If it was to be done properly, we needed a table and enough chairs to seat all 10 of us on the beach. The table wasn’t a problem: Leo had one for camping that extended, and even if it didn’t extend enough, our collective philosophy was less “build a longer table”, and more “everybody budge up”. Budge up, but on your own seat, of which Leo had only six – four blue-and-white striped, rip-stop nylon stools that matched the table; and two fishing chairs, complete with wide armrests and drink holes. We would just have to supplement with four plastic chairs from the house.
Table and chairs sorted – but what to eat? Planning meals in groups often means a noisy collective trawling through lifetimes of such meals, everyone dragging not only their opinion and preferences, but their childhoods into the conversation, sometimes regressing back to the child they once were.
The Italians dominated the discussion. Some sort of pasta al forno was essential; a short pasta – rigatoni, maccheroni or mezze maniche – bound with tomato sauce, interspersed with at least three cheeses and baked until the top was golden and blistered. A savoury tart was also important, pastry sturdy enough to support a substantial filling and – if necessary – keep out seawater. Meatballs in tomato sauce would be nice, frittata extremely welcome, focaccia great – if Alice had time. There also had to be something impanato – in breadcrumbs – veal, beef, chicken. A vote was taken, and chicken won.
Aluminium legs were anchored between stones by some, the rest of us finished up the cooking at the house. It is always satisfying to see how quickly both head and hands adapt to a temporary kitchen, especially one that doesn’t have much in it. There is the initial scan, like a reconnaissance robot, followed by a speed inventory of what there is and isn’t, and you are off adapting as you go, spinning salad in a child’s perforated beach bucket, proving one not-very-sharp knife can do it all. Even more satisfying is cooking with a friend who is also a kitchen ally, and who has thought to bring a pepper grinder, grater and bottle opener on holiday with her.
The beach we visit is a world away from the main sandy beach at Santa Marinella, with its monotonous grid of rentable (for those who can afford them) beds and umbrellas. Ours is a scraggy pebble dash belt, villas on one side (some smart, some not), the wine-dark sea on the other. Pebbles and driftwood can seem uninviting, but once you find the spot for your bottom, or table leg, they provide solid support and smooth beauty. It was Leo’s idea to have Sunday lunch on the beach, not a picnic but a pranzo della domenica, lifted to the summer dining room of the beach. Leo was the one who set up the table with cloth, chairs and two umbrellas, ready for the pasta and meatballs swishing in sauce. Also the breadcrumbed chicken, ready to be squashed in soft roll, or between slices of bread, which of course sticks to the roof of your mouth, while the sea air seasons everything.
Breadcrumbed chicken sandwich – panino di pollo impanato
Wiping the pan of crumbs before frying the other side avoids escaped crumbs burning and sticking, and also ensures both sides get a good amount of fat, and therefore a sandy gold colour. It is also a good idea to let the chicken breasts cool before putting them in a Tupperware, even though a fog of condensation is all part of it.
Prep 15 min
Cook 10 min
1 large or two medium chicken breasts, cut into four thin slices
Salt and black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Bread rolls, squares of focaccia or slices of bread
You want thin, roughly 3mm slices of chicken for this. To achieve this, hold each breast flat and steady on a work surface with the palm of your non-knife hand. Using a sharp knife, slice the chicken breast horizontally. If you feel confident, cut it into four. Otherwise, simply put the halved chicken breasts between two pieces of cling film and use a rolling pin to gently pound them; be careful not to break the meat – simply stretch it a little.
Arrange three plates: one with flour seasoned with salt and pepper; another with the beaten egg; a third with fine breadcrumbs. Dip the chicken slices into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.
Warm a mix of butter and olive oil until the butter foams, and lay the chicken in the pan. Cook for three minutes, or until a golden coat has formed, then remove any stray breadcrumbs from the pan. Add a little more butter and oil, and turn the chicken to cook the other side.
Leave to cool before packing in a box. Pack rolls and/or bread, separately, too. Everyone assembles their own.