Catherine Fulvio’s secret for fast and nutritious family dinners
With a busy job and school-going children, the celebrity chef’s secret is a little bit of planning
Five quick and tasty soups from the kitchen of Ballyknocken House and Cookery School. “Soups are a great fall back and they freeze well.”Photograph: Gill & Macmillan
Catherine Fulvio’s food philosophy is simple – “Eat well. Be well.” But as a busy chef and mother of two, the proprietor of Ballyknocken House and Cookery School is up against the same time pressures as everyone else.
“I see it every day in my cookery school. People say to me, from Monday to Friday, we’re just hard pressed to get a dinner on the table. Mid-week, we just want quick inspiration.”
With a busy job and school-going children, Fulvio’s secret for fast and nutritious family dinners is a little bit of planning.
“I have a repertoire of recipes pinned to the fridge door. I just make sure my weekly shop includes the ingredients to make a range of those recipes.”
Nothing too complicated
The dishes are nothing too complicated. “The dinners would usually have no more than four ingredients – I don’t want to be peeling lots of vegetables or doing lots of chopping, slicing and dicing, but at the same time, I want a balanced diet for my children.
“I make sure I’m organised enough to have the ingredients in advance so that I’m not stressed thinking I’m missing x, y or z. Keeping the ingredients to the minimum means I can prepare the foods quickly.”
Nutritious food can be convenient, says Fulvio. Stir-fries are a Fulvio family favourite.
“It’s a great way to get vegetables in the kids’ diets. You can sneak in extra veg that they won’t even spot. If you’ve got a picky child, you can grate carrot in there and they won’t even know it. I’ve been there.”
Add chicken pre-chopped by your butcher and noodles that take just minutes to cook and you’ve got a healthy family dinner.
“It can be faster than waiting for something to ping in the microwave, and you know exactly what the ingredients are.”
But can eating well be cost effective? She says it’s all about shopping cleverly. Left- over chicken drum sticks and thighs from Sunday’s roast can make a Monday cheesy pasta bake.
“It’s very simple to make a béchamel sauce. Then add the shredded meat from the drumsticks and thighs, a bit of grated cheese and some frozen peas, if you have them. Put some grated cheese on top and it will cook very quickly.
“It’s very inexpensive because you’re using leftovers. It’s about shopping cleverly and avoiding foot wastage which is such a massive issue for Irish homes.”
A bag of apples bought with good intentions that are now ageing in the fruit bowl can be put to use too. “Just peel and chop them, put them into a saucepan with a tiny bit of sugar and cook it down to make a compote. Have it with yogurt. Children will love it, and you’re not wasting anything.”
Cooking and freezing
Fulvio is a big fan of batch cooking and freezing too. “I’m teaching cookery all weekend so the thought of going into my kitchen on a Sunday and making enough to feed my family for a week wouldn’t be the most exciting, so I do it on a Monday which is my quiet day,” she says.
“Soups are a great fall back and they freeze well. Handy sauces can be done in small batches. Other things like ragus that you can use as a bolognese sauce for pasta or a lasagne are really usable too.”
Fulvio describes onions, carrots and celery as her “holy trinity” of ingredients, always in her larder. She uses these along with garlic and half pork and half beef mince for her trustee ragu.