Dinner Document

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

Nettle Spaghetti


Inspired by an image of nettle Tagliarini with dock leaves posted by Tim Siadatan, chef and co-owner at Trullo (an Italian restaurant in London that I desperately want to visit), I made this.

At Trullo, they garnished their pasta with an uncooked egg yolk, which would be broken on the pasta, enriching the green, nettle-coated strands. I would certainly have done the same, had we not been having scrambled goose egg and asparagus afterwards (didn’t want to over-egg it etc..)

Find the tenderest, youngest nettles you can for this and take only the leaves: discard the stalks.

This is a delicately flavoured and savoury dish.

This makes enough for around 3-4 people as part of a meal.

Wearing gloves essential to picking and washing nettles – wear a pair of thick marigolds!


a bag of nettles, leaves selected and washed

pasta : spaghetti or tagliarini or similar - around 75g per person

delicious olive oil

1 clove, garlic, finely chopped

parmesan and / or / 1 egg yolk per bowl

nutmeg (optional)

How to make:

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the nettles for around 3 minutes.

Remove and refresh with ice water. Drain and place in a mixing bowl.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the pasta and cook.

In a small frying pan, gently sautée the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil and then add to the nettles. Add 2 or more further tablespoons of olive oil to the nettles and blitz with a blender or chop up as much as you can if you don’t have one, which should be fairly easy with the cooked nettles.

Season with salt and a touch of pepper and a touch of nutmeg (optional).

Add a ladle of pasta water to the mix.

Toss cooked pasta with the bright green nettles and then serve, garnished with the egg yolk and/ or parmesan or similar cheese.

Eaten with:

Chablis and followed by truffled scrambled goose egg and asparagus.

Beetroot Salad with Sour Cream Dressing



Last night I made soufflé. It was my first time and I followed Julia Child’s recipe for an egg-whites-only cheese version (Gruyere): there were c. 25 to use up from mass ice cream / set orange custard cooking last week – I nixed 7 in this session.

Child refers to her soufflé recipe as ‘light’ on account of the lack of yolks – and one almost believes her – until reading that the béchamel into which one folds whisked egg whites is made with 1/4 pint cream, not milk. The puffy, delicate texture of the finished item did at least create the impression of levity in the eating.

As a side dish I made this salad, which was popular, even with my  beetroot-avoiding father. My brother Henry called it a ‘Becca classic’, whatever that means – I guess I could do worse than be epitomised by a cold beetroot salad..

Now that the basic soufflé principles have been learned form Child, I am excited about making more – Margaret Costa’s ‘Four Seasons’, has some promising recipes.


Roasting the Beets:

4 smallish beetroots

2 bay leaves, halved (optional, thyme also great)

1 teaspoon, dried sage (optional)

1 garlic clove, cut into 4 chunks (optional)

1/2 tablespoon, cider vinegar


1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 very finely chopped shallot (or small spring onion)

1 tablespoon, chopped parsley

salt and pepper


a handful of chopped walnuts

a few pitted black olives - the Greek type

a few radishes, sliced finely (optional)


1 tablespoon, sour cream

1 tablespoon, mayonnaise

1 tablespoon, chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon, red wine vinegar

salt and pepper

How to make:

Wrap each beetroot in foil with a piece of garlic, a piece of bay leaf, a sprinkle of sage, a few drips of cider vinegar and olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 1 hour, then peel by rubbing off the skin – under a cold tap if you don’t have time to let them cool first.

Cube the cooked beetroot and toss in the vinaigrette/shallot mix.

Set aside until you want to serve.

Immediately before serving, arrange the garnish on top and then drizzle with sour cream dressing. If you don’t serve immediately the dressing will turn purple.

Eaten with:

Cheese soufflé, bread and butter, frisée salad. More cheeses. Viognier wine.

Smokey Griddled Cavolo Nero (or Kale), with Chicory, Truffle and Girolles / Tomatoes, Ricotta, Rosemary and and Garlic / Griddled Parmesan and Lemon Polenta

The chicory and cavolo nero dish was excellent. The musky, savoury earthiness of the truffle and girolles added depth and the sweet, smoky and bitter flavours that are revealed through cooking winter leaves like this is really special.

Sweet, juicy and acidic tomatoes with aromatic garlic are the ideal foil for rich, cheesy lemony polenta. When griddled, grilled or fried, polenta develops a crust that gives texture and the bitterness of scorched cheese, but remains soft and comforting in the middle.

Smokey Griddled Cavolo Nero (or Kale), with Chicory, Truffle and Girolles




2 head of chicory, sliced lengthways from the base (keep base intact) into 1/2 cm thick slices

a double handful of small cavolo nero leaves – tough stalks removed, tiny stalks can be left in

2 tablespoons of dried girolles or ceps soaked in hot water for 30 minutes then chopped roughly

2 teaspoons of chopped black summer truffle in oil (can be bought online in a jar for around £15) or a drizzle of truffle oil – or omit entirely, as it is still delicious without it

squeeze of lemon juice

How to make:

Heat a griddle pan until hot. Brush the chicory slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until there are scorched lines on each side and the stalk bit is tender. Do this in batches so each bit touches the heat directly. The scorched bits give smokiness. Set aside on a warm plate.

Toss the cavolo nero or kale in olive oil and salt and chuck onto the griddle. Cook until wilted and slightly scorched. Add to the chicory. Mix up with the girolles and the truffle oil, a small squeeze of lemon juice and a dash more olive oil. Can be eaten lukewarm, hot or cold.

Tomatoes, Ricotta, Garlic, Rosemary and Olive Oil




A double handful of sweet ripe small tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, sliced

a sprig of rosemary

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 tablespoon vinegar (white or normal balsamic)

1/2 tub ricotta

How to make:

Place all of the ingredients bar the ricotta in a small ceramic or glass oven dish in a hot oven with a good pinch of salt and leave until the tomatoes skins split and the flesh is soft. Take out and add a few tablespoons of ricotta and gently spoon over some of the oil. Cover in foil. Turn the oven down to low (e.g. 140 celsius) and warm the ricotta through – around 10 minutes. This can sit happily until needed and can be re-heated.

Griddled Parmesan and Lemon Polenta


200g polenta

1 litre hot water

juice 1/2 lemon

zest of 1 lemon, chopped up

40g, unsalted butter

100g parmesan

salt and pepper

How to make:

Add the polenta to the water on a low heat and stir vigorously to get rid of lumps. Allow to bubble slightly and keep stirring. Add the lemon zest and juice, butter, parmesan, a very good pinch or two of salt and several grinds of black pepper pepper and keep stirring. Cook while stirring for 5-10 minutes. If it becomes too thick add some more hot water and keep stirring. When the grains of the polenta are tender and no longer al dente, pour the mixture into an oiled oven tray or trays until it sits around 2-3cm thick. Allow to set and cool which will take around 30 minutes.

Turn it out and slice into portions - e.g. 10cmx5cm large or however big you want.

Heat a non-stick griddle pan or frying pan until hot. Brush each bit of polenta with a touch of olive oil and place on the griddle pan. Leave for 5 minutes or until there is a crust forming and scorched lines if using a griddle pan, and then gently turn over. Set aside on a warm plate.


The tomato and ricotta goes marvellously well with the polenta. We had some fresh rocket on the plate too.

Serve the chicory and cavolo nero either as a separate dish or alongside.

Leek, Mushroom and Ceps filled Crêpes with Parmesan and Truffle Sauce


In 2012 my friend Katie gave me a little jar of sliced summer truffles in oil. I’ve rarely if ever eaten truffles and until Tuesday, I had not found occasion to use them. Fortunately they last until December 2014, so they were still in fine fettle when pancake day gave me an idea.

I could not have been happier with how this tasted and the truffles gave the sauce a deep, earthy luxuriance. I did not over-do the truffle, which I can see would be an easy mistake to make, such is their musky power.

You can buy jars of sliced black summer truffles in oil online for around £15.


2 leeks, cleaned well and finely sliced

a double handful of brown or white mushrooms, finely chopped up

1 tablespoon of dried ceps, rehydrated in just enough hot water to cover them for 30 minutes, then chopped

1 tablespoon of creme fraiche

squeeze of lemon juice

butter and a tablespoon of olive oil


40g plain flour

40g unsalted butter (2 heaped tablespoons)

1.5 pints, milk

150g grated parmesan

2 teaspoons, chopped up summer truffles


Enough for 8

1 egg and one yolk

280ml milk

110g plain flour (4 heaped dessertspoons)

1 tbsp flavourless oil

Sift he flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Break in the egg and yolk, and add a pinch of salt and a splash of the milk. Whisk the egg, gradually incorporating the flour, to make a smooth cream. Whisk in the rest of the milk and the melted butter. Whisk all the ingredients until smooth and then leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Resting time makes them lighter.

To make the Pancakes:

Get a non-stick pan really hot and swirl around a small amount of melted butter or a small amount of flavourless oil such as vegetable or groundnut. If using butter be careful it doesn’t burn. Add a small ladleful to the pan and swirl it round until it thinly covers the base of the pan. You do not want puddles of unset mixture on top : if you do, there’s too much mixture in the pan. When it’s golden brown underneath either flip it if dare or use a spatula to turn it. Keep them in a warmed oven until ready to assemble the dish.

For the Filling:

Melt a knob of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a largish heavy-bottomed pan or frying pan over a high heat and when it’s hot, add the mushrooms. Toss them about and keep turning them, ensuring they don’t burn. If the heat is not hot enough they will stew rather than fry, and become rubbery. When they are browning add the chopped ceps and the leeks and fry until the leeks are soft, turning regularly. Add the reserved water from the ceps and allow to cook off. Then stir in the crême fraîche and the squeeze of lemon, season well with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the sauce:

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stir and cook through for a minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking all the time until all is added then stir over a high heat until it comes to the boil then reduce heat and stir until the consistency of double cream. Add 3/4 of the parmesan and truffles, stir until the cheese is melted and then season to taste with salt.


Butter an oven proof dish that can fit 6-8 filled pancakes. Place a one and a half tablespoons of filling in along the middle of each pancake and  roll up and place in the dish. Repeat until all are used up. Pour the sauce over and sprinkle the remaining parmesan and put under a hot grill or in the oven until the top is browned.

Eaten with:

Lightly dressed green salad made with butter lettuce, and dressing of 1/2 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper, whisked together.
Picpoul de Pinet white wine.

Chinese Leaf with Spring Onion Greens

Although this is ludicrously simple, it is very delicious and worth making just like this. Have as one among 3-4 Chinese dishes including rice, and pork.

For 3 as a side

1/2 head of chinese leaf cut into 2 inch sections

4 x green parts of spring onion, cut into 1cm slices

1 tablespoon groundnut oil or sunflower oil

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

How to make

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan on a high heat and add the spring onion greens. Fry for a minute until it begins to brown and is fragrant. Add the Chinese leaf and toss in the oil. Stir all the time. Fry for a minute or so until some of the leaf browns  slightly – this adds depth of flavour. Add 3 tablespoons of water to cook the leaf through – it should almost instantly turn to steam. Add the light soy sauce and the sesame oil. Stir well.

Serve with:

Rice or noodles and other dishes such as Chinese pork.

Lamb Chops, Hot Romesco Sauce and Fried Chicory


After < 5 minutes of deliberation with Zoe, I made this for dinner in Brixton with Patrick who brought some good, inexpensive Tempranillo to drink with the lamb and a fruity Kernel Brewery 'Table Beer' (3%) to amuse us before the start. More wine followed (Rioja).

Zoe made lovely wet polenta flavoured with lemon and parmesan and thyme as our carb (follow cooking instructions on packet, and then add a knob of butter, a few heaped tablespoons of grated parmesan, a sprig of thyme, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a hefty pinch of salt and remember – keep stirring or it’ll go lumpy!).

Small cubed or halved smallish skin-on potatoes roasted in olive oil and sea salt would also ‘go’ really well with this (and take around 25 minutes in a hot oven).

Once you’ve blitzed the Romesco sauce, which can be done in advance, all that’s left to do is to fry the chicory and the lamb chops and whip up some polenta or bung some potatoes in the oven. It is a low-stress dinner (I think)

For 4


8 lamb chops, seasoned with salt and pepper and rubbed in olive oil

4 heads of chicory (endives)

1/2 lemon

tablespoon of chopped parsley garnish (optional)

Romesco Sauce

3 spring onions

2 Romero peppers (long, pointy red ones)

1 medium red chilli

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

3 heaped tablespoons ground almonds

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed with salt

To make the sauce:

Pre-heat the oven to hot, or heat up the grill to high.

Cook the Romero peppers, chilli and spring onions until soft and slightly charred on a baking sheet. Turn every few minutes if under the grill.

The skin of the Romero peppers will be broken and almost peeling away. The spring onions and the chilli take less time than the peppers to grill so add 5 minutes after.

When cooked, peel the peppers and remove the seeds. Then blitz with all of the other ingredients with a blender. If you want it to have less heat, take out the seeds from the red chilli.

Taste for seasoning and add a hefty pinch of salt. If you think it needs more acidity, add more vinegar.

This can be done in advance.


Slice the chicory to 1/2 centimeter (1/4 inch) thick slices lengthways from the base. Do not cut off the base as you need it to hold the slices together. Season the chicory with salt and pepper. Melt a knob of butter and heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan.

When it’s hot, lay the chicory slices down in the pan so they cover it. When the slices are golden brown and slightly charred turn and cook the other side. You will have to fry the chicory in batches so keep a plate in the oven on a low temperature covered with foil to put the cooked slices in while you finish the rest. Squeeze over some lemon juice and a bit of extra salt and pepper just before serving.


When the chicory is cooked and resting in the warming oven. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and when it’s hot, add the lamb chops. Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side depending on the thickness. You want them pink in the middle, but not still raw. When cooked, lay on a warm plate or pan and drizzle with lemon juice, the parsley and an extra pinch of salt.

How to serve:

Warm dining plates in the oven while the lamb chops are cooking lay all the dishes out on the table and spoon the Romesco sauce over the meat when it’s on the plate. If you’re serving this with wet polenta, make sure you serve up immediately before the polenta solidifies. Lots of red wine. 

Egg Poaching

Adjacent, not

mixed: two liquids begin after a fall down so that

one is in the other, and

warm until

light refracting albumen – looking like an apparition – mists up.

Peering in

I see it now, becoming

white, separating


It bobs –

surrounded by hastening molecules that rise                    up,            

and strain against

surface tension.

The golden orb

glazes over, like

a cataract.


And now, a

precarious object is

fully apparent –

soft, tremulous solid holding sunny

flows. And I know it is


Ode to Celery

Pale charm

and difficult


you have

been so often

misused, and

found among the wrong kind and at the wrong time

of year, too. You should be

dirty and rich –

prized savoury root


by dark Fenland

minerals – in Winter



I like you

soft and tender from

slow heat,

buried under

thickened white liquid,


with shards of hardened, salty

fermented milk

– of some type or other  –

and then scorched, by

hot metal bars.

Smooth Leek, Rosemary and Potato soup with Cannellini Beans


This is luxuriant but simple and the addition of the beans give texture and make it a substantial lunch.

Serves 2-3


1 large leek/2 small leeks, white and pale green parts only - cleaned and finely sliced

1 shallot, very finely chopped

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

1 stick celery, very finely chopped

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 branch, rosemary

1 bay leaf

cannellini beans

1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 heaped tablespoons, crème fraîche

knob of unsalted butter

1.5 pints, hot water or chicken/vegetable stock

How to make:

Melt the butter and cook the shallot, garlic and celery with a pinch of salt until very soft. Add the leeks and cook until soft. Add the potato and then the water or stock, rosemary, bay leaf and vinegar. Cook until the potato is soft. Remove the rosemary and bay leaf. Blend thoroughly until smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche. Season with salt to taste. Add a spoon of cannellini beans per bowl of soup and warm through. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

Eaten with:

Sourdough spelt toast.

Honey, Tomato, Ginger, Saffron and Cinnamon Chicken with Toasted Nuts



On Monday I almost made cauliflower in white sauce with chicken and braised peas – but roast beef with creamy dauphinois and magisterial steamed marmalade sponge and custard was Sunday’s feast – so I thought a contrastingly spiced dinner would be preferable.

I have made a similar dish before and posted it on here months ago, but this rendering is by far the best yet. My dad, who ate it, insisted I write it up and though he’s not known for being short of hyperbolic appraisals of his supper (especially when cooked by my mother), he’s nonetheless convincing. So here it is – I really enjoyed it too.


2 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick attached) – or a mix of 4 drumsticks and thighs

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon, tomato paste

2 teaspoons, honey

1 tablespoon, vinegar

1/2 tin, chopped tomatoes

1 cup, water

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

1 pinch of saffron threads

2 teaspoons, hot harissa paste

pinch of chilli flakes


1 tablespoon, toasted pinenuts or walnuts

squeeze of lemon juice

Bulghur Wheat

1 cup bulghur wheat, covered with water so that water is 1 inch above wheat in the pan, and cooked on a medium heat with a lid on until water has disappeared. Season with olive oil a pinch of salt and chopped parsley just before serving.

How to make:

Season the chicken all over with salt and black pepper. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan that fits the chicken legs fairly snugly, and add the chicken skinside down.

Cook until the skin is browned and then turn over. Add the onions to the pan and cook until soft and translucent with a lid on. Add the garlic after 5 minutes of the onion cooking. Add the ginger, cinnamon, harissa paste, chilli flakes, saffron and tomato paste and fry for a minute. Add the water – enough to just cover the chicken.  Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, vinegar and honey. Simmer gently for 20- 30 minutes so that the sauce reduces by half. Taste for seasoning and add salt until you are satisfied.

While it is cooking gently toast the nuts so they are just turning light brown.

To serve squeeze lemon juice over and sprinkle over the nuts.

Eaten with:

Green salad (dressed with lemon juice, olive oil salt and pepper) and bulghur wheat. Red wine.

Curried Sweetcorn Chowder

Good for lunch and easy to make.


1 small tin, sweetcorn

1 waxy potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1/4 pointed cabbage, finely sliced

1 onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons, tomato paste

1 tablespoon, medium curry powder

1 medium strength chilli

1 pint, boiling water

80ml, cream

1/2 teaspoon, Nigella (Black Onion seeds)

the green part of 1 spring onion, sliced up

squeeze of lemon to garnish

How to make:

Sweat the onion in a knob of butter with a good pinch of salt until soft add the garlic and the chilli and cook for a minute. Add the curry powder and stir. Add the potatoes and nigella seeds and coat in the mixture. Add the water, tomato paste and sweetcorn and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the cabbage and the spring onion tops and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Take off the heat and stir in the cream. Taste for seasoning and add salt as required. Add to a warm bowl and garnish with a small squeeze of lemon juice.

Eaten with:
Bread and water.

Homemade Chicken Kievs with tarragon, parsley and garlic butter oozing out and sweet potato chips.

Homemade Chicken Kievs with tarragon, parsley and garlic butter oozing out and sweet potato chips.