The word “luncheon,” for far too many of us, is an old-fashioned one that automatically seems to presume “ladies” and conjure images of table settings and menus that are dainty, formal, feminine and about as relaxed as a straitjacket.

But it doesn’t have to be any of that.

And, anyway: Why should the girls have all the fun?

Nowadays most of us have what’s prosaically called a “day job.” Finding the time to host or even attend a luncheon is a luxury for anyone of either gender. It’s also a luxury worth the effort, because there’s simply no better way to spend a warm, lazy afternoon than enjoying good food with our friends and loved ones around a beautiful table.


And whether we’re celebrating the mothers in our lives, a graduation, wedding, family birthday, or nothing more than the fact that we finally have the weather for doing so, having that luncheon out on the porch, patio or a shady corner of the garden makes it even more special.

The food doesn’t have to be fancy nor the tableware fussy; we don’t have to dress up. But taking a little extra effort with the menu, setting and what we wear is the very thing that makes any occasion seem special.

This menu is from Parma, Italy, where midday dining, whether outdoors or in, is an art that’s taken seriously. A lot of it can be made ahead (or at least partially made), since a big part of the relaxed atmosphere and, therefore, success of a luncheon is a relaxed host.

If, even with those made-ahead elements, the prospect of getting up early enough to have it ready by midday is too daunting, or you’re just not going to entertain before 5, the full menu translates handsomely to an evening meal, when the softening temperatures and light make it equally as nice to enjoy it outdoors.

You also needn’t feel bound to reproduce the menu exactly; feel free to mix it up with some of your own favorites. The object is to make sure the food is delicious and plentiful, set a nice table, and make a little extra effort with your appearance. You won’t be sorry.



Pea Soup with Parmigiano Crostini, Parma-Style

(Minestra con Piselli alla Parmigiana), serves 6.


• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

• 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

• 2 ribs celery, scrubbed, strung and diced

• 6 cups chicken broth

• 1 large sprig fresh thyme

• 1 large sprig flat-leaf parsley

• 1 bay leaf

• 1½ pounds (shelled weight) fresh or frozen young green peas

• 1 medium potato, peeled and diced

•2 bunches young, fresh scallions

•6 Parmigiano-Reggiano Crostini (recipe follows)



1. Warm butter and onion in heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. When onion is beginning to sizzle, turn heat to medium-low and add carrot and celery, toss and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent and carrot and celery are beginning to soften, about 5-8 minutes.

2. Slowly add broth and raise heat to medium high. Bring to rolling boil and add thyme, parsley, bay leaf and peas. Bring to simmer and adjust heat to steady simmer. Cook until peas are little more than half done, about 15-20 minutes for fresh, 2-4 minutes for frozen, then add potato and cook until both are very tender, about 10-15 minutes longer, depending on the peas. Meanwhile, wash scallions under cold running water, pat dry, trim and thinly slice.

3. Remove herb sprigs and bay leaf and puree soup in batches in blender or with hand-held immersion blender. Return soup to pan and reheat gently over medium-low heat. Set aside 3 tablespoons of green scallion tops and stir remainder into soup. Simmer, stirring often to make sure it isn’t scorching bottom, until scallions are just tender, about 4-5 minutes more.

4. Ladle soup into warm soup plates or cups, top each with single Crostini, sprinkle with reserved scallion greens, and serve immediately.


Parmigiano-Reggiano Crostini

Makes 6.


• 6 ¼-inch-thick slices day-old Italian bread or baguette

• 1 large clove garlic, cut in half and peeled

• About 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano



1. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425 F. Put bread on baking sheet and bake until top is beginning to color. Rub lightly with garlic and brush with oil. Bake until golden.

2. Turn, brush second side with oil, and sprinkle with cheese. Return crostini to oven and bake until cheese is melted and golden.


Spring Fresh Pork Scaloppine

Pork actually makes lovely scaloppine and is far less expensive then veal. Serves 6.


• 1 pair pork tenderloins, about 2 pounds

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano, and flat-leaf parsley, plus whole sprigs for garnish

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 large clove garlic, crushed and peeled but left whole

• ¼ cup all-purpose flour, spread on a plate

• 1 ¼ cups dry white wine or dry white vermouth

•3 lemons, 1 cut in half and 2 cut into wedges



1. Trim tenderloins of fat and remove silver skin. Trim off tapered ends of each and set aside for another use. Cut remainder crosswise into 12 medallions (like filet steak) about 1¼-inch thick. Put between two sheets of plastic wrap and lightly beat out as you would veal or chicken scaloppine to less than ¼-inch thick. Season generously with salt, pepper and sprinkle with half of herbs, patting them into surface.

2. Put butter, oil, and garlic in large skillet or sauté pan that will hold at least half of scaloppine in one layer. When garlic is sizzling, quickly roll a scaloppine in flour, shake off excess, and slip it into pan. Continue until pan is filled but not crowded. Cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove to platter. When garlic is colored deep gold, remove and discard. Repeat with remaining scaloppine until all are browned. If pan gets too dry, add a little more oil as needed. Remove pan from heat but reserve. Scaloppine can be made to this point 2-3 hours ahead: cool and cover with foil until ready to continue.

3. When ready to finish, return pan to medium heat. Add remaining herbs and stir until fragrant, about half a minute. Pour in wine and bring to boil, stirring and scraping pan. Let boil until vapors are no longer sharp, then add juice of ½ lemon, return scaloppine to pan, turning in wine. It’s okay to crowd and even layer if necessary. Bring back to simmer and cook, turning scaloppine often, until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Taste and add lemon juice if needed. Serve at once garnished with lemon and herb sprigs.


Verdura alla Parmigiana

This differs from the “alla Parmigiana” most of us know in that it isn’t baked. The vegetables are braised in butter, then sprinkled with cheese and covered just long enough for that cheese to melt. It’s traditionally a combination of vegetables, but is equally lovely with just one. Serves 6.


• 1 ½ pounds asparagus, broccoli, small green beans, cauliflower or young, small zucchini

• Salt

• 3-4 tablespoons best quality unsalted butter, preferably Parma butter (Delicata)

•6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano



1. Prepare vegetables as needed: wash under cold running water, scrubbing zucchini to remove any grit, trim, peel any tough asparagus stems, top green beans but leave whole. Peel broccoli stems and cut heads of broccoli or cauliflower into florets. Prepare basin of ice water and bring large pot of water to boil.

2. Add a handful of salt to boiling water and stir in vegetable, cover, and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook until crisp-tender. Immediately drain and plunge them into ice bath to arrest cooking. Drain, spread on a platter, and cover until ready to serve. If using more than one vegetable, blanch each one separately. They can be prepared to this point several hours ahead.

3. When ready to serve, melt butter over medium heat in large skillet. Add vegetables and gently toss to coat. Simmer until hot through and tender. Sprinkle with cheese, cover, and let cheese just melt. Uncover, turn off heat, and serve immediately.


Strawberry Semifreddo

The funny thing about semifreddo is that it means “partly frozen” and yet the dessert it names is completely frozen. I’ve garnished it with a simple compote of fresh berries, but you can top it with chocolate sauce, a fruit coulis, or just serve it plain. Serves 6.


• 4 pints fresh strawberries

• About 1 ¼ cups sugar

• 3 large eggs, at room temperature

•2 cups chilled heavy cream

• 3 tablespoons orange liqueur

• Mint sprigs, for garnish, optional



1. Wash berries and set aside 1 pint. Cap, core, and halve 3 pints of berries and sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar, to taste, and let stand until sugar is dissolved, about 20-30 minutes. Coarsely puree in food processor, pulsing: don’t completely liquefy, but leave some small chunks.

2. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Separate eggs, putting whites in clean glass or copper bowl and yolks into upper pot of double boiler or heatproof bowl. Prepare double boiler bottom or pot with 1 inch water and bring to simmer. Gradually beat ½ cup of sugar and ¼ cup water into yolks and place over simmering water. Beat until fluffy and ribbons thickly off whisk. Remove from heat and whisk until cooled.

3. Whip egg whites until frothy, then sprinkle remaining ¼ cup sugar over and whip to soft peaks. Using chilled bowl and whisk, whip cream to soft peaks. Fold cream into yolk mixture and then fold in whites. Gently fold in strawberry puree and 1 tablespoon liqueur. Spoon into prepared pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

4. An hour before serving, cap, core, and slice remaining berries. Sprinkle with sugar to taste and add 2 tablespoons orange liqueur. Set aside and let macerate 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve semifreddo, remove from freezer, uncover, invert over a plate or platter, and lift away pan. Remove plastic wrap and slice. Put each slice on a serving plate, top with sliced berries, garnish with mint if liked, and serve at once.