• Dotty

6 Things I'll Cook in July

July - how on earth is it July already? We're into the second half of the year but I'm staving off the thought that that means we're on our way towards the dark nights and cold mornings again. (Although some days in Newcastle it feels like that wintery chill never left). I’m sure it’s pretty clear by now that I try to cook seasonally. I enjoy cooking this way because it helps me to feel sort of grounded in the now. It gives me variety too as I can’t just throw the same old fruits and vegetables into my trolley every week and make the same half a dozen dishes on repeat. I enjoy the way that eating seasonally forces me to utilize my creativity.

So, although this month I fully intend to continue to gorge on stone fruits, tomatoes, courgettes, crunchy lettuces and green beans, part of me is also beginning to look forward to the next shift in the seasons. As we progress into deep summer and early autumn, I’ll greet the blackberries, squash, plums and kale like old friends.

1) Mediterranean Vegetable Tian

The first day of July has been terribly grey so it seems necessary to put the most colourful recipe first. It's delicious as a vegetarian main with some crisp salad doused in olive oil and balsamic or it makes a great side dish. I'll be serving this alongside my Sunday roast, along with some roasties seasoned liberally with rosemary and garlic, as a summery alternative to peas and carrots. This dish can be prepared ahead of time and then cooked later. Once cooked, it also keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days and can be enjoyed cold, or covered with foil and reheated.

Serves 4 as a side dish

2 large white onions

2 cloves garlic

1 large aubergine

2 courgettes

300g cherry tomatoes

olive oil

salt and pepper

oregano or thyme

1) Peel and half the onion then slice it into long, thin half-moons. In a large frying pan, sweat the onions over a medium-low heat with a generous glug of olive oil and a 1/4 tsp salt. Place the lid on the pan and allow the onions to sweat down slowly until they are soft and sweet. After about 5 minutes, grate in the garlic and continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, slice the aubergine and courgette into thin rounds. Half the cherry tomatoes.

3) Once the onions are cooked, spread them across the bottom of an oven proof dish then arrange the aubergine, courgette and tomatoes alternately in concentric circles.

4) Scatter over the torn oregano or thyme.

5) When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180c/ gas 5. Drizzle over more olive oil, a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper and cook for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender and starting to turn golden.

2) Bagels

I have good memories of bagels. When I was at University, my post-night out drunken munchies of choice was, like every self-respecting student, a box of nuggets at Macdonalds. But occasionally, if we were out in East London, we'd treat ourselves to a Bagel from one of the Brick Lane Beigle shops that were open 24/7. Drunk or sober, I still crave these bagels.

I am yet to find a really good bagel shop in the North East (if anyone has any recommendations for good, classic bagels please let me know!) so this month I'm going to try my hand at making them.

3) Carrot and Smoked Tofu Burgers

I recently cooked with tofu for the first time and didn't hate it. Tofu is one of those things that really seems to divide the crowd. Even die hard veggies and vegans seem to be divided by the stuff.

I've got a pack of smoked tofu in my fridge that I bought with the intention of trying the Smokey Roast Carrot Burgers from Anna Jones's A Modern Cook's Year. The recipe is also shared here on BBC food.

4) Tomato Fritters

I designed this dish as a starter for one of my June Supper Clubs. The combination of garlicky yogurt, mint, tangy feta cheese and tomatoes is just so good... I can't wait to make them again.

Serves 2

300g tomatoes

¼ red onion

2 sprigs mint

5g parsley (5g)

1 tsp za’atar

30g plain flour

40g feta cheese (goat’s cheese also works well)

For the yogurt:

2 tbsp plain greek yogurt

1 clove garlic

pinch salt

To serve:

1 tps za’atar

2 sprigs mint

extra virgin olive oil

1) Wash the tomatoes then cut them into quarters. Now go over them with your knife to roughly chop them. You are aiming to make them about the size of your little fingernail.

2) Once they’re well chopped, transfer them to a bowl and sprinkle over ¼ tsp salt. Use your hands to squeeze the tomatoes, mixing in the salt and releasing the tomatoes’ juices as you do so.

3) Transfer into a sieve. Place the sieve over a bowl and leave them to drain for 30 minutes. It’s important to remove as much excess water as possible to avoid soggy fritters.

4) Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt dressing. Measure the yogurt into a small bowl. Peel the garlic and roughly chop it. Then sprinkle it with a pinch of salt and use the flat of your knife to crush the garlic into a very fine paste. Combine with the yogurt and pop it into the fridge until you need it.

5) Now prepare the rest of the fritter mix. Slice the red onion as thinly as you can, then go over the whole thing roughly to create delicate shards of onions. Place them in a bowl.

6) Finely chop the mint and parsley and add them to the onion, along with the za’atar. Crumble in 40g feta cheese.

7) Once the tomatoes have drained, squeeze them thoroughly again to really get out as much liquid as possible then add them to the bowl with the onion and mix thoroughly. You can discard the tomato juice, or save it for soup/ sauces/ bloody marys.

8) Add the plain flour and mix to combine.

9) Shape the mixture into 8 fritters. These will be roughly the size of a whole walnut, or the same size as your tablespoon measuring-spoon.

10) Transfer the shaped fritters onto a plate and leave them in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour. They must be cooked on the same day they were made.

11) To cook, heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, gently add the fritters and cook for about 2 minutes on each side until golden. Avoid moving the fritters too much as they may fall apart. Drain the fritters on kitchen paper to remove excess oil.

12) To serve, smother the plate with a dollop of the garlic yogurt and arrange the fritters on top. Tear over some fresh mint, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with the za’atar.

5) BBQ Everything

Back in January, I set myself 10 foodie goals for the year. One of them was to get more confident using the BBQ. At the end of last year, we moved from a first floor flat with a yard into a flat on the ground floor that had a little garden. Now I have no excuse to not be out there using the BBQ a little bit more, it's time to get my grill on.

I have a long list of things I want to BBQ - from attempting to cold smoke salmon in it, to slow smoking a piece of pork, to lamb kofta and brisket... I've got a lot of grand plans. Now I just need the weather to play ball and I’ll be cooking on coals!

6) Peach Tart Tatin

Unlike a traditional tart tatin, you don't need to cook the fruit before you top it with pastry so it's much quicker to make. You can prepare the caramel and peaches in advance and then top with the pastry just before you're ready to cook it. It takes about 40 minutes in the oven so make sure you pre-heat the oven whilst you're eating the main course to avoid a lengthy wait before dessert comes out. It's also delicious served cold.

Serves 6

5 large peaches

2 sprigs thyme (optional)

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry

100g caster sugar

60g cold butter, diced

1) Core the peaches and slice them into half moons, approximately the thickness of your finger.

2) Place the caster sugar in a large, oven-proof frying pan over a medium high heat. Melt the sugar and continue to cook to an amber coloured caramel.

3) Remove from the heat and stir in the diced butter to create a caramel sauce. Add the sprigs of thyme, and then carefully begin to layer the peaches into the caramel. Be careful as the sugar will be really hot!

4) Once all of the peaches are squished in, you can either set it aside until you need it or top it with pastry and cook it straight away.

5) If you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 160c/gas 4. Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut a disk that is slightly larger than the perimeter of your frying pan. Rest the pastry over the peaches and tuck in the sides. Cut a small cross in the centre to allow steam to escape.

6) Cook for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden. Leave the tart to stand for five minutes or so before carefully flipping onto a plate.