Dinner Document

rebecca may johnson London and suffolk ............................. recipes and thoughts

Banana, Cardamom and Walnut 100% Spelt Loaf

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I have just made this as a belated birthday cake for my mum. It took 20 minutes to prepare and is spicy, soft and very moist from the bananas and dates. Walnuts give texture. Excitingly, it can be eaten by some for whom normal wheat is a problem. We will have it with a dollop of cool Greek yogurt like my friend Lily serves at her place, Café Viva on Choumert Road in Peckham. She makes the best banana bread I’ve had in London.

Ingredients:

185g wholemeal spelt flour

180g soft brown sugar

75g, soft unsalted butter

1 egg

1 heaped teaspoon, bicarbonate of soda

4 smallish, ripe bananas

8 dates, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, chopped up

8 walnuts, chopped up

6 cardamom pods, husks removed and ground up in a pestle and mortar

1 teaspoon, ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon, vanilla extract

pinch of salt

How to make:

Pre-heat oven to 170 degrees celsius. Grease and line a medium sized loaf tin with baking paper.

Mash up bananas, mix well with sugar, butter, spices, vanilla extract, dates, the egg, the salt and the walnuts in a mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon. Sift in the flour and add in any wholemeal bits that get caught in the sieve. Mix thoroughly and spoon into the tin.

Bake for one hour. When a knife or skewer comes out of the cake clean, it is cooked.

Eat with:

Butter spread on it, or Greek yogurt and a dusting of cinnamon.

Stuffed Courgette Flowers with Warm Diced Courgette and Tomato

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In this summer I am spending in Suffolk as I finish my PhD, I’ve been looking forward to the moment when the vegetables that my dad and I have been tending, would be ready to eat. At the weekend there was a thrilling moment when I saw that the delicate, lilac aubergine flowers had come out. Tomatoes are ripening all the time and fresh, bright yellow courgette flowers appear every day. To that, there are bountiful and diverse herbs growing outside: mint, italian parsley, basil, lovage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, tarragon and more. This recipe is a lovely way to engage with many of these summer flavours. It was my first time making this and I was delighted with how little time it took, and how easy and effective it was.

I made up my own batter recipe after reading many different ones, and it produced a very light, crisp result. A deep fryer was not necessary; just having the oil hot and gently turning them worked very well and as ricotta does not melt, the cheese did not ooze out.

Ingredients

6-8 courgette flowers

150g ricotta

50g grated parmesan or crumbled salty goat’s cheese

a small bunch of fresh herbs: basil, chives and parsley, torn or cut small

Batter

200ml lager

2 heaped tablespoons, plain flour

1/2 tablespoon, cornflour

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

Sauce (optional)

1 small courgette, diced

2 ripe tomatoes, diced

1 smashed garlic clove

1 tablespoon, chopped parsley

How to make:

Mix the batter ingredients together with a whisk in a bowl and season with salt and put in the fridge.

Mix together the ricotta and herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the stamen from inside the courgette flowers and gently ease in as much of the ricotta mixture as you can into each one with a teaspoon, pushing it as far in as you can. They should be full but not overflowing.

Place a small frying pan or sauce pan on the heat with about 2 cm of sunflower oil in and put on a high heat

Remove the batter from the fridge, turn a stuffed courgette flower well in the batter. Check the oil is hot enough by dropping in a bit of batter - when it sizzles, gently lay the battered flower in, and turn every 30 seconds until it’s golden all over – remove to a warmed plate with some kitchen roll on. Continue until all are done.

– meanwhile – toss the tomato, garlic and courgette together with some olive oil and salt in another pan, for about 5 minutes until softened but not disintegrated. Then mix in parsley and season fully.Eaten with:

Serve the courgette flowers with a spoon of the tomato mix, and a small wedge of lemon.

Sweet-Sour Pepper and Aubergine

This is a simple and not overly sharp rendering of caponata that I made last night for Zoe and Sam. The slightly charred aubergine lends a smoky quality. Other dishes were rosemary and garlic lamb with runner beans, tomato and ricotta, and chicory salad, and Zoe (an old hand) and Sam (who I hadn’t cooked for before) seemed to take pleasure in eating them.

If I make it again I will remember to take a picture.

Ingredients

1 aubergine, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds

2 red peppers

1 green pepper

1 tablespoon of capers

juice 1/4 lemon

1 tablespoon, wine vinegar

olive oil

How to make:

Heat the oven to high. Rub the peppers whole in a small amount of oil and put in the oven. Cook until soft and the skin is fractured, then remove, set aside and peel when a bit cooler. Cut into chunks and remove the seeds. Place in a bowl.

- while they are cooking -

Toss the aubergine rounds in salt and olive oil, then fry over a high heat until slightly charred on each side and soft in the middle.

Halve the aubergine slices and mix with the peppers, capers, lemon juice and vinegar and seasoning of salt and pepper.

Eaten with:

Bread, two delicious wines brought by Sam and Zoe.

Aubergine and Minced Lamb with Cinnamon, with Cucumber and Dill Salad

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After a week of racing boats in Suffolk and an intensely brilliant weekend in London I was exhausted and sorted myself out by making this. It is an inexpensive way of cooking meat and was breeze to make. Henry and Fez, who ate it with me, cleaned the pan with bread despite having just eaten a great volume of chips, initially assuring me they would not need food – so I felt it was worth recording.

Ingredients:

250g lamb mince

1 aubergine, cut into 2cm cubes

1 courgette, cut into 2cm cubes

4 tomatoes, blanched and peeled (if you can be bothered) and chopped roughly

150g tinned tomato (around 1/2 can)

1 onion, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

300ml water

1 teaspoon, sugar

2 teaspoons, ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon, cumin seeds

a hefty pinch of chilli flakes (your heat preference)

1/2 lemon

Garnish ( if you want)

1/2 lemon

tablespoon  of chopped parsley

a bowl of natural yogurt

How to make:

In 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and over quite a high heat in a large, deep frying pan, seal the mince until browned then remove and set aside.

Add the onion to the same pan with 2 tablespoons of oil and cook for two minutes over a medium heat while stirring. Add the garlic and the spices and cook for a further 5 minutes until caramelisation is happening – the garlic and onions are browning, but not burning.

Add the aubergine and courgette and fry for 5 minutes, adding a little more oil if needed. Add the tomatoes, the tinned tomatoes, the sugar, a good pinch of salt and the mince. Cook for 1 hr 30minutes, uncovered on a low heat and just bubbling and add some more water if it gets too dry. It is done when the aubergine is very soft and the mixture is moist but not swimming in liquid. Taste and season well with salt and a bit of pepper. Squeeze some lemon in at the end for a touch of acidity.

Serve with more lemon, and some natural yogurt and parsley if you wish.

Cucumber Salad

1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced finely

2 teaspoons of chopped dill

1/2 tablespoon of vinegar

1/2 tablespoon of olive oil

pinch of sugar

good punch of salt

How to make:

Mix everything together and arrange on a plate. Check it has your preferred seasoning and acidity and adjust if wished.

Eaten with:

Chopped gem lettuce salad, extra lemon and bread.

Hazelnut and Shropshire Blue Salad

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A few months ago I enjoyed a butter lettuce and hazelnut salad with house salad cream at Hoi Polloi in Shoreditch. This, made at home with lettuce picked from the garden is inspired by that one, but has a different dressing and the addition of Shropshire blue cheese, as I ate it for lunch, rather than as a side.

Ingredients

Some fresh, soft lettuce

a tablespoon of toasted hazelnuts

two tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese, such as Shropshire Blue

a few sliced spring onion tops

a few slices of cucumber

Dressing

1 teaspoon, creme fraiche

1 teaspoon English mustard

1 teaspoon of runny honey

a small squeeze of lemon juice

2 teaspoons, vinegar

1.5 tablespoons oil (rapeseed, olive or sunflower)

salt and pepper

How to make:

Arrange the salad ingredients on a plate. Mix the dressing together thoroughly and taste for seasoning. Drizzle the dressing over the top.

Tinned Tomatoes

A domestic blade is effective

in puncturing the metal,

and a drop of red

runs

over and out and down the

ridged side.

They had hung  

among rolls of green

that tumbled under the hottest star,

east from here:

Dotted across weak furry stems, wan blossoms

bloom, growing globes of

Chartreuse

that become

Vermillion. Bobbing fruits

greedily suck the

loamy dirt

of its liquid,

swelling more and more

and more until

it cannot be borne,

and

they must come off

either by force,

or a fall.

Before the indefinite move to

blacked-out,

airless and

sealed cylindrical confinement,

a calculated application of fierce heat ensures that

translucent,

blood-red

skin separates

from collapsing,

ripened flesh

and they are drowned

–  and presented

in their own juices.

Antica Trattoria della Pesa

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Net curtains and an almost-closed, ivy green door screened off the Antica Trattoria della Pesa from the humid heat of June and the rest of Milan. A look round the small foyer however, revealed lunch taking place in a room of white tablecloths, an ancient dresser in oiled wood bearing crockery, glasses, bottles of grappa, and a porcelain bowl full of bright vegetable pickles.

A calm waiter wearing a crisp shirt and clean, black apron showed me into a back room half-full of male pairs having business lunches, and a coal-fired burner painted with green enamel paint – certainly from the late 19th century (at most early 20th). Dark wooden panelling covered the lower half of the wall, and the top was painted white, and covered with a sparse collection of poor-quality prints and cuttings. Overall, it felt like I was in a Sherlock Holmes novel.

I had a plate of finely sliced Lardo di Ballabio first – sweet and salty and with a thin rind of pungent, hard herbs. I was given the large bowl of pickles with a spoon to add some piquancy – they were extraordinary and tongue-twisting.

Then came fresh tagliatelle with a large heap of porcini mushrooms fried in butter. An excess of melted yellow butter formed pools underneath the pasta. I sat in silent awe at what I was eating and at the place with its  efficient and benevolent waiters.  Intense, good coffee was served with a dish of warm langues de chat. As I left I told the young, female maître d’ that her restaurant was a heavenly place.

Roast Sweet Potato and Green Pepper and Prawns in Smoky Tomato Sauce, with Sour Cream and Coriander

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I made it for my brother and his girlfriend when I’d just landed back from a mad fashion trip to Milan – and not a scrap was left over. It took very little time and had a high impact, flavour-wise. I made it again even better a few days later for some friends, so here’s the recipe:

Serves 4-5 with rice

Ingredients

400g prawns – ideally raw, or frozen

1kg sweet potato, peeled and cubed

2 green peppers, cut into 2cm chunks

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon, smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon, chilli flakes

1 teaspoon, ground coriander

1 teaspoon, ground cumin

2 tins, tomatoes

1 small pot, sour cream

1 bunch of coriander

1 lime

How to make:

Pre-heat the oven and roast the sweet potato with the green pepper, tossed in some olive oil and salt.

While this is cooking, fry 2 chopped cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil and when lightly golden brown add the spices, then add the tinned tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add a teaspoon of vinegar and a pinch of sugar to the sauce and season well with salt and pepper.

Then fry the prawns with the final chopped clove of garlic for a minute or two in a deep frying pan and then add the tomato sauce and simmer for around 3-4 minutes. Check seasoning.

Remove the sweet potatoes and peppers and place on a large serving dish. Pour the prawns in sauce over the top. Generously spoon sour cream on top, tear some fresh coriander over the top, and a dusting of smoked paprika, and a squeeze of lime.

Serve

With bread or rice, extra lime to squeeze over if desired, and some extra chilli sauce.

Aubergine, Spinach and Girolles in White Sauce with Garlic and Parsley

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I think I’m stuck in a vegetable and white sauce cooking rut – but am content to be there.

I made the mistake of underseasoning this dish - I wasn’t paying enough attention, clearly – but this was remedied with a good grating of Parmesan when served. It’s a riff off a Claudia Roden recipe that just uses aubergines in her recently published Spanish book – I didn’t have it to hand, but had made her version a while ago and thought it excellent. In fact, there are a number of good recipes in that book.

Brown mushrooms or another variety of dried mushrooms will work as well as girolles.

The friend I was cooking for can’t eat normal wheat, so I used spelt flour to make the white sauce, which works a treat.

Serves 2-3, with salad and a pudding of grilled cinnamon peaches with Greek yogurt

Ingredients

2 aubergines, sliced into 1cm disks and tossed with salt and olive oil

1 bag baby leaf spinach or equivalent normal spinach

1 cup of dried girolles soaked for 20 mins in hot water, or other mushrooms

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

White Sauce

3/4 pint milk

40g unsalted butter

v heaped tablespoon white spelt/normal plain flour

1 bay leaf

grating of nutmeg

100g, grated parmesan, plus extra for topping

How to make

Pre-heat the oven to 200c.

Fry or roast the aubergine slices in a little olive oil until they are soft and browned on each side. Make sure the frying pan is very hot if frying.

Set aside.Meanwhile make the white sauce by melting the butter in a small sauce pan, then fry the flour in the butter for a minute. Add the milk very slowly, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Add the bay leaf and nutmeg and keep stirring until it’s the consistency of double cream. Stir in the parmesan until melted and turn off the heat. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.

Then quickly fry garlic in a small knob of butter, then add the spinach and mushrooms and stir around until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble:

Find a medium-sized oven proof dish. Start with a spoon of white sauce on the bottom of the dish, then a layer of aubergines, then spinach and girolles and a sprinkle of parsley and a grind of salt and pepper. Carry on until all is used up and there’s a enough white sauce left to cover the top. Add more parmesan and parsley to the top. Bake until the top is browned and bubbling. Serve with:

Green salad and some good bread if you have it.

Roasted Pepper, Aubergine and Garlic in Tomato Sauce and White Sauce with Feta

At the weekend it was my granny’s 80th birthday party. Twenty of our family ate together in the garden under a gloriously hot sun. My aunt and uncle are both chefs and have a wonderful restaurant in Blakeney, Norfolk (The Moorings). The relaxed classicism and local ingredients used in their cooking always makes for an excellent supper. For the 80th party they had brought two large cooked sea trout arranged with thin slices of cucumber covering the flesh, pink beef, an exemplary and zesty lemon tart, and a blooming Victoria sponge with fresh cream and strawberries (my cousin Charlotte made that). Another aunt, Victoria brought heaps of rich, sweet crab from Salcombe in Devon, and to that my mum and I made a lot of salads, assisted ably by more family.

As a result on Monday night we didn’t want much in the way of meat or fish and I made this, about which my father was not hesitant in his rapturous delight. The soft, smokey vegetables, the rich, sweet tomato sauce, milky béchamel and salty hits of feta were good together.

It might seem that there are a lot of things to do to make this, but it’s really quite simple and did not take me long.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 large aubergine (or 2 smaller ones), sliced into 1cm roudns

3 red peppers

a few plum tomatoes, quartered (optional)

1 bulb of garlic

3 tablespoons of crumbled feta

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)


Tomato Sauce

1 tin tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 mild red chilli

1 red onion finely sliced

small bunch oregano

handful of basil leaves, torn

1/3 glass red wine

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon, sugar

Béchamel

1 pint of whole milk

40g butter

2 level tablespoons plain flour

bayleaf

salt and pepper and nutmeg

How to make:

Pre-heat the oven to a high setting.

Lightly coat the whole red peppers, aubergine slices and tomato quarters with olive oil and some salt. Lay out in roasting dishes with the bulb of garlic cut in half across the bulb, and roast until the aubergines and tomatoes are soft, and the peppers are blistering. They will have slightly different cooking times, but overall should take around 30 minutes When each is done then remove from the oven and set aside. When the peppers are not too hot, peel them and remove the seeds over a bowl, reserving the juices in the middle. Cut them into thick strips.

For the tomato sauce

Meanwhile – in a deep, heavy bottomed frying pan soften the red onion and chilli in a few tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt. Add the tinned tomatoes and a tin’s worth of water and the tomato paste, and oregano then stir and cook for 10 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar and sugar and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Add the reserved juice from roasting the peppers and several of the roasted garlic cloves, mushed up. Season well with salt and black pepper.

For the béchamel

Just before you are ready to assemble the dish, melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook for a minute then gradually pour in the milk while whisking, with the bay leaf. Cook while stirring and then season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stop cooking when it has the consistency of thick, runny double cream.

Assemble

Layer up the vegetables with tomato sauce in between in a medium sized oven dish. Dot in a few of the spare roasted garlic cloves. Pour over the béchamel, and top with the feta cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes in a medium oven until the top is golden.

Eaten with:

Salad and red wine.

Quick Italian-Style Dauphinois with Bay Leaves

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I made this when eating toute seule after a day’s digging in the vegetable patch, where I was planting seedlings outside for the first time. It accompanied juicy pan-fried lamb chops and served with a version of the River Café herb sauce, which is salty, green, thick and cold, made with breadcrumbs, anchovies, garlic, plenty of different herbs, capers and olive oil.

The potatoes were soft and sweet with the top slightly crisped, and took only around 20 minutes to cook through. The key is to slice them very finely and not to layer them too thickly. This recipe is no revelation, but the method produced very good potatoes and I had not done it before.

Ingredients:

waxy potatoes

olive oil

bay leaves or rosemary or thyme

How to make:

Pre-heat the oven to 180c.  Peel the potato(es) and slice very finely - like 2mm max. Toss in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, depending on how many potatoes there are, salt and pepper.

Layer around 3-4 slices thick onto an oven dish, interspersing your herbs.

Bake until soft all the way through.

Meanwhile – season then fry or grill your lamb for about  3-4 minutes on each side, depending how thick, so that the center remains pink and whiz up the green herby sauce.

Leave the meat to rest for a few minutes then serve.

Eaten with:

Red wine, lamb, herb sauce.

Beetroot salad Mint, Oregano, Toasted Coriander Seeds and Goat’s Cheese Dressing,

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One of my dad’s patients gave him a bag of home-grown beetroots recently and this is the last of them. My mum had cooked them up a few days previously, and I used them to make a starter to supplement a green risotto. The coriander seeds add little bursts of aromatic citrus flavour and the goat’s cheese saltiness is classically lovely against sweet beets.

Ingredients:

Some small, cooked, peeled beetroots

a small piece of soft goat’s cheese

1/2 tablespoon natural yogurt

1/2 tablespoon creme fraiche

1 teaspoon coriander seeds - lightly toasted in a dry pan

sliced fresh mint leaves

whole oregano leaves

olive oil

How to make:

Beat the goat’s cheese with the yogurt and creme fraiche, and a spoon of olive oil and season with salt and a touch of pepper.

Cut up the beetroots into sizes you would wish to eat and arrange in a bowl. Drizzle over dressing, sprinkle over the coriander seeds and the herbs, and lastly, drizzle over olive oil and a pinch of salt.

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