New cookbook Just One Pan is full of easy standout dishes that are sure to satisfy all your post-lockdown dinner party guests. Big on flavour, low on washing up – need we say more?
Thanks to lockdown easing, we can finally welcome visitors – and we couldn’t be more ready to have people round. In England, groups of six people from any number of households (or more from two households) are currently allowed to gather indoors. Two households can get together in people’s homes in Wales, while Scotland has upped the ante by allowing three households to meet inside. Whatever your lockdown status, the big news is: dinner parties are back.
If you’ve ever watched Come Dine With Me (no judgement from us), you’ll know that the biggest pitfall when cooking for guests is over-ambition. Attempt a souffle, and you’ll spend the evening anxiously peering into your oven like a flustered reality TV contestant.
When it comes to having people over, what we want are dependable yet impressive staples – and that’s where food writer Jane Lovett’s latest book comes in. Full of simple yet delicious recipes, Just One Pan is the ultimate hassle-free sidekick for every home cook. From quick pasta dishes to standout desserts, Lovett’s book focuses on – you guessed it – one-pan recipes that will please the most discerning of crowds.
Below, Lovett shares three user-friendly recipes that are perfect for having people over. After a help-yourself starter ahead of a Middle Eastern-inspired main? Go for the spicy lamb flatbreads. Your guests can add any number of flavour accoutrements, from avocado to hummus to pickled red onion, for a pleasingly customisable dish that also works well for brunch. Make your own flatbreads from scratch following Lovett’s easy recipe, or use shop-bought versions, tortillas or pittas.
More into east Asian-influenced dishes? Try Lovett’s aromatic prawn laksa. Don’t be intimated by the lengthy ingredients list – the unique flavours are worth it. Lovett makes hers using prawns, but if you’re catering for meat-free guests, just sub in cubes of tofu to make it vegan.
Finally, when it comes to dessert, who doesn’t love a trifle? Lovett’s version is a speedy cheat that’s as impressive as it is delicious. Think: ready-made sponge, shop-bought custard and pre-soaked cherries that can be assembled up to three days in advance. Just serenely retrieve the trifle from your fridge when guests arrive.
Bear with us while we start mood-boarding our tablescape…
Lebanese-style spicy lamb flatbreads
Jane says: “These lamb flatbreads are equally as tasty made with minced beef as they are with cooked, leftover minced lamb or beef. A delicious brunch recipe that’s really just an assembly job once the minced meat is cooked. Make your own ridiculously easy flatbreads or use ready-made shop-bought ones. Either way, all that’s needed is one frying pan.”
- 1 x quantity ridiculously easy flatbreads recipe (below) or 6–8 ready-made flatbreads, soft flour tortillas or pitta breads
- 2 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
- splash of olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- good pinch of dried oregano
- 1 tsp rose harissa paste, or more to taste
- 500g raw (or cooked) minced lamb
- 1 tsp sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
To serve (for topping and filling) a selection of the following:
- 200g thick Greek-style yoghurt or cucumber raita
- quick pickled red onions
- avocado flesh, mashed or sliced
- rocket or other salad leaves
- extra rose harissa paste
- fresh pomegranate seeds
- dried barberries or other small dried fruits
- date syrup or pomegranate molasses
- tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- dried chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper (pul biber)
- nigella or onion seeds
- mint leaves
If you are making your own flatbreads, follow the recipe below and keep them warm. If you are using ready-made flatbreads, just before serving, warm them through according to the packet instructions.
If using put the pine nuts into a medium, dry frying pan and cook on a medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally until they are beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Tip onto a plate and leave to cool, then transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in the same frying pan, add the onion and cook on a medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic, oregano and harissa paste and cook for a minute or two, then add the raw minced meat, the salt and some pepper and cook on a high heat for 8–10 minutes or until cooked, breaking up the clumps as best you can with a wooden spoon. For ready-cooked minced meat, cook for 5 minutes or until heated through. Check the seasoning, bearing in mind it should be well seasoned.
Organise a selection of the serving suggestions imaginatively into and onto appropriate bowls and plates ready for everyone to help themselves and concoct their own flatbread or tortilla topping or pitta bread filling – not forgetting the toasted pine nuts, if using.
The flatbreads can be made the day before and warmed through in a medium oven (180°C/160°C fan/gas 4) for a few minutes or in a dry frying pan.
Cook the minced meat mixture up to 3 days in advance, then cool, cover and chill. Reheat in the frying pan on a low heat until hot throughout.
Add a pinch of chilli powder or dried chilli flakes if you prefer the lamb spicier. A little ground cumin added to taste, at the same time as the harissa paste, is good, too.
Ridiculously easy flatbreads
Jane says: “The clue is in the title! These are so easy and quick to make and no kneading is required, which in my book is a huge plus. This recipe isn’t strictly a ‘bake’ because it’s cooked/‘baked’ in a frying pan, not in the oven.
“Made from store cupboard staples, flatbreads are endlessly versatile, either served as an accompaniment for ‘mopping up’, or piled with all sorts of goodies on top, making them a great base on which to build a delicious mélange of leftovers from the fridge, too.”
Makes 6 (or 8 smaller ones)
- 225g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
- 200g thick Greek-style yoghurt
- ½ tsp sea salt
- a few nigella or onion seeds (optional)
Put the flour, yoghurt and salt into a bowl, then mix, bringing them together with your hands to make a soft dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour and if too dry, a little more yoghurt.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop, then briefly and gently work the dough into a pliable, smooth-ish ball. Cut it in half, then cut each half into three (or four) triangular shapes.
Heat a small dry frying pan.
Thinly roll out each piece of dough into a ‘slipper’, pitta or triangular shape. If using nigella or onion seeds, scatter a few over the flatbreads before cooking and lightly roll them into the dough.
Cook one flatbread at a time in the pan for a few minutes on each side. Flip it over when it’s puffed up and flecked with brown on the underside, then repeat on the other side.
Transfer to a plate and keep warm in a low oven if using immediately (stack the cooked flatbreads wrapped in a clean tea towel in a pile on a plate), or transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Make any time on the day and serve as they are, or warmed through. Cooled and tightly wrapped, they last very well until the next day.
A generous knob of butter or ghee, melted, then brushed over the warm flatbreads when they come out of the pan is delicious, made even better with a sliced or crushed garlic clove added at the melting stage.
A handful of freshly chopped parsley or coriander leaves, or a tablespoon of snipped chives, stirred into the melted butter/ghee is a lovely addition, too.
A few jarred anchovies, drained of their oil, arranged over the top and scattered with any of the above herbs turn the flatbreads into a very tasty snack. Brush the warm flatbreads with a little melted butter or ghee as above, or with a drizzle of olive oil, first.
Jane says: “As with most Asian recipes requiring spices, the list of ingredients for this aromatic, refreshing, spicy Malaysian noodle soup might look dauntingly long – but don’t be put off as they’re mainly just store cupboard items whizzed into a paste and cooked all in one go.
“It’s then plain sailing with rice noodles and raw prawns added to stock and coconut milk, creating a meal in itself in a bowl. It’s delicious! To ring the changes, swap the prawns for 400g of firm tofu, cubed.”
For the paste:
- 2 mild red chillies, cut into small chunks (remove seeds and membrane if you like less heat, but this isn’t very hot)
- 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh root
- ginger, peeled and chopped (or use 6 teaspoons ginger paste from a jar)
- 4 small round shallots, quartered
- stick of lemon grass, woody outer layers removed and soft bottom section cut into chunks (or use 1 teaspoon lemon grass paste from a jar)
- ½ tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp shrimp paste
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the laksa:
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 x 400g tin coconut milk
- 1 litre fresh fish or chicken stock (or use 2 stock cubes)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 300g (frozen weight) raw shelled tiger or king prawns (around 8 per person), defrosted
- a good handful of baby spinach leaves
- juice of 1 lime, to taste
- a little dark soy sauce, to taste
- 600g ‘straight-to-wok’ ribbon rice noodles (or similar)
- a handful of coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped
- 1 lime, cut into quarters, to serve (optional)
Blitz all the paste ingredients together to make a very smooth, fine paste using a herb chopper, stick blender in its beaker or a small food-processor.
For the laksa, heat the vegetable oil in a deep saucepan or wok on a medium heat. Add the paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until it becomes aromatic and begins to turn a darker colour.
Stir in the coconut milk and stock (if using cubes, crumble them into the pan and add 2½ empty coconut milk tins full of water) and bring to the boil. Add some salt and pepper to taste, bearing in mind it will taste a bit raw at this stage.
Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 20 minutes, giving it the odd stir.
When you are ready to eat, add the prawns and baby spinach to the hot soup, then immediately remove from the heat, allowing the prawns to cook in the indirect heat for a few minutes. As soon as they turn pink, they are cooked. Add some lime juice and soy sauce to taste.
Distribute the (unheated) noodles between four serving bowls, untangling them, if necessary. Ladle the laksa over the noodles, scatter with the chopped coriander, nestle in the lime wedges (if using) and serve.
The paste can be made up to 3 days in advance, but keep it well covered in the fridge to avoid the strong smell escaping.
Or, make the recipe to the end of step 3 up to 3 days in advance, then cool, cover and chill. Reheat gently in the pan until hot throughout before adding the prawns and spinach as above.
For the noodles, alternatively, you can use 200g dried flat rice noodles, cooked according to the packet instructions (place the noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water, leave for 3 minutes, then drain). Boil the kettle before you’re ready to add the prawns to the laksa.
Black cherry trifle
Jane says: “This is a bit of a cheat to say the least, as it’s made using ready-made cake and ready-made custard! It couldn’t be much easier though and is just an assembly job really, with the most arduous part possibly being the shopping.
“Ready-made fresh custard is runnier than the home-made custard traditionally used, but apart from the convenience, I like it for giving the trifle a slightly looser texture. This is best made the day before (or even 2–3 days before), as it improves with age. Just as trifle should be, this is quite alcoholic, so bear this in mind if serving to children.”
Serves 10–12 (or more!)
- 1 x 285g ready-made madeira cake
- black cherry jam or confit, for spreading
- 4 tbsp sherry
- 2 tbsp brandy
- 2 x 390g jars black cherries in kirsch (from larger supermarkets or delis), or use tinned black cherries in syrup (around 450g drained weight)
- 1 x 500g carton of chilled fresh ready-made vanilla custard
- 300ml double cream
- 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- a handful of shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
Slice the madeira cake in half horizontally and spread quite generously with cherry jam or confit.
Sandwich back together, slice down vertically into about 1cm-thick slices and then arrange in the bottom of the trifle bowl. You will need to cut/break some of the slices to roughly fill in the gaps – it’s a bit of a jigsaw but doesn’t need to be perfect!
Pour the sherry and brandy evenly over the cake.
Tip the cherries into a sieve set over a small saucepan and drain them well, then scatter the cherries over the Madeira cake, followed by 4 tablespoons of the cherry syrup.
Spoon over the custard, covering the fruit completely, then cover and chill for several hours or ideally overnight.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining cherry syrup on a high heat and boil it fast for a few minutes until it becomes fairly thick and syrupy, bearing in mind it will thicken up more as it cools. Pour into a heatproof jug to cool, then cover and chill until you are ready to serve.
Any time on the day of eating, lightly whip the cream until it forms very soft peaks. Be careful – it’s important to under-whip, as it will thicken more as you spread it.
Spoon the cream in a mass of little blobs all over the custard, and then carefully join the blobs with a spoon or spatula. As the custard is runny, this is the only way you will be able to ‘spread’ the cream layer. Return to the fridge until ready to serve.
Just before serving, scatter the trifle with the pomegranate seeds and pistachios and a swirl of the cherry syrup too, if you like. The remaining syrup can be handed separately (with perhaps some pouring cream, too, if you like!).
Trifle is best served very cold and straight from the fridge.
Make up to the end of step 3 up to 2–3 days in advance, cover and chill the trifle and syrup separately.
Bowls: trifles look best in (round) glass bowls to show off their beautiful layers. Around 23 x 12cm is a good size, but it depends on what you have in the way of glass bowls. A traditional glass trifle bowl on a short stand looks wonderful.
Substitute other jarred/tinned fruit for the black cherries, such as peaches or apricots.
Just One Pan: Over 100 Easy And Creative Recipes For Home Cooking by Jane Lovett (£25, Headline) is out now
Photography: Tony Briscoe