Couscous-stuffed Red Peppers

Over the course of this term I have realised that cucumber, tomatoes and feta are approaching Holy Trinity ingredients for me. They pop up in my cooking together time and time again: in pastas, in couscous, accompanying salmon or chicken. They are my go to staples to flavour a salad and make a side dish more flavourful than just leaves. Lemon juice and olive oil are never far behind. They make me feel healthy without being too in my face and I always have them in my fridge, just in case. Today I wanted to try something slightly different then a regular salad – so I took my standard couscous and popped it in a pepper. Super simple, only takes five minutes longer than making the couscous itself and adds an extra portion of veg into my lunch (two if you serve it with green beans like I did). I’m not always a fan of red peppers (something about their squeaky texture) but cooking them like this keeps them super juicy and, well, plenty of feta can help just about anything. Enjoy!

Couscous-stuffed peppers

  • 2 red peppers
  • 100g couscous
  • 3tbsps olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 100g feta
  • 10cm cucumber
  • ½ red onion
  • small handful of basil

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Half the peppers and deseed, keeping the stalks intact for presentation if you like. Place on a microwaveable plate and microwave for 5 minutes until beginning to soften.

Meanwhile, place the couscous in a large bowl and just cover with boiling water. Place a lid or plate on top and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes until the couscous is fluffy and absorbed all the water. Fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Add the remaining ingredients, mix to combine and season generously.

Lightly oil a baking tray and place the peppers on it. Fill each half of the peppers generously with the couscous. Bake for 5-10 minutes until the peppers are fully soft and the couscous is just beginning to go golden. Serve warm.

Pea, crème fraiche and mint gnocchi bake  

We’re entering that complicated period of early spring where I spend the majority of my time dressed for the wrong weather. It will be sunny, you’ll think March is a warm month, you’ll go out in a jacket instead of a coat for the first time and discover those spring skies are deceptive and it is still only 7’C. The following day you’ll have learnt from your mistakes, wrap in cashmere and a puffa coat, and slowly roast as the weather reaches unprecedented highs. Streets in March and April become a cheery mixture of people dressed for strongest summer or darkest winter – like the Mediterranean in December, when British tourists head south for festive sun and locals baulk at the idea of temperatures below 20’C. But enough weather chat – this is the dish to get you through this tricky time.

The flavours are fresh and light – ready for Spring – but baking it provides that cosy warmth should it still be needed. Gnocchi is one of my favourite dishes due to being so speedy to prepare and I could cook it endlessly. Normally I drench it in pesto and bacon (which is entirely delicious) but this fresh way incorporates some extra vegetables into my diet and is just as tasty. Enjoy!

Pea, crème fraiche and mint gnocchi bake
Serves 2

  • 1 packet of gnocchi
  • 100g peas
  • 3 tbsps crème fraiche
  • handful of mint
  • cheddar, to grate

Preheat the grill to 200’C.

Boil the gnocchi and peas together for 3-4 minutes, until the gnocchi floats to the top. Drain and return to the saucepan. Add the crème fraiche, mint and generous grating of cheddar. Stir together and tip into a small baking dish.

Top with more grated cheddar and grill for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbling. Enjoy!

Fried gnocchi with mozzarella and tomatoes

Occasionally a certain dish will come to dominate my cooking. Like fashionistas going crazy for Spring trends (hi big sleeves and stripy shirts), every once in a while a recipe comes along that I will get temporarily obsessed with. There have been several instances of this over the years. When I discovered these addictive jam drops, they were temporarily all I wanted to bake. There have been my bagel and quesadilla phases at university, where they were all I ate for lunch every day for an entire term – perhaps a hangover from years of packed lunches? Every Christmas I rediscover Simon Hopkinson’s cheesy biscuits and wonder why I don’t make them all year round. Then, several years ago, I found this fried gnocchi recipe and a temporary gnocchi addiction was born. This recipe now tastes nostalgic to me for no other reason than I cooked it so many times that the processes and flavours are now inherently familiar.

I hadn’t made this recipe for a long time – being distracted by gnocchi bakes and bacon instead – but as soon as I saw it again when I was scrolling through my ‘Savoury’ recipe file, I knew it would be gracing my lunch table again very soon. It is super simple – three ingredients, fifteen minutes and you are done. Fried gnocchi is absolutely delicious, going gorgeously golden and crispy on the outside but retaining that comforting fluffiness within. My family were all converted to this dish when we first discovered it and I know my sister still cooks it regularly – try it and see for yourself!

Fried gnocchi with mozzarella and tomatoes

Serves 2, from this Liberty London Girl recipe

  • 1 bag of gnocchi
  • ½ ball of mozzarella
  • 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil and knob of butter

Boil the gnocchi in salted water for 2-3 minutes, until it floats to the top. Meanwhile, roughly chop the mozzarella and halve the tomatoes.

Heat a frying pan with a generous glug of olive oil and knob of butter. Drain the gnocchi and tip into the frying pan with the cherry tomatoes. Fry over a medium-high heat, until the tomatoes are releasing their juices and the gnocchi are forming a golden crust on the bottom – don’t stir too much. Add the mozzarella and heat until its melting and stretchy. Scrape into bowls and enjoy.

Green chicken noodle salad

Stir-fries are a staple student food that I’ve never quite got on board with. Baked beans – yes, basically every Saturday lunch all my life, keep going with that cheese on top please. Pasta – doesn’t matter if we are talking carbonara, pesto, mac and cheese, two minute tortellini, I’m in. Chicken nuggets on the way home from a night out – best part of the night. But stir fries are not a regular part of my repertoire. I’d never even made one until last summer and whilst it was surprisingly tasty, they’re still not part of my regular cooking patterns. Hence why I was slightly stumped when I got major cravings for noodles last week with no idea what to do with them.

I feel like it would be quite a stretch to call this a stir fry, but it certainly satisfied my noodle cravings. I’ll hold my hands up and say this is extremely simple – acting both to solve my craving and to use up some bits and bobs in my fridge. At first I found it a little bland, but then found myself eating a vast bowl of it and requiring high levels of self-restraint not to tuck into the portion I’d saved for the next day. It’s essentially a dish I would usually make with couscous but the noodles made a welcome change and made it a heartier dish. Maybe now I’ll work my way up to a proper stir fry. Baby steps.

Green chicken noodle salad
Serves 2

  • 400g fresh egg noodles
  • 1 chicken breast, roasted
  • 2 spring onions
  • small bunch of mint
  • 1/3 cucumber
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • ½ lime, zest and juice

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a frying pan. Tip in the noodles and stir until warmed through. Meanwhile, finely slice the spring onions and mint, and dice the cucumber. Mix the olive oil and lime zest and juice.

Add all the ingredients to the warm noodles. Season very generously with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Ultimate Sausage Rolls

What is it about train stations and sausage rolls? I’ve been travelling between London and Cambridge a fair bit this week and every station I’ve passed through has been filled with the scent of freshly baked (or at least reheated) sausage rolls and pasties. Each time I was tempted, but I held out knowing that homemade would be far better.

When I pulled a tray of these out of my college oven, that familiar pastry aroma was back. This was swiftly followed by a girl who shares my kitchen commenting, ‘that’s a lot for one person’… clearly not understanding the joy of batch baking! One of these reheated in the oven, with a spoonful of baked beans and pile of steamed broccoli is going to my dinner for the next few days and I am more than okay with that. Sausage rolls are so simple to make that a few easy touches can elevate them to the position of ‘ultimate’. Nigella seeds sprinkled on top add a touch of extra interest, using all-butter pastry ensures the best flakiness, interesting sausages will add more flavour than plain sausage meat with no extra effort from you. Trust me, these take 15 minutes to bake and will be far better than any station imitation.

Ultimate sausage rolls

Makes 4

  • 6 sausages (I used caramelised red onion ones)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 onion
  • 300g ready rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sprinkling of nigella seeds

Preheat the oven to 200’C.

Use scissors to unpeel the sausages from their skins. Tip all the sausage meat into a bowl. Core and finely chop the apple – there is no need to peel it. Finely dice the onion. Add these to the sausage meat and mix everything together.

Unroll the puff pastry. Lay the sausage mixture down the centre of the pastry length ways. Lift the pastry around the meat and pinch together the join. Flip the long sausage roll over so this seam is on the base. Cut the roll into four and place on a lined baking sheet.

Brush each sausage roll with the beaten egg and top with a sprinkling of nigella seeds. Use a sharp knife to score three lines across the top of each one. Bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is risen, golden and crisp.

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.

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. 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 cauliflower.

Roasted cauliflower, sweet potato and pomegranate salad

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 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.

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 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.

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!