prawn & pea orzo

Orzo with prawns and peas
Orzo with prawns and peas

Goodness. Is anyone else feeling the chill lately?

During the rickets-inducing darkened winter months, I feel it’s almost mandatory to switch over to comfort food. After all, after trudging through the biting wind on icy pavements, I think even the most determined salad enthusiast would be hard-pressed to be happy to come home to a chilled bowl of leaves.

Instead, it’s time to embrace winter food. Piping hot soups. Steaming piles of pasta. Plates of deep, rich stew and rivulets of gravy running down mountains of mash.

Getting cosy with winter food is a definite bright spot in the otherwise grey, chilly days.

Comforting. Easy. Delicious.
Comforting. Easy. Delicious.

Winter food is all about creamy comfort, and one of the best places to find it is in a bowl of silky orzo. Cooking orzo risotto-style has become all the rage, which is a total blessing for the time-poor. If you’re in the mood for a risotto and you can’t possibly face stirring at the stove for an hour, orzo is your friend.

I love this recipe for many reasons – it’s filling without being heavy, it’s fast and it’s super easy. Most of all, it’s completely delicious. The succulent prawns and juicy peas invoke memories of sunshine bright enough to sustain us through a freezing winter.


Prawn and pea orzo (serves 2)
1 onion, diced
1½ cups orzo
1 cup peas
1 tbsp tomato paste
2½ cups fish stock
1 tsp smoked paprika
12 prawns
3 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped parsley to serve
Lemon juice

Slowly fry the onion in vegetable oil with some salt, so it begins to soften. After three minutes, add the orzo and coat in the oil.

Add the tomato paste, paprika and stock, stirring. It takes around 12 minutes to cook orzo this way.

At the 8-minute mark, add the frozen peas.

At this point you can also heat some oil in a frying pan, ready to toss the prawns in. They are very quick – place them on one side for one minute, then add the garlic and toss the prawns so the other side cooks. They need around two minutes in total, depending on the size. Take them off the heat and set them aside.

Test if the orzo is done. It should be toothsome but yielding, just like normal pasta. Serve the orzo with the prawns and top with a handful of chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.


spinach & ricotta lasagne

Warm and comforting.
Warm and comforting.

I’m not a vegetarian.

I mean it. I love meat. I celebrate spaghetti bolognese. I adore lamb shanks. I’m devoted to roast chicken. I have been known to weep with joy over a good unsmoked rasher of back bacon, damn it. Basically, if it swims or flies or roams this earth in a non-human not-too-exotic fashion, odds are I’ll have considered eating it at one point or another.

But despite my keen interest, I don’t really eat very much of it.

I know many people who belong to the ‘if it doesn’t have meat in it, it’s not a meal’ school of thought. Often, they are rightly concerned about the nutritional balance of a vegetarian lifestyle, which can lack protein, iron and magnesium if practiced incorrectly. Sometimes they approach it from a culinary perspective, because truthfully meat will add a taste and texture no other food can quite emulate. Mostly, though, the reasons have to do with a mental state; it doesn’t feel like a real meal if it doesn’t have meat in it.

The thing is, there are plenty of compelling reasons to eat less meat: environmental sustainability, health, cost and convenience being just a few. These are all solid incentives, but surely one of the greatest motivations is vegetarian food itself; it can be so darn good. The problem is overcoming years and years of bad restaurant PR – decades of limp pasta arrabbiata and dry veggie burgers – which is not at all representative of vegetarian cuisine.

Nothing limp or dry about this.
Nothing limp or dry about this.

Me, I’m a part-time meat eater at best, and this is what I’ve learned from my casual carnivorism: if you want to eat less meat, you can’t just cook traditionally meat-based dishes and leave the meat out. You’ll always feel like something is missing, and it will be, because you crafted it with meat in mind. Instead, you have to truly celebrate vegetables. After all, what is a chicken salad without the chicken? A pile of sad-looking lettuce and a mangled tomato, that’s what. But what if you created a salad with the earthy crunch of spinach, and added sweet kernels of corn, nutty quinoa, roasted pumpkin, avocado and a scattering of pine nuts? Would you truly feel deprived?

A meal doesn’t need meat to be satisfying; to me, what matters is how you use the ingredients you choose to include. So as an enthusiastic advocate of vegetables I want to share this recipe with you; it’s delicious and filling – I think the word ‘nourishing’ would be appropriate. It warms you from the inside out, like the pasta version of a big, warm hug, and it is: a pile of vegetables, loving you back.

Make and bake. Simple and delicious!
Make and bake. Simple and delicious!

Spinach and ricotta lasagne
250g lasagne sheets
500g frozen spinach, thawed and drained
250g ricotta
Pinch of nutmeg
1 egg
1 x 125g ball of mozzarella
2 x 400g tins of canned tomatoes
1 x 400g jar of passata
1 onion
1 vegetable stock cube
Mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

Make the tomato sauce first. Chop the onion and sauté gently until translucent, then add the tomatoes, passata, stock cube and herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes and taste, adjusting the seasoning. Depending on the sharpness of the tomatoes, you might need to add ketchup or sugar.

Mix the spinach with the ricotta, egg and nutmeg. Add salt and white pepper.

Starting with a drizzle of the sauce so the lasagne sheets don’t stick to the bottom, layer the sheets, sauce and spinach mixture in an ovenproof dish.

Bake at 200C for 20 minutes, then top with the torn mozzarella ball and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

spring pasta

Pasta with broccoli - the perfect spring supper.
Pasta with broccoli – the perfect spring supper.

This week I celebrated the arrival of my new baby: a beautiful, pristine Cambridge-blue ceramic pan.

Yes, I’m aware this is a little strange. Most people celebrate the arrival of actual children, of Spring, of parcels and packages and Christmas and birthdays. But those of you who understand the excitement associated with a new kitchen accessory – its perfect white ceramic surface gleaming up at you – you’re my kindred spirits. We’ll be completely mad together.

The colour makes me think of spring, which is fitting because it’s growing ever so slightly warmer in London – by which I mean you can now leave the scarf, hat and gloves at home and just go out with a coat and umbrella. Every day I throw open the curtains and peer eagerly up at the sky, just waiting for the moment I can put away the Vitamin D tablets and bask in the sunshine.

It’s just around the corner. I can feel it.

Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli.
Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli.

Broccoli with pasta is traditional to the south of Italy. This light, simple dish is bright enough to celebrate the imminent arrival of sunshine and filling enough to stave off the last of the winter blues, and it always makes me think of the outdoors and lazy days full of wine and laughter. I love the juicy burst of fresh tomatoes and the crunchy zing of parsley, combined with the dense bite of pasta and the gentle heat of garlic and chilli.

For me, this is the perfect spring supper.

Pasta with broccoli, garlic and chilli
250g short pasta
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
5 cloves garlic, diced
½ teaspoon Chiu Chow chilli oil (you can use chilli flakes)
3-4 sprigs parsley, chopped
10 cherry or baby plum tomatoes

Cook the pasta in salted water until firm but not hard.

Three minutes before the pasta finishes, add the broccoli to the pot.

Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain the pasta and broccoli.

In a frying pan over a medium heat, add the garlic in some oil and heat for around 30 seconds, taking care not to let it burn.

Add the chilli and fry for another 15 seconds, then add half the reserved liquid to the frypan. Turn the heat up so it bubbles.

Add the pasta/broccoli and heat through. If it becomes too dry, add more of the cooking liquid so it forms a creamy sauce.

Top with parsley and serve with cherry tomatoes.

warm tortellini salad

warm tortellini salad
a winter salad

Don’t laugh, but there are tortellini on my salad.

Sometimes I suspect the best food combinations have less to do with a considered stroke of genius and more to do with indecision, greed or laziness. Breakfast or lunch? Brunch sounds great! Meat or bread first, or keep playing cards? Hello, sandwich! Croissant, or donut? Behold the cronut! (tastier but much less amusing than its croissant/flapjack hybrid cousin, the crapjack.)

All of this is justification for what I’m sure you’re going to love, even if it does sound a little strange at first: a warm tortellini salad.

I’ve recently come back from Australia and moved into a new flat, which means that the cupboards are crazily, disconcertingly bare. The local Sainsburys is being far less cooperative than my old Tesco (why are the washing gloves not next to the washing up liquid? Why are dried pulses not in the vegetable or rice sections? For the love of God, are there any insoles left in London?), but I will prevail in time, and my cupboards will go back to looking like I’m preparing to sit out a small nuclear disaster.

In the meantime, though, supper is the quickest-of-quick meals: pasta and sauce.

There’s really nothing like coming home in the freezing sleet and gale force winds and diving into a pile of warm, comforting pasta. I suspect that my brief and unsuccessful stint at proper low-carbing had more than a little to do with my ongoing love affair with spaghetti. Pasta is a hug on a plate.

The thing is, pasta doesn’t have the healthiest reputation, and the vitamin content of a jar of sauce is not spectacular. But salads are just so cold and uninspiring at this time of year. What’s a girl to do?

The warm tortellini salad is the best of both worlds: a moderated helping of pasta and all the nutritional goodness of a salad. If you time it right, the pasta will still be warm and the salad crisp, and you’ll feel virtuous and beloved all at the same time.

Warm tortellini salad
150g tortellini
Salad of choice – I use baby spinach, plum tomatoes, capsicum and chestnut mushrooms
Good balsamic vinegar

Boil a pot of water whilst you prepare the salad vegetables.

Salt the boiling water and cook the tortellini as directed on the pack. While you’re waiting, place the salad on a plate.

Drain the tortellini and add to the salad. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

It’s almost embarrassing to call this a recipe, but there you have it. I will say that tortellini is very easily overcooked (even when the directions say 3 minutes) and I really dislike soggy pasta, so I tend to knock a minute or so off the cooking time. Enjoy!

gobble this up

gobble gobble
gobble gobble

I’ve no recipe for you tonight, just a picture of yesterday’s turkey meatballs dished up the way they should be – perched on top of a bed of wholemeal spaghetti.

In case you’re wondering, the meatballs are juicy, sweet and light. Just what you need on this cold winter’s night!

pasta e broccoli

First cauliflower, now broccoli. What is going on here?


This is something I only learned in my mid-twenties, and what a revelation it is. Sometimes, after a long week at work, the best medicine is to meet up with the girls and have a good natter over a few cocktails. Let your hair down, dance the night away, cavort and frolic into the wee hours of the morn and then grab a much-regretted kebab on the way home.

Sometimes, however, you just want to stay in and have a quiet night with a book and a glass of wine.

A quick, easy supper is in order, something crafted of cupboard ingredients with a minimal amount of fuss. That way you can go from stove to table in fifteen minutes and be happy as a clam for the rest of the evening (leave the washing up until tomorrow. Go on, I won’t tell.)

Pasta e broccoli
1 cup pasta (you’re looking for something that cooks in about 9 minutes)
1 small head broccoli
3-4 anchovies
3 garlic cloves
Small handful pine nuts
Olive oil

Start with the pasta. Put a pot of water on to boil while you finely slice the garlic cloves, and turn the head of broccoli into small, bite-size florets. If you can be bothered, making them even sizes will mean that they cook at the same time.

In a pan, drizzle some olive oil and add the garlic cloves over a low heat. Don’t let them brown, as this will lend a sharp, bitter taste to the dish.

‘Scuse the scorch marks. A bacon experiment that went slightly awry.

Once they’ve gone translucent, add the anchovies. If you’re a vegetarian or just don’t like anchovies, leave them out and add parmesan cheese at the end.

Cook until the anchovies have begun to break up, then add the broccoli. Add a dash of the pasta water to the pan to help the broccoli cook.

Once the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan. Mix well, and serve with the pine nuts sprinkled on top.

Quick, easy and simple.

A note about pasta: this is probably obvious enough, but it’s worth mentioning that when you’re adding cooked pasta to a hot pan, if you’re planning to keep the thing on the stove for any length of time you’ll need to underdo the pasta when you boil it. Otherwise, it keeps cooking along merrily in the pan when you don’t really want it to, and you end up with soggy pasta. Eurgh.