Recipe: Frances Bissell’s Banana and Walnut Loaf

Frances Bissell's Afternoon tea on Gozo and banana and walnut loaf

Frances Bissell's Afternoon tea on Gozo and banana and walnut loaf - Credit: Archant

Baking with children or for a neighbour? Frances’ recipe for an Easter afternoon tea treat will cover all occasions as she lists some ideas for store cupboard cooking

Normally at this time of year I would be writing a pre-Easter column.

Chocolate or eggs? Lamb or rabbit? An Easter brunch or an afternoon tea?

We aren’t living ‘normally’ so, this is the “what to do with the billion pounds-worth of food we have stockpiled” column.

We are such a nation of food wasters that I fear some of our hoards will go the same way. What’s in your cupboard? How do you plan to use it? Mine isn’t much different from usual; I have a couple more tins of tomatoes and beans, some extra pasta and a pack of gnocchi, bread flour and cake flour and some treats such as snails, artichoke hearts, a cotecchino and a jar of albacore tuna.

The last two items make an instant Sunday lunch, salade niçoise with the tuna, green beans, lettuce and whatever your ‘authentic’ niçoise contains, and cotecchino served with polenta or mashed potatoes.

The canned artichoke hearts, if I can’t get fresh ones, I add to a casserole of new potatoes and peas (frozen), with a splash of white wine, seasoning, some lemon zest, chopped parsley and chives; it’s a lovely, comforting vegetarian dish which has been a favourite ever since I came across it the first time we went to Gozo.

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To make a richly flavoured tomato sauce that will provide the basis of a range of dishes, I peel and finely chop a good-size onion, two carrots and two or three celery stalks, gently fry them in olive oil until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise, then I add two or three cans of chopped tomatoes.

It’s important not to add these until the vegetables are well cooked, or the acid in the tomatoes will keep the vegetables firm. You can add a little water to help soften the vegetables. Once the tomatoes are added, add seasoning and a little red or white wine for extra flavour or some stock. Cook the sauce gently for ten to twenty minutes to allow the liquid to reduce a little. When cool, blend and sieve and store in portions in the fridge, or freezer; perfect with gnocchi and pasta, sauce for cooked fish or turn it into soup with the addition of semi-skimmed milk and chopped basil.

With cans of cannellini or coca beans you can create almost instant baked beans, not requiring hours of slow cooking. Fry a pack of diced pancetta in a large frying pan, with some chopped shallot if you wish, add drained beans, and a generous spoonful of black treacle or dark muscovado sugar. This is a good place for some of that tomato sauce too. And for a smoky flavour, add some pimenton dulce. Cook all together for about 20 minutes without breaking up the beans.

Snails? The late Margaret Costa created a wonderful recipe in her brilliant Four Seasons Cookbook, wrapping two or three snails (canned, drained) in a small parcel of puff pastry with a generous knob of garlic butter.

They bake to crisp golden pastries, oozing buttery garlic juices; a treat in the Bissell household long before I became a cookery writer.

But in the end, perhaps the most cheering, comforting thing we can do, is to bake, some for ourselves, some for a friend or neighbour.

And, indeed, why not while away an Easter afternoon creating an afternoon tea?

A banana and walnut cake, some scones and cucumber sandwiches will be so welcome.

And finally, a big thank you to our local shops – fishmongers, greengrocers, Londis, butchers, wines shops, bakers and other food stores, which have provided a haven of civility amongst the terrifying madness of the supermarkets.

Banana and walnut cake

(Makes 2 loaves)

150 g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

150 g light or dark muscovado sugar

400 g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon each ground allspice, ground nutmeg and powdered cinnamon

2 ripe bananas, mashed

150 g chopped walnuts

4 eggs, beaten

100 ml milk – see recipe

Heat the oven to 180 C/350 F, gas mark 4. Lightly butter two 500 g loaf tins, and line the bottoms with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and creamy.

Sift the flour, spices and salt together. Alternately add a spoonful of flour and some of the lightly beaten egg to the creamed mix until all mixed. Add the mashed bananas and the walnuts to the cake batter. Add sufficient milk to make a dropping batter and mix thoroughly. Divide the cake batter between the two tins, and smooth the surface. Bake for about an hour. When cooked, a knifepoint or skewer inserted into the centre of the loaves will come out clean.

Remove the tins from the oven and allow the cakes to cool in the tins, unlike the way you treat sponge cakes. This is a moist cake. When cold it can be wrapped well and frozen, or kept in an airtight tin for several days.

© Frances Bissell 2020. All rights reserved.