Jo Pratt's Flexible Family Dinner #LeithsTakeovers

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Jo Pratt's Flexible Family Dinner #LeithsTakeovers

The Flexible Family Cookbook by Jo Pratt

Eating together as a family is such an important occasion. When you eat together, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up, relax, get things off your chest and generally have a good time. So with that in mind, I’ve pulled together three recipes from The Flexible Family Cookbook that you could cook for or even with your family as a delicious evening meal or lunch. All recipes have flexible ingredient suggestions that you can adapt to suit your family’s needs.

FLEXIBLE FAMILY DINNER MENU

Starter

Popcorn Cauliflower Bites

Dipping anything in breadcrumbs and frying until golden is always going to be a winner, and for anyone telling you they don’t like cauliflower, they may well change their minds if they try this. They’re a brilliant party food snack, or a starter when entertaining. To avoid last-minute rushing around, coat the cauliflower florets in the crumbs and keep chilled, in a single layer on a tray. Then all you need to do is fry them and serve with garlic mayonnaise, ketchup, chilli mayonnaise or just a squeeze of lemon.


Time taken 30 minutes / Serves 8 as a snack

200g/7 oz chickpea (gram) flour

or plain (all-purpose) flour

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic salt

350ml/9 fl oz/1½ cups milk of choice

1 cauliflower, broken into bize-size florets

150g/7 oz panko breadcrumbs

sunflower oil, for frying

garlic mayonnaise, to serve


  • Whisk the flour, paprika, oregano, garlic salt and milk together until you have a smooth batter.
  • Dip the cauliflower florets in the batter, allowing excess to drip off and then roll them in the breadcrumbs to evenly coat.
  • Fill a wok or deep frying pan with about 5cm/2 inches sunflower oil and place over a medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, working in a few batches, carefully add the cauliflower florets. They should start to instantly sizzle when hitting the hot oil.
  • Fry for about 2–3 minutes until nicely golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower florets.
  • Serve with the garlic mayonnaise to dip into.

Flexible

Gluten-free: use gluten-free breadcrumbs if you can get them; alternatively swap the crumbs for polenta or fine cornmeal.

Upgrade: you don’t have to stick to a garlic mayonnaise to serve with the cauliflower fritters. You can try all sorts of dipping options, shop-bought or homemade. Combining equal quantities of a creamy blue cheese, such as dolcelatte, with sour cream or crème fraiche and a handful of snipped chives is a favourite of mine, or mayonnaise mixed with chipotle and lime juice is a close second.

Main

Gnocchi, Aubergine and Tomato Bake

We all need a few quick and easy weeknight suppers to rely on and this could soon become one of your regulars. It’s well worth keeping a bag of fresh gnocchi in the fridge for emergency suppers. Double up on quantities and make a couple of trays if you’ve an army of kids to feed. If you want to make it go even further serve with some garlic bread and a big green salad.


Time taken 1 hour / Serves 4

1 onion, sliced

1 medium-large aubergine (eggplant),

cut into bite-size chunks

3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 x 400g/14 oz tin chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato purée

2 cloves garlic, grated or crushed

1 tsp caster (superfine) sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

handful chopped basil

450g/1 lb fresh gnocchi

200g/7 oz mozzarella

flaked sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper


Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/gas 7. Put the onion and aubergine in a roasting tray or baking dish big enough for them to sit in a single layer. Toss in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway for even cooking, until they are lightly golden.

Mix together the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, garlic, sugar, balsamic, basil and 100ml/3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup water.

Remove the tray from the oven and pour in the tomato mixture, add the gnocchi and stir around to coat in the sauce. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and dot around the tray. Drizzle with olive oil and add a twist of pepper.

Return the tray to the oven for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden.

Flexible

Upgrade: you can add a variety of ingredients to this to make it different every time you serve it. Add diced chorizo or spicy Italian sausage with the onions and aubergine (eggplant). Or add some chilli, olives, capers or anchovies to the sauce. I also like to scatter in some tinned flaked tuna or prawns when adding the gnocchi.

Veggie-lover: for added veggies, stir some spinach through the sauce or throw in a handful of green beans.

Cheese-lover: try a different cheese such as taleggio, ricotta, dolcelatte or a generous scattering of Parmesan. The options really are endless.

Dessert

Favourite chocolate brownies

I’m a huge fan of making brownies. You can be as flexible as you like with flavourings and treats added to the brownie mix, depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard or who you’re making them for. Once you’ve made a batch you’ll realise that this is a very flexible recipe that can be adapted for any occasion, from a bake sale, morning coffee, decadent dessert, a foodie gift, weekend baking with the kids or simply as a naughty-but-nice treat for the family.


Time taken 45 minutes / Makes 15 generous sized brownies

200g/7 oz unsalted butter

200g/7 oz plain chocolate (about 70% cocoa solids),

chopped

3 eggs

300g/10½ oz granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

125g/4½ oz plain (all-purpose) flour

pinch of flaked sea salt

Plus… additional flavours (optional)

1 tsp ground cinnamon or ginger

½ tsp chilli powder (believe me, it’s delicious)

1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water

grated zest of 1 orange

1 tbsp brandy, rum, coconut or orange liqueur

... and up to 250g/9 oz treat of choice (optional) e.g. white, milk or dark chocolate chunks/chips/buttons, pecans, walnuts, toasted hazelnuts or macadamia nuts, roughly chopped, fudge or caramel chunks, dried fruit, such as cherries, raisins, cranberries, mini marshmallows (just a couple of handfuls), fresh raspberries, chopped stem ginger or candied peel


  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas 4. Line a 20 x 30cm/8 x 12 inch rectangular, 3–4cm/ 1¼–½ inch deep baking tin with baking parchment.
  • Place the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and leave to gently melt, stirring as little as possible. Alternatively, gently melt in the microwave in 10-second bursts.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until they are lovely and thick and creamy, but you still feel the gritty granules of sugar. Pour in the melted chocolate and butter and mix in.
  • Sift in the flour and salt and add any optional flavourings or treats. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 25 minutes until the top is cracking and the centre is just set.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes before cutting into squares.

Flexible

Gluten-free: the recipe is just as perfect with a plain gluten-free flour.

Dairy-free: choose a suitable dairy-free chocolate and any treats. For a butter substitute you can use a dairy-free butter, coconut oil or even a light olive or sunflower oil. The results are a little softer and gooier but what’s not to like about that!

Happy flexible cooking!

Jo Pratt

Author: Jo Pratt

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