Welcome to the courgette plank of shame. These don’t look that big in the picture, but trust me, they’re massive. Although I’ve noticed that the courgettes for sale in the supermarkets are sometimes bigger, which is clearly madness. According to Ruth Rogers of River Cafe fame, the best courgette for picking is the size of a large thumb – the problem being that it stays that size for, ooh, around thirty seconds before transforming into a monster. I’ve given up picking them now, so overladen are we with the glut.

The courgette-marrow plank of shame

Meanwhile the drop in temperature and damp weather has brought on the hops, which are now covered in these prickly little flowers. I’m on the allotment three times a week to pick the raspberries and gather the sunflowers, dodging showers (not always successfully) and noticing all the jobs that need doing that I don’t have capacity for.

The hops are beginning to flower

Harry and I got caught in a downpour so had to hang out in the ramshackle greenhouse for half an hour

Dad’s monster aubergine demanded some proper attention. These days I prefer recipes that take ten minutes here and there, leaving me free to run the business / remove Harry from the fireplace (his latest favourite place) / organise the wedding etc etc. Moussaka fits the bill perfectly.

Dad with his aubergine

Lots of recipes demand that aubergines are fried first but I dislike this approach for two reasons: 1, you use a shed load of oil, which is both too fatty and too expensive, and 2, it takes forever and is very dull. The best thing to do is thickly slice the aubergines, add a wee bit of oil, then roast in the oven until soft. I’ve added some summer squash to the mix because GLUT.

Roast the sliced aubergines and courgettes

Whilst the veg is roasting away, make a braised lamb sauce. You could use leftover roast lamb here – I think this would probably be better actually – but I only had lamb mince to hand. Simply cook together with onions, tomato puree, cinnamon and red wine until reduced and unctuous. The cinnamon is important, giving background warmth and the whisper of distant sunkissed shores. After an hour of gentle puttering it should be thick and delicious, at which point you can use it straight away or leave for a few hours until you’re ready to finish the moussaka.

The braised lamb sauce

Finally, make a simple béchamel sauce, generously flavoured with nutmeg. Once it’s done leave it to cool for a while, then stir in two eggs for that classic custardy finish.

The béchamel is mixed with eggs and nutmeg

To make the moussaka, layer up your dish in this order: aubergines, meat, aubergines, meat, béchamel. Bake at 180c for about 45 minutes, until the top is blistered and golden. Now – this is VERY important – leave it untouched for at least thirty minutes to calm down and firm up. Hot moussaka is a sloppy horrible mess, but warm moussaka holds its shape and the flavours shine through. Serve with a simple side salad.

Let the moussaka stand for half an hour after baking to allow it to firm up

Inspired by Felicity Cloake’s Guardian recipe. Serves 6 (I made two dishes and froze one)

Olive oil
1 monster aubergine and 1 summer squash / courgette, or 2 large aubergines
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
500g minced lamb or leftover roast lamb. Use good quality if you can.
2 tbsp tomato puree
splash of water
150ml red wine
Parsley, chopped

For the béchamel: 
500ml milk
60g butter
60g plain flour
50g parmesan, grated (you could use pecorino or kefalotryi if you have it)
2 eggs
Nutmeg, to grate

Preheat the oven to 180c. Cut the aubergines and squash into thick slices, and place on a roasting tray. Drizzle with oil and season. Bake until soft and golden, about 20 minutes.

Now the lamb. Warm a lidded frying pan or casserole dish on a gentle heat. Cook the onion in a shake of olive oil and a pinch of salt until soft. Stir in the garlic, cinnamon and oregano, then add the lamb. Cook over a high-ish heat until the lamb is well browned and the mixture is quite dry – about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for another few minutes to get rid of the raw taste, then add in the wine and a splash of water to cover the meat. Turn the heat right down and braise for about 45 minutes until the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the parsley and season to taste. Leave to cool and spoon off any excess oil.

Make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two, then gradually add the milk. (Recipes always tell you to use hot milk but who actually does this? I use it cold and stir like mad between each addition to remove the lumps.) Cook until you have a thick sauce and then simmer gently for five minutes to cook through. Stir in the cheese. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then add the nutmeg and eggs.

Finish the moussaka. In a suitably size dish (or two dishes) layer up aubergine, meat, aubergine, meat and finish with the sauce. Bake for about 40 minutes until well browned. Leave to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Also this week:

Cooking: Roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovy; roasted vegetable pasta (allotment veg); caramel almond sponge; runner beans braised with tomatoes.

Eating: Pizza at Baked in Brick, Cronut from Medicine bar, Chandigarh veggie samosa and curries

Harvesting: Sunflowers, cleome, dahlia, sweetpeas, cosmos, rudbeckia, last runner beans, loads and loads of raspberries, last blueberries, courgette, squash, cavolo nero, chard, spinach beet. The tomatoes that we’re getting are great and gnarly and red and delicious.

Also: Trying to balance work projects (festival organising, website writing) with baby care with organising a wedding with general life stuff. Re-reading The Summer Book by Tove Jansson and disturbingly obsessed with Say yes to the dress on Quest Red.

Marinated lamb with aubergine relish

Yesterday was a rainy dull day, albeit warm, a day made for kitchen pottering. I’ve been making a variation of this recipe for years: in essence, lamb marinated with garlic, cumin and chilli, roasted or barbecued, then served up with a tomato-aubergine salad-relish-type thing.

First, make up the marinade. I pounded two cloves of garlic with a heaped teaspoon of cumin, the same of dried chilli flakes and a scant teaspoon of ras-al-hanout. You could use more but the memories of messing up that anniversary tagine are still etched in the memory. Bash it all together with olive oil to make a paste.

Garlic, cumin, chilli, ras-al-hanout and olive oil

Next, prep the lamb. I used a half leg of lamb which I boned and butterflied, but most lamb cuts will work…shoulder, chops. Actually, you could use chicken or, thinking about it, pheasant or partridge might work too.

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Butterflied leg of lamb

Simply rub the marinade into the meat, cover and leave for a few hours to let all the flavours mingle. No salt at this stage.

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Rub in the marinade and leave for a few hours

When ready to cook, season the meat with salt. This is great on the barbecue, but yesterday I used the hob-oven approach: get a heavy frying pan really hot, sear the meat for several minutes on each side, then finish in a 180c oven until done to your liking. This piece was seared for 4 minutes each side then had 15 minutes in the oven and came out just pink. When done, leave to rest for 10 minutes or so.

Lamb is very forgiving so if you want it well done, just cook for a bit longer. For falling-apart lamb, I’d use shoulder and cook in the oven at a lower temperature, say 150-160c, for a couple of hours.

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Marinated lamb, ready for carving

To serve, I made an aubergine relish: Dice an aubergine or two and roast with really good olive oil for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté a chopped onion until soft, then add cinnamon, cumin, coriander, all-spice and paprika. Add tomatoes and a pinch of sugar, and cook until nicely combined – about 20 minutes – adding the aubergine at the end. Finish with whatever herbs happen to be around; parsley, coriander, mint, all good.

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Serve with aubergine relish and salad

The marinade brings out all the lovely lamby-flavours. There’s the kick from chilli, that earthy flavour that cumin provides, and lovely toasty bits from the pan-searing. It feels like a special occasion dish but is actually easier-than-pie. Hurray for lamb!

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A feast of lamb!

Marinated lamb serves 2-3

Half leg of lamb, boned and butterflied

2 cloves of garlic

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tsp ras-al-hanout

Olive oil


Pound the garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add the cumin and chilli and bash until broken down a little. Stir in ras-al-hanout and olive oil. Massage the marinade into the lamb, cover, and leave for several hours (overnight in the fridge is fine). When ready to cook, pre-heat oven to 180c. Season the lamb on both sides with salt. In a heavy-based frying pan that can be put in the oven, sear the meat for 4 minutes each side, until nicely browned. Move the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until done to your liking. Rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with aubergine relish, yoghurt, salad and a starch for the juices…rice, chips, couscous, bread.

Aubergine relish

1 or 2 fat aubergines

Good olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp allspice berries

1 tsp cinnamon (powder)

1 tsp sweet paprika


Tin tomatoes, or 5 fresh tomatoes, chopped (and skinned if you can be bothered)

Pinch sugar

Fistful of herbs to finish, e.g. coriander, parsley, mint

Dice the aubergine, toss with a glug of good olive oil and roast at 200c for about 20-30 minutes until soft and slightly charred around the edges. Meanwhile, toast the whole spices in a dry pan until the scent rises; transfer to a pestle and mortar to cool. Sauté the onion in more olive oil until soft and translucent. Bash the cumin, coriander and allspice until powdery, then add to the onion with the cinnamon,  paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook for a scant minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar then cook on a low heat until combined and sauce-like, about 20 minutes. Add the aubergine and cook for a further few minutes. Finish with herbs. Good hot or at room temperature.