Tomato, courgette and pesto tarts

I have a thing for puff pastry. Covering a creamy chicken pie, twisted into cheese straws, folded over fruit to make a freeform galette, twisted with cinnamon sugar into tightly swirled palmiers – I’ll take them all please. This recipe therefore marks my continued quest to incorporate pastry into my diet in a way that isn’t completely over indulgent and unhealthy.

tomato, courgette and pesto tarts

These tarts are one of the simplest ways to get some flaky, buttery puff pastry into my diet whilst simultaneously getting some vegetables. It’s also really good for getting vegetables to stretch frugally far – just one courgette and three tomatoes make six tarts. These can either feed a crowd or, if you’re a student like me cooking for one, be stored in Tupperware and reheated for 5-10 minutes in the oven every day for a speedy hot lunch that isn’t a toasted bagel.

Tomato, courgette and pesto tarts

  • 1 package of ready rolled puff pastry
  • ½ tub of pesto
  • 1 courgette
  • 3 large tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 190’C. Unroll the pastry. Cut it in half horizontally, and into thirds vertically, giving you six even squares of pastry. Spread these out on two lined baking trays. Use a sharp knife to score a 1cm border around the edge of each square – do not cut all the way through.

Spread the pesto into the middle of each tart, right up to the border. Thinly slice the courgette and tomatoes. Lay over the pesto in alternating rows, creating whatever patterns you like.

Bake for 25 minutes, until the pastry is risen, golden, and crisp on the base.

Chorizo Naan Pizza

Naan pizzas used to be the ultimate treat when I was growing up. I don’t know where my Mum found the idea for this complete cultural hybrid of a dinner (update: we have Nigella to thank!), but I have vivid memories of pizza making sessions (although pizza decorating might be a more accurate description), especially when friends came round and everyone set up their own pizza stations. I hadn’t had a naan pizza in years until I made this but one bite and I was right back in my kitchen at home, getting uncharacteristically competitive over best design and mozzarella placement.

Chorizo Naan Pizza

This isn’t so much an exact recipe as an idea, a way of eating pizza that if you haven’t discovered yet then you need to try asap. There is something about the nigella seeds in the naan, the way the edges go extra crunchy but the middle stays doughy, the novelty of just eating it all at once rather than slicing it up that makes this so enjoyable. I added some chorizo to my super simplified pizza sauce for some extra heat (and just to add some Spanish flavour into the Italian-Indian meal) but, as with any pizza, this is endlessly versatile to whatever you usually put on your favourite pizza/Dominos order.

Chorizo Naan Pizza

Makes 2 pizzas

  • 1 onion
  • 250g diced cooking chorizo
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 2 plain naan breads
  • 1 ball of mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Finely dice the onion and sweat in a generous glug of olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the chorizo and fry for a few more minutes to cook through. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, season generously with salt and pepper, and simmer gently to reduce and thicken.

While the sauce simmers, place the naan on a baking tray and cook for 5-10minutes until beginning to go crispy. Slice the mozzarella.

Remove the naan from the oven and spread with the thickened sauce. Top with mozzarella and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until the mozzarella is melted. Enjoy!

Macaroni Cheese

Sometimes I feel like my life is going to be one long mission to find the ultimate macaroni cheese. For a long time my favourite one was found at Mishkins, even when I went in spring and they’d added a whole load of veg into the mix. After Mishkins sadly closed down, my best ever mac was replaced by The Mac Factory‘s chorizo studded creation in Camden. I loved this one so much that I got them to come and serve it at a Cambridge ball for 2000 people when I was organising the catering. My Mum, tired of my sister and I raving about this, replicated it for us at home and her version with added tomatoes became my favourite. My point is that whilst my favourite mac and cheese is always changing, the love for the dish itself remains pretty constant.

Macaroni cheese

But these were all versions that other people made for me, and I wanted to try making it for myself. Hunting down my dream recipe provided the perfect procrastination for a week until I finally bit the bullet and tried a variation of Jamie Oliver’s ‘killer mac and cheese’. I’m not saying my search for ‘the one’ is over as it’s not yet up there with The Mac Factory fabulousness, but I’m definitely getting closer.

For me, I think the key is actually not baking the mac and cheese for very long – if at all. The joy for me is the saucy, melting, stretchy goodness that I find can quickly turn stodgy and dense if grilled for too long. My pet peeve in life is also crispy pasta – I can’t bear it. But of course, if that crackly top is king for you, feel free to leave this under the grill a while longer. ‘The one’ is different for everybody.

Macaroni Cheese

Serves 2

  • 15g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1tbsp flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 150g macaroni
  • 100g cheddar, grated

Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of lightly bubbling water, until just before al dente – with a little bite left in it.

Meanwhile, fry the garlic in the butter until fragrant. Add the flour and cook out for one minute. Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Return to the heat and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and add all the cheese, stirring until melted. Season generously with lots of pepper.

Drain the pasta and tip into the sauce. Now – which way are you going to go? Either now tip into a bowl and dig in, or tip into a baking dish, grate over a little extra cheese and grill until its how you desire – 5-10 minutes for a crisp cheesy topping.

Harissa salmon with lemon cucumber couscous

My food preferences rarely follow logic. When I was little, I loved jam in doughnuts, but hated it on toast (probably my sweet tooth talking). Now, I like pasta, tomato sauce and mince separately but hate lasagne. I love guacamole but would never eat a plain avocado. And finally, I hate smoked salmon but love salmon in all other forms, including my new favourite as of today – topped with harissa and served with couscous.

Harissa salmon with lemon cucumber couscous

Salmon was a supermarket staple for me when I first started university because I knew I needed to eat healthily (try as I might, even I admit a gal cannot survive on chicken goujons alone) and still wanted to have something that fills me up more than plain salads. But then I got lazy and stopped doing anything interesting when it came to cooking with it, meaning I never wanted to turn to a plate of plain microwaved salmon at the end of the day and it would hide in the back of my fridge instead. Now, I’m fully back on the salmon game and loading it up with flavour to make my ideal meal. This works equally well hot or cold, fresh or as leftovers, for lunch or for dinner – enjoy!

Harissa salmon with lemon cucumber couscous

Serves 2

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2tsp harissa paste
  • 120g couscous
  • ½ red onion
  • ½ cucumber
  • 1 lemon, zested and ½ juiced
  • small handful of mint
  • small handful of chives
  • olive oil

Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a lined baking tray. Spread the harissa evenly over the top of each fillet. Grill for 10-12 minutes until cooked through but still flaky.

Meanwhile, prepare the couscous. Place the couscous in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour over boiling water until just covering the couscous, cover with a lid or cling film and leave for 5minutes until all the water has been absorbed.

Dice the cucumber. Finely chop the red onion and herbs. When the couscous is ready, fluff the grains with a fork. Add a generous glug of olive oil, the lemon zest and juice. Stir, and add the cucumber, red onion and herbs. Taste for seasoning. Divide the couscous between two plates and top each with a salmon fillet.

Roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and pomegranate salad

I struggle with salad inspiration. I could give you cookie recipe ideas for days, but after a few salads I’ll start to struggle. After all, there are only so many things you can do with couscous. That’s why despite admittedly an element of scepticism, I was intrigued when I began seeing cauliflower becoming trendy again and popping up in salads everywhere.

Roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and pomegranate salad

I associate cauliflower with roast dinners at my Granny’s house, where it was certainly not grated and mixed with pomegranate. I never even knew you could eat cauliflower raw until recently and I was intrigued. As was perhaps to be expected it is fairly neutral in flavour, but that is what makes it a great base for this salad, acting in place of where you’d normally use quinoa or couscous. Combined with the caramelised roasted cauliflower and sweet potato, it made an enjoyably different and happily substantial lunch time salad. I’m still not totally on board with cauliflower pizza bases – if you want a pizza, just have a pizza babe – but I am all for embracing it for it’s intended vegetable goodness.

Roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and pomegranate salad

At first, I found this salad tasted a bit worthy, if you know what I mean – but it totally grew on me and I missed it once it was all gone. The trick is in adding plenty of lemon juice and herbs to make it really fresh and balance the earthiness of the roasted cauliflower.

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 cauliflower
  • one onion, finely chopped
  • handful of pine nuts
  • seeds of ½ pomegranate
  • small bunch of mint, finely chopped
  • small handful of chives, finely chopped
  • juice of ½ lemon

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Peel and slice the sweet potato into fries around 1cm thick. Chop half of the cauliflower into medium florets. Tip the potato and cauliflower into a bowl and toss with plenty of salt and pepper and a generous glug of olive oil – this is the best way to get them evenly coated. Tip onto a baking tray, spread evenly and roast for 25 minutes until the potato is soft, stirring once half way through.

Meanwhile, fry the onion over a medium heat until soft and just beginning to caramelise. In the last few minutes, add the pine nuts to the pan and toast until golden. Tip it all into a mixing bowl.

Grate the remaining cauliflower (press the top of the florets into the grater instead of the side of the cauli for the most even grate). Add to the onions along with the pomegranate seeds, mint, chives, lemon juice, pepper and pinch of salt. Stir everything together and taste to check the seasoning.

When the roast veg are cooked, stir them very gently through the salad and serve.

Shakshuka

Let’s talk about what makes brunch so great. Aside from half a tin of fruit cocktail in primary school (fighting with my sister over the cherries) and a brief flirtation with brain-food muesli during exams, my mornings tend to be noticeably absent of food. Breakfast, with its connotations of 7am alarms, mainlining coffee and choosing between the early bus or an extra slice of toast, has never been something I’ve quite mastered. Brunch, on the other hand, is something I can get on board with.

Shakshuka

Lazy Sunday brunches can take many forms. Debriefing with friends about all the gossip from the night before. Refusing to move from bed, reading the papers and cuddling a reluctant kitten. Planning an elaborate day of plans before abandoning them all in favour of Netflix. Whatever your Sunday style, all these options can benefit from the inclusion of a big bowl of shakshuka. My version is super simple, with the chorizo being the secret ingredient that adds depth and flavour to your sauce without having to simmer it for hours. The feta adds salty tang, the mint gives freshness and of course, no breakfast is complete without the perfect insta-worthy oozing egg yolk. Make this next weekend – you can thank me later.

Shakshuka

Serves 2

  • 1 onion
  • 250g chopped chorizo
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g feta
  • small bunch of mint, finely chopped

Finely chop the onion and fry in a frying pan over a medium heat in a generous glug of olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the chorizo and continue to cook until it goes crispy. Crush the garlic clove and add to the mixture and fry for a minute to cook out.

Add the tinned tomatoes and season generously with salt and pepper (you could also add a pinch of dried chilli flakes at this point if you like a bit of extra heat). Simmer for 5-10 minutes until thickened slightly.

Make two wells in the tomato mixture and crack an egg into each one. Cover with a lid (or baking tray if your frying pan doesn’t have one) and leave for 3-5 minutes until the white is cooked through but the yolk is still soft.

Remove from the heat. Crumble over the feta and sprinkle with the mint. Enjoy!

Chicken, ham and sweetcorn chowder

This chowder could just as easily be called ‘A vehicle for all the vegetables you optimistically bought at the start of the week and now need to use up asap because they’re clogging up your fridge’. Not quite as straightforward as chowder but equally accurate. I smuggled a leek, half an onion, peas, a potato, sweetcorn and asparagus into this, and I’m sure if I’d had some carrots or broccoli knocking about they would have gone in as well.

Chicken, ham and sweetcorn chowder

This recipe is a very similar premise to chicken fricassee which I make a lot, but bulking it out with a potato makes it a one pot meal that’s even easier. It’s the perfect hearty and filling dinner for this time of year, and although it requires a little bit more chopping and stirring than a lot of my meals, it also makes enough to last you several nights. I like to make this on a Friday to last me over the weekend, so that at the weekend I can focus guilt free on baking instead!

Chicken, pea and sweetcorn chowder

Serves 4

  • butter, for frying
  • 1 leek, halved and sliced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
  • 1tbsp plain flour
  • 350ml milk
  • 2 slices of ham
  • 175g tin sweetcorn
  • 100g peas
  • 25g chives, finely chopped

Fry the leek in the butter in a medium saucepan or Le Creuset dish until beginning to soften. Add the chicken and continue to cook for 5mins.

Add the potato and plain flour, and stir everything together to coat the mixture in the flour. Pour in the milk and season generously with salt and plenty of pepper. Cook for 10mins, stirring occasionally, until the potato is nearly cooked.

Add the ham, sweet corn, peas and any other rogue veg you need to use up! Cook for a final 5 minutes to heat the veg. Remove from the heat once the potato is cooked through. Stir through the chives and ladle into bowls to serve.

Tomato couscous ‘risotto’

Since moving out of home and becoming a student, I’ve had to master the art of cooking for one. My biggest problem with this is not necessarily having to eat the same meal for several days straight, but rather knowing what to do with all the bottom halves of packets I end up gathering. A meatball soup that uses half a packet of sausages, a salad that only needs a handful of rocket, the chocolate mousse that only used 1/3 of a tub of cream. I end up with quite the strange collection of recipe remnants in my fridge.

 Tomato couscous risotto

I don’t have a freezer so I can’t double up on everything I make, and eventually I do get bored of having the same meal every day for a week. This essentially means that every time I buy something I need to make sure I have multiple uses for it, to prevent it languishing at the back of my mini fridge until the end of term. This faux ‘risotto’ became the ideal recipe for clearing out my fridge on a Sunday, making room for a new week of ingredients. I initially bought my tomatoes and bag of giant couscous for this salad, the cheese for this pie.

Risotto is also well-known for the therapeutic nature of all that stirring. This one pot quick version cuts down on that and makes this a super quick dinner, with just enough stirring time to calm you down on a Monday morning after a particularly sexist two-hour lecture on beards in the Renaissance period. Yep.

Tomato couscous ‘risotto’

Serves 1

  • 100g giant couscous
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ onion, sliced finely
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bunch of basil, leaves picked
  • grated cheddar to serve

Tip all ingredients apart from the basil and cheese into a medium sized saucepan. Add 100ml of water, just enough to submerge all the ingredients. Place over a medium heat and bring to a strong simmer. Gradually the onion will soften, the tomatoes will begin to pop and the couscous will release lots of starch into the water to thicken the risotto.

After 5 minutes, stir regularly to prevent the couscous catching on the base of the saucepan. Test after 5 minutes – the couscous should be soft and al dente and the majority of the water should have evaporated, leaving you with a thick and creamy risotto.

Remove from the heat and stir through the basil. Ladle into bowls and top with the cheese.

Lemon chicken en papillote

Today my cooking has gone all French. Sadly this doesn’t include a quick trip on the Eurostar or a handsome Parisian, but simply the adoption of a cooking technique from across the channel.

Lemon chicken and asparagus en papillote

Cooking en papillote sounds rather fancy but in reality is the simplest cooking method ever and removes all washing up – ideal. At cookery school, the fear of getting salmonella from not properly washing up dishes with raw chicken on was drilled into us on an extremely regular basis, so any recipe that sidesteps that anxiety is always very welcome with me. Another reason I love the simplicity of this recipe – essentially chuck everything in a paper parcel and see it again in 15 mins – is that anything this quick and easy gives me no excuse not to eat healthily, particularly when paired with microwaveable brown rice, my new favourite cheat ingredient. Also, these individual parcels are ideal when you’re cooking for one, saving me from eating a chicken casserole for four days in a row. So there you have it – chicken en papillote. Bringing the atmosphere of a Provençal brasserie to a Cambridge college (ish). Who needs the Parisian?

Lemon chicken and asparagus en papillote

I realise that asparagus is horribly out of season (being healthy is proving an environmental ethical minefield – custard creams never have this issue) but I’m sure this would work equally well with green beans or tenderstem broccoli at other times of year. Equally, you could swap the chicken for salmon if you fancy.

Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • olive oil
  • dried thyme
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 pack of asparagus
  • packet of microwaveable brown rice

Preheat the oven to 180’C.  Cut two large (30cmx30cm) squares of parchment. Place a chicken breast and half the asparagus in the middle of on one square. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of dried thyme. Lay three slices of lemon over the chicken breast.

Bring the edges of the paper up and scrunch together to seal the chicken and asparagus parcel – like a Cornish pasty. Repeat with the other chicken breast and remaining asparagus and lemon on the second paper square. Place both parcels on a baking tray and cook for 15minutes.

Two minutes before the chicken will be ready, pop your rice in the microwave. Remove the chicken parcels from the oven, place on plates with the rice and open at the table.

Courgetti, feta, pine nuts

I know the last thing the internet needs is another courgetti recipe. I resisted making and trying this for a long time, determined to stay away from the clean eating craze and thinking a bowl of sliced courgettes really couldn’t taste that good. But here’s the thing…it really can!

IMG_1030

The trick to fab tasting courgetti is to make it fried in plenty of butter and topped with a generous amount of cheese. That way there’s no denying that this dinner is healthy, quick, requires minimal ingredients and is still delicious! At uni I don’t have a garlic crusher let alone a spiralizer, but even when slicing the courgettes into strips by hand this still comes together under 15 minutes (and in just one pan). Whilst the butter and cheese are great, I think that the key to the recipe is the garlic – it perks everything up, swaps some of that healthy courgette flavour for some garlic bread scented deliciousness and transforms the whole dish. I wasn’t sure I even liked courgettes before this and now I can happily eat bowl after bowl – it’s a winner!

Courgetti, feta, pine nuts

Serves 1

  • 1 courgette
  • butter for frying
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • scattering of pine nuts
  • 50g feta, crumbled

Slice the courgettes lengthways, then cut each length into thin ribbons. Heat a splash of olive oil and large knob of butter in a frying pan.

Add the courgettes and fry over a medium heat. They will take a while to get going but gradually will soften, become more transparent and start to caramelise just a little on the bottom. If you’ve spiralised them this will only take 1-2 minutes, if you’ve cut them by hand it will take 5-8.

When the courgettes are nearly entirely cooked through, add the garlic and cook out for 1-2minutes. Move the courgettes to the side of the pan. In the space, fry the pine nuts until golden. Scatter over the feta and stir everything together. Tip into a bowl to serve and feel smug about your healthy dinner!