Joanna Weinberg. The woman whose recipes work.
“He’s going to come a bit later, he didn’t want to be the first one to get there,” my friend explained of her husband on a recent night out. “I suppose I can understand, he doesn’t want to hang out with my friends all night. If it was with his friends, I’d probably show up at last orders.”
“And I’d probably have a massive strop and not show up at all,” I replied.
“They’re so lucky to have us, aren’t they?”
Much as I genuinely love my boyfriend’s friends, many of whom have become friends of my own (hi guyzzzzzz!), it’s always a little bit more effort to drag myself off the sofa, away from Take Me Out, to see his chums rather than my own. (It’s an effort to see my friends, too. I really do love Take Me Out.)
I’ll try everything. “Do you reeeeeeally want to go?” I’ll ask, stretching languidly. “Yes,” he’ll reply. I won’t say anything for a bit.
“I’m not sure that I reeeeeeeally want to,” I’ll eventually say, as if he hasn’t guessed. He’ll look at me sternly. “Philip! We’re going.” I’ll pout. Maybe harrumph a couple of times. But it never works.
And so I go and stand in the corner and feel miserable and drink slowly and check my watch not very surreptitiously and eventually Will will let me go home and he’ll stay out and go to Heaven and roll home at 6 in the morning and I’ll feel smug that I had a good night’s sleep and bang around the kitchen really loudly with no sympathy for his hangover. Again, he really is lucky to have me.
But to try and trick him into thinking that I’m not actually all bad, sometimes I’ll do something so selfless, with so little griping, that it hopefully tips the scales back into my favour. Like cooking a three course meal for six on the Friday night of the first full week back at work after Christmas.
“You really fucking owe me for this,” I hissed, hunched over Tesco Online, nursing the last of the festive port, and none of the leftover Christmas spirit. “All I want to do is crawl into a ball and die and you’re making me cook a whole dinner?”
“Pip, I’m not making you do anything. We can go to the pub if you like.”
“Humph,” I harrumphed. There was no chance of that. One of the guests was Will’s ex girlfriend and her husband (so modern) and the last time we’d been to their house they’d done something amazing with steak and scallops, so I had our honour to protect. Plus I literally love playing the martyr.
But seeing as it was the first week back and I was battling with a crushing depression bigger than the hole left behind by the Christmas tree, I went for a book I kind of knew would work. “Where’s the fun in that?” I hear you cry. “We love it most when you serve up raw potato!” But January is not a time for uncooked tubers, and boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends are not the sort to whom you should be serving them.
And so I chose Cooking For Real Life by Joanna Weinberg. Disclaimer – I know Joanna. She is lovely, and has written recipes for me at both Sunday Times Style and Red, and they have always been easy, delicious and included unexpected twists of flavour. And she’s polite, oh how polite! One August I descended on her home and dressed it for Christmas and made her light a Christmas pudding constantly for two days and she never complained once. I kind of love her a bit. (That was for a shoot, by the way. Not some weird hostage situation.)
The only problem with her recipes? So simple were they that I barely got a chance to have a stress at Will whilst cooking them.
Joanna’s Parma ham with elderflower poached rhubarb and burrata
Take the starter – Parma ham with elderflower poached rhubarb and burrata. I poached the rhubarb the night before with some elderflower cordial, and as the guests were arriving I simply drizzled it over the ham and cheese. If it hadn’t been so delicious I’d have almost felt cheated.
And mine. Weird yellowy-ness not present at time of photo. I blame January light
The Spiced butterflied leg of lamb with cucumber raita nearly denied me the chance to hiss too, but luckily I found the opportunity. “Do you want to check the meat?” Will asked as I was clearing the plates. “Sure,” I smiled sweetly, keen to make it clear to Will’s ex girlfriend that we had the perfect relationship.
Top: Joanna’s lamb, followed by her salad
(At this point, it might be wise to point out that they dated for about two months nearly a decade ago, and she’s been married for five or six years, and neither of them have ever given me any cause to think there is anything other then friendship between them. BUT STILL.)
My version. The pitta bits were Joanna’s idea. Guess what? They totally worked.
“I don’t know if it’s done, you check if it’s done, meat is your job,” I snarled into his ear by the oven. “Well, has it been in as long as the recipe said?” he asked “Isn’t that the rule?” It had been, and it was, to perfection; Joanna’s Courgette, fresh pea and ricotta salad making a light, zingy, welcomingly Spring-like accompaniment to the spices of the meat.
Then finally came the Eastern Trifle, which again I’d made quietly and unfussily the day before. “You seem very calm, and everything tastes wonderful,” Will’s ex girlfriend said as I spooned dessert out unceremoniously into the bowls. “Oh, well, the recipes were really good, which helps,” I smiled. She’s so sweet. – he really does have good taste in partners.
And the trifle didn’t disappoint. It was like a regular one, only with the base soaked in Earl Grey and some orange blossom water adding a touch of exoticism. Everyone liked it, even if it did look like a grey mess by the time it made it to table.
The guests left early – it is January, after all, and whilst no one was on a detox, people still had vague resolutions to somehow be better about their drinking. “Thanks so much for cooking for my friends,” Will said, loading the dishwasher.
“They’re my friends too,” I replied, full of goodwill to all men. “And it totally wasn’t a bother.” See? He really is lucky to have me.
Cost of ingredients: £42.68 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Starter * * * * *
Main course * * * * *
Dessert * * * *
Overall 10/10 and not just because I know the author. It is sublime.
Cooking for Real Life by Joanna Weinberg (Bloomsbury, £25) Original photography by Jill Mead.