Avocado, bacon, tomato and pesto pasta salad

Every now and then, a dish comes along that just totally surprises you. This could be a restaurant dish that seemed like the risky choice and ends up stealing the show. A way of cooking a certain ingredient that turns you from a sceptic to a full on fan. Or maybe a pasta salad designed to just use up bits and bobs from the fridge that becomes your favourite lunch in a long time!

Avocado, bacon, tomato and pesto pasta salad

Calling this pasta salad ‘a dish’ is probably almost too extravagant. Yes, it is super simple, but it puts those packaged supermarket offerings to shame. It all just works perfectly together and is so addictive that The spare serving you’d made for lunch the next day might just get eaten too… Super crispy salty bacon, peppery rocket, creamy avocado and juicy tomatoes – what is not to like? Just looking at the picture again is making me hungry. The recipe is really just a guideline, for example I used orzo pasta here, in the spirit of using things up from my cupboard, but of course use any shape you fancy.

Avocado, bacon and tomato pesto pasta salad

Serves 2

  • 100g orzo
  • 3tbsp pesto
  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • 1/2 avocado
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • large handful of rocket

Boil the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp. Place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and snip into 3cm chunks. Next, halve the cherry tomatoes and dice the avocado into large cubes.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and tip into a large mixing bowl. Stir through the remaining ingredients and season generously with pepper (the bacon and pesto should be salty enough). Enjoy!

Tortellini minestrone

Tortellini is the easiest last minute meal. I’m known for being so busy doing something I delay and delay cooking dinner, until suddenly it is 9pm and I’m totally ravenous. At that point, the thought of having a filling meal ready in essentially the time it takes to boil the kettle is highly appealing. However, on days when I remember to begin cooking before I reach that stage, this dish is the perfect way to sneak some extra veg into a simple pasta dinner.

tortellini minestrone

I’m not a huge fan of regular vegetable minestrone – something about it feels slightly too virtuous for me to enjoy without spoiling its effect with a heap of parmesan on top. The addition of tortellini therefore bulks it out to be a more filling meal and distract from all that veg. The recipe is highly flexible to whatever you have languishing in the fridge – red peppers, some butternut squash or even diced aubergine would all fit in nicely here.

Tortellini minestrone

  • 1 onion
  • 2 small carrots
  • 1 courgette
  • one clove of garlic
  • half tin of tomatoes
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • handful of green beans
  • large handful of spinach
  • half a packet of spinach and ricotta tortellini

Finely dice the onion, carrot and courgette. Sweat in a medium saucepan in a generous drizzle of olive oil until soft, about 10 minutes. Crush the garlic, add to the pan and cook out for 1-2 minutes.

Next, add the tomatoes and stock and simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly. Add the green beans and simmer for a further five minutes. Add the spinach and tortellini and cook for 2 more minutes. Finally, ladle into bowls and top with a generous sprinkling of parmesan.

Spaghetti Carbonara

I’m approaching the revision period for my final exams. In doing so, I am discovering an intense ability to procrastinate. Turns out there are just questions in life that bother me more than  what was the cultural significance of Renaissance inventories. Like what the heck is going on with Brexit and Trump, sure, but also whether I’ll ever learn how to do perfect winged eye liner. Which shady character is the actual villain in series three of Broadchurch. The real life mystery of what exactly was going on with Hiddleswift last summer. How to make the perfect carbonara.

Spaghetti Carbonara

I love carbonara, but for years I have been making not-very-good ones and going along with it because it involved bacon, carbs and cheese and so could never be that bad. But then in New York last summer I had the ultimate fancy restaurant carbonara; one of those ones with an egg yolk on top to pierce and let flow down throughout the spaghetti. It showed me just how perfect a good carbonara could be and I knew I’d never be going to back to mildly scrambled versions. I would never claim this is a traditional version – I love the luxuriousness of the added cream too much – but it’s my favourite version and that is all I need. Maybe if I served it to Tom Hiddleston he’d explain everything?

Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 1

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 3 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • splash of double cream
  • parmesan, to grate

Cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of boiling water until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and snip into 2cm pieces.

Mix the egg yolks with the double cream in a mug. When the spaghetti is done, remove 2tbsp of the cooking water and mix in with the egg and cream.

Drain the spaghetti and return to the warm saucepan. Add the egg and bacon and stir to coat the pasta evenly and create a sauce. Pour into a bowl and top with plenty of grated parmesan.

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.