New Year, New Plan: Seven One Pot Meals To Get You Through The Week

Prior to the advent of my Instagram obsession when I still had time to brush my teeth in the morning and speak to my children, I was a very keen cook. I was obsessed with recipe books, my addiction assisted by my friend Sam, Home Economist To The Stars (namely James Martin) and a woman capable of rustling up a three course meal with only fifteen minutes notice and a packet of bourbon biscuits. She inspired me to push my culinary boundaries and most importantly, made me realise that the future wasn’t necessary a M&S meal deal and an Iceland frozen prawn ring. I started to think more carefully about what I was cooking every evening, discovering that actually, following a recipe was easier than it looked and if you found the right ones, they could keep you going for years.

Joe and I in Amsterdam circa 1999, a rare occasion when we didn’t have a takeaway.

Joe and I in Amsterdam circa 1999, a rare occasion when we didn’t have a takeaway.

This hadn’t, I assure you, always been the case. When I first left home at 18, I lived in Milton Keynes and my Dad commuted to Bedford daily from London. Once a week, he would drive to my house instead and stay the night, a great opportunity to catch up and share a meal together. Unfortunately, my cooking prowess was nothing to be shouted about. Since starting work at the age of 17, my diet had pretty much consisted of low fat yoghurts, corned beef and mayonnaise sandwiches, Harvey Wallbangers and Silk Cut. Returning from a long day at work, my Dad swiftly realised that the only meal in my repertoire was Tuna Pasta Bake. Not just any old recipe, it was a powdered sachet mix which you added to dried penne with water and stuck in the oven for thirty minutes. The only artistic part of this process was the scattering of the grated cheese. Needless to say, there was only so much that my poor Dad could take so it wasn’t long before we got into a regular routine of pub dinners. The Colmans sachet couldn’t compete with a homemade chicken pie, chips and a glass of wine.

I met Joe when I was 27 and we moved to Tilehurst. It soon became apparent that he was not only the most untidy man in Berkshire (Joe and his cousin Kathryn were once the victims of a break in - when the Police arrived, they thought Joe’s room had been ransacked when in fact the burglar hadn’t even opened his door), but he was also incapable of any sort of cooking whatsoever. A total gym addict, he’d been surviving on Weight Watcher meals, takeaway Indian and squash for the previous two years. During our first week together, he managed to blow up the microwave by cooking a foil bagged naan bread. My Tuna Pasta Bake history didn’t help the situation and our early years were spent with a VIP hotline to Pizza Hut and the Bina Tandoori. We both worked long hours; I commuted daily to London by car so there wasn’t much time for meal planning - quick, easy and preferably telephone aided was our favoured option.

The arrival of the children changed everything. No longer able to survive purely on a diet of beige carbs, curry sauce and wine, I started cooking actual meals. I discovered Jamie Oliver and realised that cooking from scratch was not only much healthier, but also filled me with a huge sense of smugness that I’d managed to produce something that didn’t come via moped delivery, brown paper carrier bag or from a sachet. I also realised that it was much more economical - I’d double up the recipes and freeze portions for another day, taking them out before I went to work and reheating when I returned. I’d plan what I was cooking in advance, listing the ingredients and ordering Asda deliveries to arrive on a Monday so that I had everything I needed. And it worked. It worked BRILLIANTLY. The key to making it work was simple - I KEPT it simple. I only did uncomplicated, one pot meals that required only the addition of salad or bread. I’d aim to find recipes that included vegetables so that I didn’t have to use and wash up extra pans. Priorities. Or innate laziness. Either is applicable.

Anyway, since my Insta addiction really took off, I’ve struggled to keep up this routine. In fact, it’s pretty much gone down the pan (no pun intended). But New Year, new me and I’m getting back on the horse and going for gold. I talked about my intentions on my Instagram Stories this week and had a massive response from those of you who are keen to do the same. As a result, I’ve listed my seven favourite one pot recipes below - some of these I’ve been cooking for over ten years and all of them are not only delish, but also easy to prepare and require absolute minimum effort and, more importantly, washing up. And they will ALL make you look like you know what you’re doing.

MONDAY: Mexican Lamb

Soups & Stews - Sophie Conran (Harper Collins)

Amazon has just told me that I bought this book back in 2009 so I’ve been using it for a while! It’s full of brilliant recipes. This one has been a staple for weekday meals, dinner parties and even quantities tripled for big events. I’ve also cooked it countless times replacing the lamb with beef. Serve it with a salad, rice, sour cream, lime wedges and guacamole.

YOU WILL NEED: 200g tin pinto beans; 150g bacon lardons; 2 onions (peeled and sliced); 2 red peppers (seeded and cut into strips); 500g stewing lamb; 400g chopped tomatoes, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 3 cloves of garlic (peeled and chopped); 1 tsp dried chilli flakes; 1/2 tsp each ground nutmeg and coriander; 1 cinnamon stick, 2 tbsp olive oil, seasoning.

METHOD: Fry the lardons in a large pan on a high heat until the fat begins to run. Add onions, fry for ten minutes. Stir in the red peppers, cook for twenty minutes. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil and fry the lamb in one layer until nice and brown. Remove lamb from heat and sprinkle with cumin seeds. Leave to side.

Once cooked, add garlic, chilli and the remaining spices to the pepper and onions. Stir in the tinned beans and the meat, juices and cumin seeds. Add tomatoes, fill the tin with water and pour this in too. Season with salt, give it a big stir and leave on a medium heat for two hours. I have also slow cooked this recipe in the oven at 150 for four hours and it’s fab.

Photography: David Loftus

TUESDAY: Mima’s Greek-ish Butter Beans

Naturally Fast Food - Leon, Henry Dimbleby & John Vincent (Conran Octopus)

This recipe is quick, VERY tasty and uses pretty much stuff that you generally have in your cupboard. It’s addictively easy and perfect for leftovers for the next days lunch too.

YOU WILL NEED: 2 tbsp olive oil; 2 red onions; 4 cloves garlic; 2 tsp fennel seeds; 2 tsp dried oregano; 2 x 400g chopped tomatoes; 2 tsp tomato puree; 4 x 400g tins butter beans; 200g feta cheese, seasoning.

METHOD: Heat the oil in a large pan. Peel and chop the onions and fry gently for a couple of minutes. Peel and chop the garlic, add to pan with fennel seeds and oregano and cook over a low heat until soft. Add tinned tomatoes and tomato puree, leave to simmer for twenty minutes. Add the drained beans and simmer for a further ten minutes. Crumble most of the feta into the stew and stir, then divide and garnish with remaining feta. For extra protein, poach an egg for the top.

Photography: Georgia Glynn Smith

WEDNESDAY: Sausage With Salami & Lentils

The Kitchen Diaries - Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, London)

These books are my absolute favourite and I’ve cooked countless meals from them over the years (since 2010, thanks Amazon). This one also has two brilliantly delicious trifle recipes for those of you who are fans - Nigel’s Delightful Trifle and Lemon Trifle are both dinner party winners every time. This recipe is one of my favourites and can be left on the hob for ages so practical for a family.

YOU WILL NEED: 2 medium onions; 2 tbsp olive oil; 2 cloves garlic; 200g salami'; 350g sausages; 500g of passata; 150g dry lentils; 3 bay leaves.

METHOD: Peel the onions and cut from root to tip, then cut each half into five pieces. Cook over a moderate heat until tender. Peel garlic, slice it thinly and add to onions. Peel the salami and cut into fat matchsticks, add to the onions. The salami will darken.

In a separate pan, start cooking the sausages. Add the tomatoes to the onions, add the washed lentils and add 500g water. Bring to the boil. Add the sausages to the pan and add the bay leaves. Leave to simmer for about half an hour until lentils are tender. Season and serve with crusty bread. I have also cooked this at 150 in the oven for an hour or so, adding water when needed.

Photography: Jonathan Lovekin

THURSDAY: Baked Orzo With Mozzarella & Oregano

Plenty - Yotem Ottolenghi (Ebury Publishing)

I first made this recipe when we had vegetarian friends over for a dinner party, in conjunction with Lamb Shawarma from Jerusalem by the same author. These same friends are now vegan but you could replace the mozzerella with the vegan substitute. It’s so yummy that I’ve made it independently since as a main meal. Orzo is sometimes difficult to find but you can get it in Waitrose and it’s worth the trip.

YOU WILL NEED: 100ml olive oil; 1 aubergine (cut into dice); 4 medium carrots (peeled); 4 celery stalks (diced)'; 1 large onion (diced); 3 garlic cloves (crushed); 250g orzo pasta; 1 tsp tomato puree; 380ml vegetable stock; 3 tbsp of fresh oregano or 1.5 tbsp of fresh thyme (chopped); grated zest of 1 lemon; 120g hard mozzarella cut into dice; 40g grated parmesan; 3 medium tomatoes (sliced); 1 tsp dried oregano; seasoning.

METHOD: Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add the aubergine. Cook for eight minutes on a high heat until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to kitchen paper. Add carrot and celery to pan and fry for eight minutes. Transfer to kitchen paper. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic, cook for five minutes, stirring often. Add orzo and tomato puree and cook for two minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and pour in the stock, fresh herbs and lemon zest. Add the cooked vegetables, mozzarella, parmesan, a tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Mix well and transfer to a large ovenproof dish. Arrange the tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the dried oregano and season. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is cooked through.

Photography: Jonathan Lovekin

FRIDAY: Italian Fish Stew

You Say Tomato - Gemma Wade

Gemma is an amazing chef from Cheshire, recently returned after five years teaching in California. She runs classes and events and offers meal plans and recipes which suit your lifestyle and are super time efficient. We like this!

YOU WILL NEED: 1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil; 1 large red onion; 1 bulb of fennel; 2 stalks of celery; 2 red, yellow or orange peppers; 500g baby potatoes; 4 garlic cloves; 1 tsp fennel seeds (use oregano if you don’t like fennel); 1 x 400g tinned tomatoes or passata; 1-3 tsp red wine vinegar; 1 tbsp tomato puree; 1 glass of white or rose wine; 750g skinned and boned cod fillet (you can use most fish fillets or prawns or a mixture); 1 lemon; handful of basil leaves; seasoning.

METHOD: Peel and finely dice the onion. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add diced onion and stir. Cook on a medium high heat whilst you dice the other vegetables. Add the celery and fennel to the pan, followed by the pepper (keep any fennel fronds aside to garnish at the end). Whilst the vegetables cook, quarter or halve the baby potatoes. Add them to the pan with a tsp of salt flakes and a grind of pepper. You could add chilli flakes or paprika at this stage too if you like. Peel and slice garlic and add to pan along with the fennel seeds and tomato puree. Stir and cook for two minutes. Add wine and bubble on a high heat for a minute. Add tinned tomatoes and enough water to cover the vegetables, some should still poke out. Place a lid on the pan and once it’s simmering, cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Taste and season. If it’s watery, take the lid off and bubble to reduce. Add red wine vinegar to taste. Chop the fish into chunks and push them into the stew. Put the lid back on and cook for about five minutes on a low heat until the fish has started to flake. Turn the heat off and cover the surface of the stew with the juice and zest of a lemon, a handful of basil leaves and the fennel fronds. Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread or a green salad. You can also add a scattering of chilli flakes or a blob of mayonnaise.

Photography: Gemma Wade

SATURDAY: Pollo Alla Cacciatora

Nigella Express - Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus)

My parents gave me this recipe book for Christmas in 2007 and I think I’ve cooked every recipe from it. I’ve got a couple of favourites but this one has been a staple for years. Unbelievably quick and simple but delicious. Other winners from this book include Chicken, Mushroom & Bacon Pie and Red Prawn & Mango Curry. INVEST NOW.

YOU WILL NEED: 1 tbsp garlic oil; 75g pancetta cubes; 6 spring onions (finely sliced); 1 tsp rosemary (finely chopped); 500g chicken fillets (breast or thigh, cut into four pieces); half a tsp celery salt; 125ml white wine; 1 x 400g chopped tomatoes; 2 bay leaves; half tsp sugar; 1 x 400g cannellini beans, seasoning.

METHOD: Heat the garlic oil in a heavy pan and fry the pancetta cubes, spring onions and chopped rosemary for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken pieces, stirring well, and sprinkle in the celery salt. Pour in the wine and let it come to a bubble before adding tomatoes, bay leaves and sugar. Put a lid on and simmer for twenty minutes. Drain the cannellini beans and add to the pan. Warm through and you’re finished. Serve with crusty bread and salad.

Photography: Lis Parsons

SUNDAY: Jools’s Favourite Beef Stew

Jamie’s Dinners - Jamie Oliver (Penguin Cookery)

This is one of my core Sunday stews and it’s delish. Really simple it literally takes moments to pull together and then you leave in the oven for hours. It’s got loads of vegetables and it keeps for days as well. Andy The Gasman’s Stew in this same book is also brilliant.

YOU WILL NEED: Olive oil; knob of butter; 1 onion (peeled and chopped); fresh sage leaves; 800g stewing steak; 2 parsnips (peeled and quartered); 4 carrots (peeled and halved); 1/2 a butternut squash (halved, deseeded and diced); 500g small potatoes; 2 tbsp tomato puree; 1/2 a bottle of red wine; 1/2 pint beef or vegetable stock; zest of 1 lemon; handful of rosemary leaves; 1 garlic clove (peeled and finely chopped), tbsp flour, seasoning.

METHOD: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Put oil and butter into a casserole pan and add the onion and sage leaves. Fry for three to four minutes. Toss the meat in a little seasoned flour and add to pan with all of the vegetables, the tomato puree, wine and stock. Gently stir. Season and bring to the boil, place a lid on the top and put in the oven until the meat is tender, approximately three to four hours. Mix the lemon zest, chopped rosemary and garlic together and serve the stew in bowls with this sprinkled over the top.

Photography: David Loftus

So there they are. A full week’s worth of one pot meals that will make your family and friends gasp in awe at your culinary expertise. And me? I’ve planned my week, listed my ingredients and placed my order - watch out, Asda delivery driver, there’s a new cook in town. And this time, I’m sticking to it.