This feature is part of The Happy Foodie's A Home-Cooked Summer series in partnership with Waterstones.
Cooking during the pandemic started out as a challenge. I’ve never been the sort of person to do one big weekly shop. Like many people, I did three or four quick shops per week to buy ingredients based on what I wanted to eat that evening – gnocchi, orzo, bits and pieces for all-in-one rice. So it has been a new and rather more organised experience planning the week’s meals in advance, bearing in mind not all the items will be available. I have been inspired by the meal plans, often from my books, sent in by readers on social media, and it has shaped the way I plan my own week (and made me want to buy a big whiteboard and coloured pens to plan the week’s meals).
It feels like the way we cook will inevitably change thanks to lockdown, and perhaps for the better. I hope we have learned to make the most of the food we have and to treat fresh fruit and vegetables as the precious resources they are. I’m certainly keeping an eye on expiry dates, batch cooking, freezing and checking the cupboards and fridge before shopping far more than I ever did before, and it has made me a more careful and efficient shopper and home cook. I’ve also learned to do some quick thinking in the aisles, with a couple of backup recipes in mind, so if there’s a run on cauliflower and aubergines, I know I can grab a cabbage and a few courgettes for alternative dishes to go with existing store cupboard ingredients. I find The Green Roasting Tin, the second cookbook in my Roasting Tin series, particularly helpful for this. Cooking vegetables in the oven is easy, flexible, and lends itself well to substitutions: you can use what's available, or what's in season. It's a wonderful resource over the summer for low-effort, veg packed meals which require little more than a bit of light chopping before letting the oven do the work. The recipes use easy-to-find ingredients, are packed with flavour and have been known to appeal to even the fussiest children/partners, leaving you to enjoy your meal without feeling frazzled by dinnertime. Here are five recipes I have selected from it to inspire your cooking in the coming weeks.
One quick and easy meal – Crispy Gnocchi with Roasted Peppers, Chilli, Rosemary and Ricotta
Nothing could be easier than this simple, highly addictive dish of crisp gnocchi with chilli-spiked peppers and cooling ricotta. Make sure you use a really large roasting tin, as it’ll give the potatoes maximum surface area to crisp up.
One slow-cooked bowl of comfort food – Groundnut Stew: Sweet Potato in a Peanut and Tomato Sauce
Comfort in a bowl. The peanut and tomato sauce cook down with the sweet potato to create one of my favourite ‘bowl food’ dishes – perfect to take with you to the sofa for a cosy night in.
One store cupboard superstar – Beetroot, Chickpea and Coconut Curry
This is the easiest dish to knock out with store cupboard ingredients: a tin of chickpeas, a can of coconut milk, a few spices. The only other thing you'll need is a bunch of beetroot, which makes this a pleasingly economical dish too. Serve with fluffy white rice on a late summer evening.
One dish to teach a new skill – Indulgent Quick Cook Quiche
If you thought quiche was too much of a faff to make, think again. This version uses ready-rolled puff pastry, and a rich, indulgent crème fraîche and blue cheese filling which works perfectly against the broccoli. Once you’ve tried this version, you can adapt the filling with veg and flavourings of your choice for endless variations, just keep the ratio of eggs and crème fraîche the same.
One make-ahead hero – Oven Baked Ratatouille: Slow Cooked Courgette, Aubergine, Peppers and Tomatoes
This is one of those dishes that tastes even better when you heat it up the next day, and a stint in the freezer before defrosting and crisping up again in the oven is, I’d venture to say, even nicer than having the dish straight out of the oven the first time. Add an extra handful of breadcrumbs and cheese the second time round for added crunch.
Five more reasons to add The Green Roasting Tin to your collection this summer by The Happy Foodie team:
1. If a few laid-back recipes to add to your lockdown repertoire wouldn't go amiss, it doesn't get easier than a Roasting Tin cookbook and The Green Roasting Tin is no exception. Requiring no fancy kitchen kit and minimal prep (most of the recipes in the book call for just ten minutes of prep time), each recipe leaves the hard work to the oven and will also result in much less washing up, so you are free to make the most of summery evenings.
2. The dishes in The Green Roasting Tin are organised according to the time they take to cook in the oven, helping you to select the recipes that best fit with your schedule. Need dinner on the table in forty minutes? Choose a recipe from the chapters on quick vegan or vegetarian dishes. Got a little longer to spare? Check out the slower-cooked options.
3. Whether you're following a meat-free diet yourself, cooking for a vegan or vegetarian, or are simply looking to incorporate a few more veg-based meals into your weekly plan, The Green Roasting Tin will provide plenty of inspiration. 50% of the recipes in the book are vegan and the remaining vegetarian recipes can be easily flexed to be vegan-friendly, making them the perfect choice for cooks catering for varying dietary needs at every meal. Plus, they're so delicious that if you've got a die-hard carnivore to convince, we promise they won't be complaining about the lack of meat.
4. The veg-centric recipes in The Green Roasting Tin are full of seasonal produce to help you bring the best of summer's bounty to your table. Got some lovely looking aubergines in your veg delivery box? Try the Caponata-style aubergines. Drawn to the British asparagus at your local farmer's market? Whip up the asparagus and goat's cheese tart. Need to use up a glut of courgettes? Make them Mediterranean-style.
5. If the weeks of struggling to track down particular ingredients and needing to be much more flexible in the kitchen have made you keen to develop a little more cooking intuition, you'll love the handy infographics in the middle of The Green Roasting Tin. Designed to help you learn how to build different types of roasting tin meals from scratch, from curries and stews to warm salads, each one will show you the building blocks of a successful dish, enabling you to be much more creative and intuitive with whatever you've got to hand.
See the rest of the features in the A Home-Cooked Summer Series here: