The Best Make-Ahead Meals
1. Foil Packet Cooking
Why It Works: You can freeze the packets or put them in the fridge for cooking the next day. With no sullied pots and pans, foil-packet dinners also cut right down on washing-up.
Try: Cajun Prawns & Veg
Make several tin-foil packets large enough to hold a meal each. Pour in a packet of shrimps or shellfish, peas, red peppers, 1cm cubed courgettes. Go big with spices like paprika, cajun or garlic powder for aromatics. Slosh a little white wine. Include some butter or olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Fold the top of the heavy aluminium foil so it’s closed. Freeze, refrigerate and, when ready, bake the whole parcel.
2. Unbaked Pies
Why It Works: Unbaked pie can be refrigerated for up to two days – just don’t brush the pastry with egg wash until the day of baking. If you wrap in plastic wrap and foil, it can be frozen for three months.
Try: Spanakopita (Greek-Style Spinach And Goats’ Cheese Pie)
Cook the spinach on the hob until it’s wilted. Mix with freshly chopped dill, mint or parsley. Add a garlic clove, finely chopped. Crumble in a load of feta (be generous). Crack in two to three eggs and fork through. Season with black pepper. Oil your baking tray. Put down three sheets of filo pastry, with butter or oil brushed between each. Don’t push it down. Now add the spinach filling. Repeat the process with the filo.
Short Cut: Roll out shop-bought puff pastry and follow the above instructions. Wrap in baking paper, then aluminium. Freeze until you need to cook it. You can also construct it the night before. Very lightly, brush egg over the pastry top before baking.
3. Pre-Made Pasta Sauces
Why It Works: Sauces are not only your best friend if you want to preserve (jar them in sterilised bottles) but they’re robust enough to sit well in batches in the fridge for two to three days. This way, you really don’t need to buy a jar.
Try: Sicilian Tomato Sauce
I pinched this life-saving tomato sauce recipe from a jolly farmer in Sicily when I visited a tomato farm. Normally I use four tins of tomatoes and freeze three portions. Defrost and wave goodbye to the Dolmio bottles.
The Sicilian farmer uses fresh tomatoes, but we don’t have the climate here and tins are not to be sniffed at. So you’ll need: 4 tins (1600g) of chopped tomatoes; 3 crushed garlic cloves; 1tsp salt; 1tsp sugar; 1 chilli.
His method is all about reduction and gentle cooking. In a pan, add a little olive oil, sizzle the garlic until the aroma releases, don’t let it brown. Add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. Now simmer for 25 minutes on a low heat until it’s reduced.
Take care to not let the sauce get too dry; if it does, add a splash of water or stock. When the tomatoes are velvet soft, turn the sauce off. If you plan on saving for winter, bottle in a sterilised jar. Serve with pasta (ideally linguine).
4. One Pots For The Fridge Or Freezer
Why It Works: Few things beat a warm one-pot in the autumn. You can scale up so easily for batch cooking and family meals. They’re often better eaten the second day as the flavours come out. For the following, it’s one recipe for two different evening meals.
Try: Five-Ingredient Chilli Con Carne
Okay, this may take hours in the oven on low heat but you don’t have to lift a finger during that time and the prep totals around 20 minutes. The result is a soothing heap of tender, slow-cooked nourishment. Bonus: the robust ingredients make it great for freezing (it doesn’t seem to get freezer burn).
800g of beef shin, bone removed
300ml of red wine
1 tin of tomatoes
2 tins of borlotti beans
1-2 onions, finely chopped
1 chorizo sausage
100ml stock or water
Extras: dried oregano, chilli powder, chilli de arbol, paprika, star anise
Preheat the oven to 140ºC. In a heavy-based casserole pot, sauté the onions, then add everything except the beans and chorizo. Slow cook through the night on the lowest heat in the oven, or for three hours minimum. Shred the meat, remove the shins. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the chorizo and beans. Now you can freeze or eat in a couple of days. When you defrost, serve with rice, sour cream and fresh coriander.
The following night, I make fajitas with what’s left. Pile with slices of avocado, sour cream or Greek yoghurt, a squeeze of lime, and lettuce in wraps. Two meals in one.
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