Student Gastronomy

March 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

I recently wrote an article on good food on a student budget for the ‘London Student’ newspaper that I used to be on the editorial team for. Here’s the article and recipes for you to read and try out. Especially if you’re on a student budget!

Beans on toast for breakfast. Sandwich and a packet of crisps for lunch. Beer and chips for dinner. ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’ is generally the resounding advice you get when you start off life as a student, but there’s more to food than what’s quick and easy. You don’t have to break the bank and indulge in fine dining (with the equally “fine” bill at the end of the night) to have a quality meal.

I must admit, I’m not a traditionally lazy student stereotype and I don’t think most of us like to be lumped into the category of “can’t cook – won’t cook”. It’s just the resources we’re lacking: time, money, and the know-how in some cases.

With hosting eat-in dinner parties being the new alternative to a lavish meal out, it’s well worth looking into the budget-friendly set menu for students. Eating well doesn’t have to mean buying expensive ingredients – it just means looking around for alternatives and knowing how to balance your diet.

Cooking is not only a great way to spend time with your mates without spending all your money, a fantastic home-cooked meal might just be the best way to impress someone and put you permanently in their good-books.

Tomato and chilli bruschetta

Bruschetta’s a fantastically easy starter to prepare and the best thing about this recipe is that there’s no strenuous chopping involved: just put it all in the blender and you’ll have a five-star quality appetiser before you know it. Here’s a tip though – it’s really worth buying a basil plant pot, because then you’ll always have a supply of fresh basil on hand, provided you take care of it.

For a starter for 4 people you’ll need:

  • 1 large ciabatta (approx £1 in most supermarkets)
  • 2 garlic cloves (as little as 25p for a garlic bulb)
  • 500g cherry tomatoes (£1.69 Waitrose Essentials)
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, or a rounded tbsp of dried basil (usually about £1)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (on average £1 a bottle of the supermarket brand)
  • 1-2 dried chillies, or 2-3 tsp chilli flakes (cheaper from ethnic stores, or alternatively you can use hot chilli powder which is about 70p)
  • Ground black pepper and basil leaves to garnish

£5.64 total, which is about £1.41 a head!

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Halve the ciabatta both ways so you have four slices, then peel and cut the garlic cloves in half. Rub each cut half of a garlic clove onto the ciabatta, placing the clove into the centre of the bread once you’ve finished that step. Place the ciabatta slices directly onto the middle shelf of the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, stick the cherry tomatoes, basil leaves into the blender and pour in the oil. Break each dried chilli in half before putting it in the blender with the tomatoes, or sprinkle the chilli flakes in over the top. Mix roughly with a spoon then pulse a few times to cut up the tomatoes and mix together the ingredients.

Take your ciabatta out of the oven and place on the serving plate. The garlic halves should be nicely roasted and soft now, so use a small, sharp knife to cut it into a few slices and place evenly on the toasted ciabatta. Spoon over the tomato mixture and then grind some black pepper over it. If you’re using fresh basil leaves you can place a few small leaves on top of the bruschetta to garnish.

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Italian food is a great crowd-pleaser, not only because it has rich, rustic flavours and a variety of colour, but also because it can be really simple to pull together a delicious, fulfilling meal in under an hour. This dish uses frozen spinach and if you’re pressed for time, sauce from a jar. That way you can focus on entertaining your guests and catching up with your friends than spending the majority of the evening clock-watching and unceremoniously disappearing into the kitchen.

To feed 4, or for a hearty meal for 2 you’ll need:

  • 250g frozen spinach (usually £1 for a bag of frozen spinach)
  • 250g ricotta cheese (£1 from Sainsbury’s)
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated (go to the cheese counter and ask for a specific amount)
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg (usually in the range of £1 to £1.40)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 dried sheets of lasagne (Waitrose large lasagne sheets are best, and now only 80p)
  • A jar of tomato and chilli pasta sauce (prices range from £1-£2)
  • 30g cheddar cheese, grated (250g of a mild cheddar will only set you back around £1.50, usually)

£8.40 total, coming up to £2.10 a head.

Start off by preheating your oven to 200°C and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Then microwave the frozen spinach according to the instructions on the pack, drain and run under some cold water to cool it down. Squeeze out all the excess liquid and put it all in a large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta, half of the Parmesan cheese, the ground nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Don’t skimp on the ground nutmeg or the black pepper, believe me, it makes a difference.

In your large pan of boiling water, add a drizzle of olive oil and then place your lasagne sheets on top of each other, occasionally lifting them so they don’t stick together. After the lasagne sheets are almost done (al dente, if you prefer) drain them, rinse under a cold tap then lay them out on a chopping board or large plate. One by one, using about 2 tbsp of the ricotta mixture for each lasagne sheet, spread the mixture onto the sheet and roll it up. Make sure there’s an even amount of mixture on each sheet.

Spoon half the pasta sauce onto the base of a lasagne dish, placing the rolled up cannelloni on top. Then pour over the remaining sauce. Sprinkle over the remaining Parmesan and the cheddar cheese, season with some black pepper and then bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden on top.

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