Donal Skehan: Delicious dishes with just six ingredients

Cooking from scratch does not have to be complicated but it can be tasty

We have never had so much food knowledge at our fingertips. These days I hear stories from home cooks tackling their own sourdough, fermenting cabbage for kimchi and cooking steak sous vide. I believe this is down to Heston Blumenthal and the army of chefs-turned-food-scientists who push the boundaries of modern cooking giving rise to our inner food geeks who experiment with culinary foams infused with ingredients hard to pronounce and even harder to track down.

Of course I write this with a twinge of jealousy because despite my best efforts, my sourdough bread attempts have just about always resulted in something more resembling a cow pat than the perfect loaf. And I won't even begin to describe the smell from my first stab at Brussels sprout kimchi – no matter who tells you this is a good idea, do not under any circumstances take their advice. No amount of gochu-jang (Korean chilli paste) can mask the smell or taste of a fermented sprout.

I enjoy the challenge of this new world of food science and the experimental kitchen projects that follow but I will always be drawn to recipes on the simpler side of the cooking spectrum. Despite the world of food’s continuous evolution, the home cook has less time in the kitchen than ever before and increasingly many are turning away from cooking from scratch and instead the rise of convenience cooking continues to make waves.

From those viral online videos showcasing simple recipes, to supermarkets bagging up ingredients to go, and meal kits delivered to the door, I’m finding recipes with few ingredients and simple methods are the ones that seem to resonate with the time-poor home cook.

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In the interests of finding some sort of middle ground between this changing cooking landscape and true kitchen skills, I offer up my six-ingredient suppers which, although humble, will still provide the satisfaction of creating a complicated meal from scratch without the long shopping list.

When it comes to convenient cooking, a one-tray roast is a good go-to. The majority of the work is preparation and then the oven does the rest. In the recipe I’ve shared here, harissa is used to coat a tray bake of fish and vegetables with wonderful results.

Pasta will always be a easy meal go-to ingredient for me and this ridiculously easy recipe for spaghetti aglio e olio (with garlic and oil) is an instant hit of comfort for any weeknight dinner. Lastly simple Asian staple ingredients create a quick hit chicken and noodle dish for supper.

Of course you could sous vide the chicken, stick a blob of foam on the fish or even hand-roll your noodles, but that’s entirely up to you – perhaps best saved for a rainy day.

Harissa-baked fish

Harissa is a North African spice paste that provides a dark, sweet heat to meat or a depth of flavour to the classic dish shakshuka – eggs poached in a tomato sauce. A jar of harissa is a welcome addition to any store cupboard and for quick recipes like this, it distills the best of your spice press into one powerful dollop to be spread over seabass fillets. Salmon or mackerel fillets would also work here.

Ingredients

  • 4 small seabass fillets, skin scored
  • 6 tbsp harissa paste
  • 400g baby potatoes, sliced in half
  • 150g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced in half
  • A small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
  • From the storecupboard:
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon or 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a large roasting tin with the tomatoes and spring onions. Drizzle all over with olive oil, dot with 1-2 tablespoons of harissa paste (depending on how hot you want it) and season generously with sea salt and black pepper. Toss until everything in the tray is coated.

Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes.

Prepare the mint salsa by mixing the mint with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice or 1tsp white wine vinegar. Season to taste and set aside.

Place the fish fillets on a plate. Score the skin and spread all over with harissa paste until completely coated.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven and place the fish fillets on top, skin side up.

Return the tray to the oven and continue to cook for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked all the way through.

Serve in the tin, with a drizzle of mint salsa on each fillet. Serves 4.

Soy and ginger chicken thighs

The salty, umami taste of soy sauce is often underrated and masked by other stronger Asian ingredients. In this simple chicken supper it stands to attention with the aromatics of freshly grated ginger and creates a dark and delicious sauce to coat chicken thighs, noodles and vegetables. I have used dark soy sauce, a richer and slightly less salty version than light, please do seek this out, it’s altogether different from lighter soy sauce in taste and texture.

Ingredients

  • 400g chicken thighs, boneless (about 4-5)
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely minced
  • 200g egg noodles
  • 200g brocollini
  • 1-2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • From the store cupboard:
  • 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • Salt

Method

In a mixing bowl whisk together the soy sauce and ginger until well combined.

Add the chicken thighs and toss until completely coated.

Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 15-30 minutes, as long as you can wait.

Place a large frying pan over a medium high heat and add enough oil to coat the pan.

Fry the chicken skin side down for 10 minutes before turning and frying for a further 5 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Remove the pan from the heat.

While the chicken is cooking bring a pot of water to the boil and season with salt. Add the egg noodles to the water and stir to separate before placing the brocollini on top. Cook until both are tender.

Drain and refresh under cold water before tossing through in the frying pan with the cooked chicken.

Serve to the table in the pan sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Spaghetti aglio e olio

Despite my best intentions, green juices and yoga, I’m fairly sure that my easy quick-fix supper choices will always come back to pasta. Essentially spaghetti aglio e olio is pasta in garlic oil, but cooked correctly, the dish results in something really special: a perfectly scented, extra virgin oil-infused garlic and chilli, silkily wrapped around al dente pasta and brought together with the salty bite of Parmesan. It’s the ideal storecupboard supper using ingredients you are bound to have in the kitchen and rather satisfyingly is made in the time it takes to cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. Though this recipe is fairly true to the original, if you need more substance, add a twist of lemon juice, some tender prawns sautéed in butter or add wilted spinach, or griddled asparagus and baby broccoli.

Ingredients

  • 400g best quality dried spaghetti
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • A small handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus extra for garnish
  • From the storecupboard:
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt

Method

Place a large pot of water over a high heat and bring to the boil. Add a generous seasoning of salt.

Cook the spaghetti for 9-12 minutes or until al dente.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the liquid and place back in the pot.

While the spaghetti is cooking, place a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the olive oil.

Add the garlic while the oil is still coming to temperature and cook until slightly golden for 4-5 minutes. Add in the red chilli flakes and fry for a further minute.

Add the oil with garlic and chilli flakes, reserved cooking water, Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley to the cooked pasta and toss until the pasta is evenly coated.

Serve straight away with more grated Parmesan cheese.