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Chefs’ tips for 15-minute meals at home

Anna Berrill
·3-min read

I’m in need of some easy 15-minute meals – any ideas?
Jim, Matlock, Derbyshire

As is so often the case, it all comes down to planning, Jim. And pasta. Salvation can, of course, be found in the familiar likes of pesto and aglio e olio (garlic, chilli, olive oil), but the Neapolitan sciue sciue (meaning “hurry, hurry”) is another good shout, says Jacob Kenedy, chef/owner of Boca di Lupo in London. “Fry tomatoes, garlic and chilli in olive oil, throw in cooked pasta and toss. It’s delicious.” Angela Hartnett, meanwhile, favours a braised courgette with penne number: the chef/patron of Murano and Café Murano in London sweats the veg in olive oil, then adds finely chopped garlic, a few spoonfuls of water (so the solids don’t catch) and covers. “The courgettes start to break down and become a sauce.” Stir in cooked penne, add grated cheese and tuck in.

Pippa Middlehurst also uses her noodle – or, rather, she tosses cooked soba with chopped spring onions, crunchy veg or chargrilled broccoli and equal parts chilli oil, black rice vinegar and light soy sauce. “And if you’re the sort of person who keeps broth in the freezer, then you have the makings of a more filling meal,” says the author of Dumplings and Noodles: heat the stock, stir in soy sauce and sesame paste (plus any greens you fancy), then add noodles; an egg wouldn’t go amiss, either.

“Cooking en papillote [ie, in paper] is massively underrated when it comes to quick meals,” says Rick Toogood, executive chef/co-owner of Prawn on the Lawn in Padstow and London. “It’s such a nifty trick, and you can use small whole fish, fillets or shellfish.” Lay the seafood, veg, butter and seasoning on a sheet of greaseproof, splash with a little white wine, wrap and bake in a 200C (180C fan) oven for “a complete meal in a bag”. A favourite Toogood late-spring go-to is mackerel, olives, red onion, tomato, garlic and dried oregano.

If you’re lacking lunch inspiration, Grace Regan, author of SpiceBox: 100 Fresh, Vegan Curry House Favourites, is all about spiced cabbage – with an optional side of pearl barley. She fries whole spices (think mustard and/or cumin seeds) in oil until golden, then adds chilli flakes, sliced cabbage and salt. “Once softened, grate in garlic and ginger, add turmeric and, once that’s cook out, take off the heat and squeeze in lemon juice.” Finish with herbs and toasted nuts.

And don’t forget to make meals out of leftovers, says Matthew Pennington, chef/co-owner of The Ethicurean in the Mendip hillsnear Bristol. “When you roast a chicken, keep any excess fat in the fridge.” Next day, warm the fat (or sesame or hazelnut oil), combine with a ferment (sauerkraut, kimchi, beetroot) and serve with green salad and bread. Leftovers are a big deal at Shuko Oda’s house, too, where “rice and bits” makes a regular appearance: “It’s basically cooked rice with four toppings,” says the co-founder and executive chef of Koya London, who always includes a salad (shredded cucumber, carrot, lettuce) dressed with sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame seeds, while other toppings might be scrambled egg or miso mince.

Chicken Milanese is another good fast option, Hartnett says, while for Kenedy chicken scaloppine is also a winner: dust thinly sliced breast in flour, fry, then make a sauce with the pan juices, butter and lemon, add rosemary or parsley and serve on mash. You’ll need to chop those spuds small, though, to hit that 15-minute mark.