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 a pasta salad designed to just use up bits and bobs from the fridge that becomes your favourite lunch in a long time!

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. 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.

I’m not a huge fan of regular 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 aubergine would all fit in nicely here.

Tortellini minestrone

  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 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 5-10minutes. Crush the garlic, add to the pan and cook out for 1-2 minutes.

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. Ladle into bowls, topping with a generous sprinkling of parmesan.

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.

Sausage, kale and tomato casserole

Before university, I used to cook or bake at home on average once a week. This gave me plenty of time all week to decide what I was going to cook and wait for inspiration to strike. It might be a recipe I read, an advert that made me crave something, watching an episode of Everyday Mary Berry. Now that I cook for myself every day, its pretty easy to run out of inspiration. My ideas tend to come from trawling through BBC Good Food or Delicious magazine until I spot something to work from. Or, in the case of this casserole, my friend kept mentioning she was having sausages for her tea. This made me crave sausages, which made me look in my fridge and see what needed using up that I could cook with them. And so a sausage, kale and tomato casserole (with a few peas thrown in for good measure) was born.

Sausage, kale and tomato casserole

Serves 3

I prefer to roast my sausages and add them to the casserole at the end, rather than fry them in the casserole dish at the beginning. Frying them probably adds extra depth of flavour, but I can’t be faffed with turning a spitting sausage for 15 minutes and hoping it cooks all the way through and doesn’t just char on the outside. If you are a more patient soul than me, try frying them first, removing whilst you cook the onion and then returning to the pan before the tomatoes and chicken stock.

  • 6 sausages
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 100g peas
  • 200g baby kale
  • sprinkling of thyme

Preheat the oven to 220’C. Line a baking tray with foil, add the sausages and roast for 20-25minutes until cooked through.

Meanwhile, finely dice the onion. Cook in a large saucepan in a glug of oil over a gentle heat until soft and beginning to caramelise. Crush the garlic clove, add to the pan and cook out for 1-2 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme and plenty of seasoning. Simmer for 10-15minutes until thickened and reduced slightly.

Add the peas, baby kale and cooked sausages. Stir to heat everything through. Serve and 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.

Parma ham wrapped chicken, spinach lentils, roasted tomatoes

My cooking at university tends to be largely one pot meals – casseroles, salads, pasta bakes. The sort of food you fill a bowl with and you are done. But as much as I enjoy the simplicity and minimal washing up of this style of cooking, every now and then a gal craves something fancier. Sometimes, the week just demands splurging on Parma ham in Waitrose and the posh vine tomatoes in Sainsbury’s and treating yourself (and no one else) to a proper dinner. The sort of food that looks like it came from one of those restaurant menus where all the dishes are just a list of ingredients. It’s still simple, but it is the sort of multi-element food that requires a proper plate and sitting at a table (or desk) instead of sofa (or bed). Who says cooking for one has to be boring?

Parma ham wrapped chicken, spinach lentils, roasted tomatoes
This makes enough for two, but the second chicken breast and half of the lentils work just as well reheated a few days later for when you next need a proper meal. Recipe adapted from here.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 slices of parma ham
  • 1 packet of vine tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 250g sachet of ready-cooked lentils
  • handful of baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 190’C. Wrap each chicken breast in a slice of Parma ham, placing the join of ham on the base of the chicken. Place on a lined baking tray, alongside two branches of tomatoes. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, finely dice the onion and cook in a saucepan on a gentle heat in a large glug of oil until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Crush the garlic, add to the saucepan and cook out for 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and a further glug of olive oil to loosen the mixture. Stir for a few minutes to heat the lentils through. Tip in the handful of baby spinach and stir until just wilted.

To serve, spoon the spinach lentils on to a plate. Top with slices of the chicken breast, and add a vine of roasted tomatoes. Eat, enjoy, and bask in your classiness.

Roast cod, potato and tomato traybake

I’m bad at getting fish into my diet. A grilled fillet of salmon here and there or a few M&S melting middle fishcakes during exam term are about as much as I tend to get through. Even the cod I bought for this dish had to wait frozen for a few days before I was inspired enough to use it. Now I’ve made this though, I’m hoping cod might be a more regular feature of my shopping basket.

I think one of my fears of cooking fish at university comes out of sharing a kitchen with 10 other girls – I don’t want to be the college equivalent of the colleague who smokes out the office with a reheated fish lunch. However, the upside of this danger for me is the pure ease and speed of cooking fish – quicker than my meat staples of chicken and sausages. Plus, when you pair it with plenty of garlic and fresh lemon, any potential fish aromas are easily disguised. This one tray, two stage dish takes a while in the oven to ensure gorgeously caramelised roast potatoes, but requires very little actual prep for you. I love a whole meal coming together as one, saving me having to think about getting different elements ready. Whip this tray out the oven and voila – dinner is served.

Roast cod, potato and tomato traybake

Serves 2 – adapted from here

  • 1 large potato
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 fillets of cod
  • sprinkling of dried oregano

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Peel the potato and slice into wedges – halving any super thick ones to ensure they will all cook through. Peel the onion and chop into quarters. Tip the potato and onion into a large lipped baking tray. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss everything together. Smash the garlic cloves and add to the tray. Roast for 25 minutes.

Quarter the tomatoes and the lemon. After 25 minutes, add these to the tray with the potatoes. Lay the cod fillets on top of the potatoes and sprinkle with the dried oregano and more seasoning. Roast for a further 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Serve and enjoy – squeezing the roasted lemon over the fish.

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.

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.

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!

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!