‘The the key to eating well at work is preparation, preparation, preparation... and finding a victim to share lunch duties’

Rachel Collins, production editor

 

When I first moved to The Irish Times Features department I wondered how I’d find the room – and the time – for all the cakes and fruit platters and glamorous lunches in smart cafes that I’d heard were the fabric of life on the fourth floor. Would I be less productive quaffing all those bottles of Champagne that everyone in the newsroom just knew they were drinking up there in the rarefied world of arts, culture and lifestyle coverage?

I needn’t have worried.

Cakes, I’ve had a few, but lunches (and sometimes breakfast and dinner) inhaled over my keyboard are as glamorous as it gets.

In spite of this, my work day is punctuated by food. At any one time I like to have a rough idea of what I’ll be eating for the next two to three meals. Gluttonous? Probably. But it’s a fun game and my life is dull. Let me have it.

The the key to eating well at work is preparation, preparation, preparation ... and finding a victim to share lunch duties.

If you’re going to take turns bringing leftovers, sharing salad-making responsibilities or convincing each other a block of cheese and some piccalilli is indeed a balanced meal, you need to be selective. You want to find someone who understands the life-and-death importance of good quality leftovers. And who likes to share.

Once you’ve established those two facts, you can begin your courtship. A brief flirtation to test the waters is advisable: “I have some spare curry/stew/food that smells better than Spar sandwiches, would you like some?”

If they say yes, you’ve got your in.

Next, accept their offer of some food. And if you like what you see (and what you taste), you’ve scored. It’s like Tinder for greedy people. Greeder 

I chose my lunch buddy carefully. Likes to cook: check. Known to utter “I know this combo seems strange but it’s delicious, promise. And there’s loads of it”: check. Knows soup isn’t really food: check.

The only slight drawback with my lunchmate Emma is that she’s vegetarian and I am a committed carnivore. I feel this is my nod at being healthy though, as it prompts me to cook less meat and more veggies.

Everybody knows premium leftovers come in the form of Things That Improve Overnight, like curry, pasta, stew, anything that’s baked... and wine. Unfortunately they won’t let us drink wine in work (and I still haven’t seen that Champagne), so here’s an easy vegetarian baked dish – adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe – that tastes even better for lunch the next day.


Chickpea and spinach gratin
Ingredients

3 tins of chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp olive oil
4 red onions peeled, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp flour
450g (one large bag) fresh spinach
250ml vegetable stock
450g (a tub and a half) crème fraîche
100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
50g soft white breadcrumbs

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Warm the olive oil in a roasting tin or large casserole over a medium heat, add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic have softened and taken on a little colour. Meanwhile, boil the chickpeas in water for about 5 minutes, drain. Wash the spinach, then steam for 2 to 3 minutes until softened. Drain and squeeze the moisture out (a clean tea towel is good for this).

Stir the flour into the onions and garlic, let it brown slightly.

Pour the drained chickpeas, stock and crème fraîche into the onions, season with salt and pepper, turn up the heat and bring almost to the boil. Pull the spinach apart, adding to the pan in pieces. Stir well. Sprinkle the grated cheese and breadcrumbs over the top, then bake for 45 minutes or so until a golden crust has formed.

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