooking the caramel to the edge without burning either, you'll keep the tart from being too sweet for the wine. With plenty of guests at the table, you'll probably easily finish that bottle, so have a nip of brandy or Calvados ready if people want to keep drinking. Coffee is delicious here, too. After all—it's still the afternoon!

Plan It Out

To pull off a leisurely long lunch, start early. Make the conserva, the ragù, and the tart 3 to 5 days ahead; they'll keep in the fridge. Two days before the meal, season the chicken. The day before, whisk the vinaigrette, cook the potatoes, and chill the white wines. Morning of, open the still wines and bring cheeses to room temperature. An hour before the meal, bring out the conserva, fill a pot of water for the pasta, and grill the chicken, if desired. Then, enjoy your lunch, stepping away after each course to finish assembling the next.

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