There are many ways to pimp a soup; seasonings, dumplings, bread layers. But getting a basic vegetable soup right is easy and useful. When you’re skint or cold or need something you can bang in a pan and leave to simmer then soup is a good option. It’s also the ideal thing to pop into a flask or container than won’t leak and bring into work for lunches (buying sandwiches is a huge drain on weekly income).
I love pizza. If there is one reason that I will never be a size 8 it is probably said love of pizza. It’s just tasty, it’s great to share and there are myriad ways to flavour it.
However if you order it in it’s expensive. Buy it chilled and it doesn’t really taste of anything. There are few things, food wise, as disappointing as a flavourless pizza.
I know, there’s something about the word falafel that makes you think of a middle class bore. When you can pick up a can of chickpeas for 20p though it is an easy dinner. You can make it more complicated adding more flavours depending on how much money you’ve got – recipes which add spices here and there push up the cost so much, especially when a bottle of spice costs £2.50 on average.
I hate cooking for myself. I love cooking. I love eating what I’ve cooked even more. But when it’s just me I’m looking for a few specific things.
I don’t want to spend ages cooking. I just can’t face it when it’s just for me. If I’m making some bread or a cake that will do for a few days that’s different but a main? It needs to be simple.
There is a distinct possibility I have an addiction to recipe books. Only yesterday ‘The Art of French Baking’ arrived; a very heavy tome I am hoping will turn me into a patisserie chef. I will be spending two days off this week making three kinds of brioche.
Being able to make sauces improved my life immeasurably.
I don’t want to be flippant but this is food we’re talking about here and when something shaves minutes off your cooking time when you’re tired and a bit ratty – and it tastes good – then there is enough space for hyperbole.
So sauces. I’m probably not the only person who makes a food related New Year’s Resolution every January (this year it was rubs). In 2012 it was sauces. I perfected a cheese sauce and a Hollandaise. I never said it had to be a lot of sauces.
My dad was big on sauces. He would sigh and huff when he had to buy a packet for a sauce. Post salmonella in the late 80s he became freaked out by preparing sauces with raw eggs so he never prepared a homemade Hollandaise or mayonnaise again, which is a bit of a shame.
A homemade sauce is tastier and it’s less salty and frothy than the packet variety. I’m not sure if its cheaper, so I’m unsure of where it sits in my austerity protocol but if you’re taking little bits out of things you already have in the kitchen then it is cheaper, surely. It might not feel like that if you’re embarking on a cooking regime afresh, though and you need to stock up.
The basic thing to remember is to do equal parts butter and flour. You can scale it up. I’ve doubled the amount I usually make for a cheese sauce here as the pasta does tend to absorb it like a sponge.
Macaroni and Cheese is an unbeatable weekend dinner. Make it in a big enough oven dish and it goes for a couple of dinners and then a lunch as well.
For the sauce
2tbsp butter or oil
2tbsp plain flour
1.5 cups milk
A cup of grated cheese (I tend to go for cheddar. Something high in cream and dairy melts faster into the sauce and is less rubbery processed)
For the rest
Macaroni or any pasta (I used 500g of fusilli this week)
Boil the pasta as is your wont and per the pack instructions. A little oil in the water stops the pasta sticking together. I don’t think added salt makes a difference (you rinse it off, surely?).
In a little pan melt the butter. I’ve also used oil instead of butter which is a little lower on the calories although, obviously it makes a much thinner sauce so you have to cook it for longer. Once the butter is melted stir in the flour and mis until it becomes a paste. Cook for about twenty seconds while stirring. Gradually stir in the milk. I mean gradually. Dribs and drabs and make sure each bit is absorbed before adding the next. The heat should be fairly middling so that while you stir once all the milk is absorbed it bubbles a little and is cooking and heating as you go. Once the sauce starts to become thicker you need to add the cheese. It will feel like an interminable age but it does turn very quickly so keep an eye on it.
The cheese will melt and you’ll have a gloopy sauce. Season.
Pour the pasta into an oven proof dish and pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on the top and bake in a 180 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
From this simply base you can add whatever you like. So add some veg to the pasta. Or add a tin of tuna and a cup of passata sauce, mix together, add the cheese sauce and you have a lovely pasta bake. If you’re feeling flush add some olives to the top and say you’re making a Napolitina Bake. Or rock a Fiorentina and mix a little spinach in with the pasta and a few hard boiled eggs. Add a little mozzarella once you’ve poured over the cheese sauce and you’re done.
Cooking in batches is a no brainer to me. First of all it saves time as well as cost. Also things taste better on the second day, there’s just no getting around that.
Being able to cook, and by that I mean making things at people enjoy rather than being able to create fancy and expensive dishes, the secret is the seasonings and the flavourings. You learn through practice about which flavours go together but as you cook more and more you start to have seasonings or spices that suit you and your palate, making your dishes recognisable.
Bite through the breaded coating into crunchy chilli with soft melted cheese inside. A great side dish for homemade pizza or something cheesy and Mexican. They’re also a good starter as well.
If you’re using fresh chillies then remove the seeds and the white filling before rinsing. You want crunch and a little heat rather than solar pleading heat explosion. If you fancy using jalapeños then they’re good to go.
Can I be pretentious enough to call this a famous recipe?
No, my Irish up-bringing is telling me no and it’s slapping my hand. People have tried it though. And they do like it.
I’ve served lasagna and dinner do’s as well as in a huge baking tray to cover several days meals when money has been tight. It’s tasty, you can make it so it’s healthy (or pure comfort eating, if you prefer) and this way makes it super, super tasty.