Don’t have time for endless meal prep? Author and café owner Elly Curshen (AKA Elly Pear) can help you create four winning dinners, using just one base recipe
Batch-cooking can save you time and money, but eating the same thing day after day is a big downfall. Enter Elly Pear’s new book Let’s Eat, which is packed with easy and realistic recipes to see you through the week.
Elly’s top three ways to boss batch cooking:
1. Stock up on storecupboard staples
“This is so you always have the base ingredients to hand. My staples include olive oil, good quality salt and pepper, rice and dried pulses. It’s worth stocking up on some spices too to add quick punches of flavour – I love bay leaves, smoked paprika, turmeric and chipotle chilli flakes. Jars of jalapeños, passata, roasted peppers, capers and anchovy fillets are all easy, cheap ways to ramp up the flavour and they’ll live happily in a cupboard until opened.”
2. Save the washing up
“I hate washing up with a passion, so my recipes use as little equipment as possible. If you’re in a hurry, avoid recipes that involve using a stand mixer or giant flashy food processor. I even try to avoid using the oven when batch cooking (who has time to scrub roasting dishes?) so most of my recipes are cooked on the hob.”
3. Use recipes as building blocks
“I have a few regular base recipes such as a lentil dhal, bean stew and ragu that I can easily serve up in different ways, so I’m not eating the same thing over and over again. My bases are all ‘wet’ things that freeze well and then can be reheated quickly and easily. You’ve invested the time in batch-cooking the base, so the serving suggestions are designed to be quick and stress-free.”
Feeling inspired? Try this freeze ahead Tuscan-style stew as your base recipe, then defrost and serve in three different ways to banish dinnertime boredom for good.
1. Base recipe: Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew
This stew is especially great on chilly days, but as it uses really basic vegetables that are available all year round, you don’t need to keep it for the depths of winter.
Makes 8 portions
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 celery sticks, trimmed, cut into 2½cm sections, fat bits halved lengthways
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or grated
- 4 x 400g tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
- 1 heaped tbsp roughly chopped sage leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp thyme leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
- 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for a further 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill and boil the kettle.
- Add the drained cannellini beans, 1½ litres of boiling water, the bouillon powder, herbs and tinned tomatoes. Season with sea salt and black pepper, stir and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30-45 minutes until the celery and carrot are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Divide the stew evenly between 8 sealable containers or freezer bags and leave to cool completely at room temperature. Label each portion with the recipe name and the date made, then place in the freezer and use within 3 months. Defrost in the fridge, then gently reheat in a saucepan over a medium-low heat until piping hot.
- The stew will also keep for 3 days in the fridge. Keep it covered, then when you’re ready to reheat, gently simmer in a saucepan over a medium-low heat until piping hot.
2. As a soup with pesto
The stew tastes great as a soup with a bright swirl of punchy pesto. I’ve done a non-traditional mix here, but feel free to chuck a dollop of shop-bought pesto in if you have no inclination to make your own. I’ve blitzed half the stew up and kept half chunky so you get a nice halfway texture. Go full smooth or full chunky if you’d prefer.
- 4 x 400g portions of Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew
- 25g hazelnuts
- 25g sunflower seeds
- 1 large handful of basil leaves
- 6 sage leaves
- 25g parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ garlic clove, peeled
- Tip two of the portions of stew into a saucepan and use a hand-held blender to blitz until smooth. Add the remaining two portions and simmer over a medium-low heat until piping hot, adding a little boiling water if you’d prefer a thinner soup. Season to taste with flaked sea salt and black pepper.
- Meanwhile, toast the nuts and seeds in a dry pan over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes until golden brown, shaking the pan often.
- Put the toasted nuts and seeds along with the remaining ingredients in a mini-blender and whizz until it’s as smooth as you like it – it’s quite nice left pretty chunky for this.
- When the soup is hot, pour into bowls and swirl a spoonful of the pesto on the surface.
3. With cavolo nero and gremolata
Add ribbons of this cabbage and you’ve basically got the Italian peasant-style stew called ‘ribolita’. Tear up some chunks of good stale bread and throw them in if you fancy bulking it up.
- 2 x 400g portions of Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew
- 100g cavolo nero, shredded
- ¼ tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Reheat the stew in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. After a couple of minutes, add the cavolo nero and simmer for a further 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients.
- Once the stew is hot, pour into shallow bowls and sprinkle the gremolata over the top.
4. With crispy skinned fish and aïoli
You can make the aïoli in advance, as it will keep for 3 days covered in the fridge. It’s a little challenging to make – it can go a bit wrong and ‘split’ – but learning how to fix the issue and nailing it is one of the kitchen’s most satisfying skills.
- 1 free-range egg yolk
- 135ml rapeseed oil
- 2-3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ¼-1 garlic clove, peeled and grated or crushed
- 2 x 400g portions of Tuscan-style cannellini bean stew
- Olive oil
- 2 fillets firm white fish (sea bass, sea bream, cod or hake are all great choices)
- 6-10 sage leaves
- Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Place a damp tea towel beneath a bowl and put in the egg yolk. Beat well with a balloon whisk for a couple of minutes. Add a generous pinch of sea salt and beat well for another 30 seconds. Pour in the rapeseed oil drop by drop, whisking continuously – don’t rush this or the mayonnaise will split. If it does, a tiny splash (½ tsp, max) of ice-cold water does miracles in bringing it back to life.
- Once the aïoli is thick and glossy and the consistency is to your liking, add the lemon juice, mustard powder and garlic, mix well and keep to one side.
- Reheat the two portions of stew in a saucepan over a medium-low heat until piping hot, stirring occasionally.
- Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Pat the fish dry and make 2-3 2mm-deep slashes in the skin, then sprinkle the skins with sea salt. Carefully lay the fillets in the hot pan, skin side down, and press down with a spatula for about 30 seconds. Release and leave to cook for 3-5 minutes until the skin is crisp. Don’t move the fish during this time.
- Carefully flip over and cook for a further 2-5 minutes, depending on thickness. To check the fish is cooked, poke a small, sharp knife into the thickest part of the fish – it should go in easily and feel hot to the touch.
- Throw the sage leaves into the frying pan to crisp up during the last 30 seconds. Pour the hot stew into shallow bowls, then top with the fish and a dollop of aïoli and sprinkle over the crispy sage.
Want to learn the truth about the latest food and trends? Check out the Angry Chef debunking 5 wellness food trends (no holding back).