In these uncertain times, we should find a bit of joy where we can, and some of that can, thankfully, be found in the kitchen. Suddenly, when faced with the prospect of more time at home, there is space and time to cook, and dare I say, enjoy it at the same time. These meals are high in comfort and you should find most of the ingredients in your fridge, pantry or freezer.
Sausage, kale and tortellini bake
An edible hug is pretty high on the agenda right now, and this pantry- and freezer-raided staple is exactly that. It's also dinner, and lunch the next day, and the day after that, if you want to scrape the remnants between two bits of bread and make a jaffle. Probably not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it tastes amazing and involves nothing more than throwing a few ingredients at a high-sided baking dish. I've coarsely torn some cavolo nero leaves and pushed them into the saucy depths for a bit of green factor. You could easily replace them with frozen peas or spinach. This is a great way to put my "quarantine sauce" to use (recipe here).
1 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g beef sausages, casings removed, meat roughly torn into chunks
500g store-bought fresh tortellini (any filling works well, e.g. beef or spinach and cheese)
400g can chopped tomatoes
700ml quarantine sauce (or tomato passata)
1 cup white wine
about 1 cup coarsely torn cavolo nero leaves
½ - ¾ cup cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, whatever you can find in your fridge)
1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Place a large frypan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, and once a sheen appears across the surface, add the onion and cook until fragrant and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring often to prevent burning.
3. Add the sausage meat and cook for 3-5 minutes until browned and just cooked through. Add the chopped tomatoes, quarantine sauce (or passata) and the wine, give it a good stir, then pour mixture into a high-sided baking dish.
4. Add the raw tortellini, making sure you submerge the pasta into the sauce. Gently push most of the cavolo nero leaves into the dish, reserving a few to scatter over the top to serve. Cover with cheese and place in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown on the surface, and the tortellini is cooked through. Scatter over reserved cavolo nero and serve piping hot.
Go the whole enchilada. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Easy chicken enchiladas with self-isolating enchilada sauce
This easy enchilada sauce adds depth of flavour to a simple, homely meal, without all those seriously weird ingredient lists you can find on the store-bought stuff. I picked up the trick of making a cheat's roux for the start of the sauce. It makes it thickens gloriously, without hours spent nursing it on the stove. Even better, you should find most of the ingredients in your pantry. For a vegetarian version just double the beans. Or double up on everything and batch-freeze* some for later.
2 tbsp rice bran oil
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups chicken stock
400g can crushed tomatoes (I used Mutti Polpa)
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ tbsp brown sugar
½ tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp cumin
½ tbsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tbsp chipotle powder
½ tbsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sea salt flakes
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
400g can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red onion, finely chopped
6-8 soft tortillas
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup Persian-style feta
a few basil leaves, to sprinkle (optional)
1. For the enchilada sauce, place a medium frypan over medium heat. Add the oil and flour and whisk until combined, almost as if you are making the base for a bechamel sauce. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent catching. Once it has thickened and starts to smell glorious, remove from heat. In a mixing bowl, place the shredded chicken, black beans and finely chopped red onion, then add enough enchilada sauce to just coat. Reserve remaining sauce for assembly.
2. Preheat oven to 175C.
3. To assemble, place the tortillas on a flat work surface, and scoop out chicken mixture into the centre of each tortilla. Be careful not to overfill: you want to be able to enclose each enchilada comfortably.
4. Try to use a large baking dish that fits the tortillas lengthways, so you don't have to cut or jam the filled, wrapped enchiladas into the dish (20-25cm tortillas work best). Snugly fit as many tortillas as you can into the dish, placing them seam-down. Cover them with the remaining sauce.
5. Top with the cheese and bake for 20 minutes or until warmed through and the cheese is bubbling and golden on top. Season with salt and pepper and scatter over basil leaves, if using. Serve piping hot.
Note: you can freeze the sauce separately or freeze the baked enchiladas; simply thaw then reheat in the oven.
Oven-baked risotto with buttered mushrooms. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Oven-baked mushroom risotto
This is a shove-in-the-oven risotto, probably sacrilege, but it tastes great and doesn't involve the constant attention at the stove. If you can't get your hands on fresh mushrooms, dried porcini mushrooms softened in boiling water will give you the meaty boost you might be looking for. I've made the mushroom component an add-on – leftover risotto can stretch far and wide. This way you aren't limited for the delights of arancini or cold risotto straight from the fridge.
small knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 cup risotto rice (ie. arborio or carnaroli)
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
knob of butter
sea salt flakes
1 cup swiss brown mushrooms
1-2 large field mushrooms
zest of 1 lemon
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup shaved parmesan
1. Preheat oven to 175C.
2. Place a medium-sized oven-proof saucepan over medium heat. Add the knob of butter, and once sizzling, add the olive oil and red onion. Turn the heat to low and cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Pour over the stock and wine and place in the oven.
3. Cook for about 20 minutes. About halfway through the cooking time, place a frypan over medium heat. Add the butter and a generous pinch of salt, then when the butter is sizzling, add the mushrooms and reduce the heat to low. Cook for the remaining time the risotto is in the oven, or until the mushrooms have cooked through.
4. Peer in and give the risotto a stir at about the 15-minute mark – no one wants scolded risotto on the base of their pan. This risotto can take anywhere between 18 and 25 minutes. It's ready when the grains still have a slight bite (see recipe introduction). If you are concerned the risotto is drying out too quickly, slowly add extra stock, about a tablespoon at a time, and stir the rice between additions.
5. Scoop risotto into a serving dish and season with the lemon zest, juice and parmesan (see tip). Top with the mushrooms and season once more with any salt, if you feel it needs it. Serve piping hot.
Tip: At French culinary school, the hotplates were mostly led for me by an Italian chef, which is probably a good thing. While I love the meticulous and fastidious discipline of the French in the kitchen, it's the robustness of Italian cooking that has my heart. And this chef was fanatical about a good risotto. And if there are a few things I learnt and can since impart, it is this: cook until the grains have a slight bite and are still separated; and most importantly, your seasoning should actually be lemon juice, parmesan and then the salt.
Coriander, coconut and lentil curry. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Coriander, coconut and lentil curry (heavy on the ginger)
This is heavy on the coriander seeds but don't worry, with the longer cooking time they soften beautifully and add delightful smoky pops to this saucy bowl of comfort. Note: the curry can be frozen after step 3.
2 tbsp coconut oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 star anise
1 tbsp cumin seeds, roughly crushed
2½ tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed, plus 1 tbsp extra to serve
1 tbsp turmeric powder (or 1½ tbsp freshly grated, if available)
8cm knob ginger, finely sliced (skin on)
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried green laird lentils (or other green lentils), rinsed
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
400ml can coconut milk
coconut yoghurt, to serve
coriander leaves and flatbreads, to serve (optional)
1. Heat the coconut oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring continuously to prevent burning. Add the ginger and cook for another 30 seconds or so before adding the tin of crushed tomatoes, stirring to combine. Add the lentils and then the stock and bring to the boil.
2. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft.
3. Add the can of coconut milk and allow to warm through (about five minutes).
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with generous scoops of coconut yoghurt and scatter with crushed coriander seeds and fresh coriander leaves, if using. Serve piping hot with flatbreads, if you have them.