I returned to my house in York last week, after a rather longer Christmas break than I had anticipated, to find myself greeted with the kind of scene I imagine the most inconsiderate burglars leave behind. The saving grace, however, being that nothing was actually stolen. No, this was just the inevitable consequence of having a kitchen about 30% of the way through a glamorous makeover: a thick layer of dust adorning surfaces like snow, a lone fridge standing forlornly in the middle of the floor with a ghostly sheet draped over it, small nuggets of plaster and brick scattered like charming confetti o'er the sink and floor. Barely a trace remaining of the cosy place I had tried to make it when I moved in.
(Yeah, that's right, it was the mouldy sink...not a stint of going to bed at 3am every night for about a fortnight, going out in the freezing rain on Halloween wearing nothing but a leotard, and living off leftover tarte tatin for every meal because I couldn't be bothered to cook. That had nothing to do with it, I am sure.)
Anyway, while it's looking decidedly less burgled, the kitchen is still a bit of a way off its completion. The one thing I find most difficult is the lack of worktop space, as the worktop half of the room has yet to be built. This means my chopping and stirring needs are met by a tiny square foot of worktop just next to the hob. There's no possibility of doing any fancy cooking involving more than a couple of pans and bowls, or any great amount of chopping. Certainly the KitchenAid mixer or blender will not be making an outing for a while.
It was great timing, then, for Thomson Al Fresco to get in touch and ask me to suggest a few healthy recipe ideas that can be cooked while camping. Although my lovely induction hob is hardly a campfire, and my house is a bit better than a tent, I am certainly in need of easy recipes that require very little surface space and can be easily cooked in one pan. While I imagine many people stick to pasta and jarred sauce, or endless barbecues, while camping (I wouldn't really know; I've only been twice, both times in England, and one involved inadvertently pitching our tent over an earwig nest, so they're memories I'd like to rid myself of), it's not actually that difficult to come up with a one-pan meal that is fairly good for you. Pulses are the key: filling, nutritious, and all you have to do is open a can.
Given that Thomson Al Fresco offer lots of camping holidays on the continent, I thought I'd give these recipes a European theme, adapting them to the local produce of the country you might happen to be camping in. This one is based around Spanish ingredients: chorizo, tomatoes, peppers, and chickpeas. It only needs one pan and one chopping board (you're chopping raw chorizo on it first, but everything you chop on it afterwards gets cooked, so you won't get any horrible diseases - just don't forget and nibble bits of the peppers while you chop them with the chorizo-y knife, as I nearly did).
The result of this colourful medley is a delicious thick stew, deeply flavoured from the paprika in the chorizo and the tomatoes, which collapse into a lovely sauce. There are tender sweet peppers and onions, comforting chickpeas and some crunchy greens, to make the whole thing that little bit healthier. It's about as healthy as you can get, in terms of hearty one-pot meals: tomatoes, peppers and onions are all very good for you, as are chickpeas, which bulk up the dish and fill you up in a much healthier way than pasta or rice. The meat here is used as a seasoning, rather than a main ingredient.
The beauty of this recipe is that it's very adaptable. You could use the cooked chorizo that comes in a ring if you can't find the raw stuff (which has the bonus of meaning you can then nibble those peppers as you chop. I assume everyone does this - it's not just me that loves to eat raw peppers while cooking, is it?). You could use tinned tomatoes instead of fresh. You could change the herbs depending on what you have, or omit them altogether. You could use any kind of tinned beans or even lentils instead of the chickpeas, and most greens instead of spring greens - spinach and kale work well. Think of this as a blueprint. What is essential, though, is that you serve it with lots of crusty bread to mop up the thick, smokey tomato sauce.
Although I rather like the romantic notion of tucking into a steaming bowl of this round a campfire under the setting Spanish sun, I think I'll stick with eating it in my ramshackle kitchen. The main reason being that I know it's earwig-free.
Tomato, red pepper, chickpea and chorizo stew (serves 4):
200g cooking chorizo, thickly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil (or just cook the veg in the oil released by the chorizo, if you don't have any oil)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
2 bay leaves (optional)
600g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp tomato purée (optional)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (sage, thyme and oregano work well)
2 x 400g cans chickpeas
300g spring greens or cabbage, thinly sliced
Crusty bread, to serve
Heat a large casserole dish or saucepan over a medium heat, then add the chorizo. It should start to sizzle and crisp up, releasing orange oil. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the olive oil, red onion, peppers and bay leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes on a fairly high heat, until the onions and peppers have softened.
Add the cherry tomatoes, water, tomato purée and herbs. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick sauce. Add the chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the spring greens or cabbage. Cook for a couple of minutes to wilt the greens.
Serve with crusty bread.