Easy cheesy: a comforting bake that works with whatever you have | Food

Riffling through the pantry for obscure ingredients, or bits you thought you had, is so 2019.

2020 is about learning some cooking intuition, following a core recipe with a rough list of components and adjusting as you go with what you have.

You may need to use the #uglytasty hashtag for this but your co-isolators will be be thrilled it tastes so good.

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Serves: 2, plus intentional leftovers

Roast chicken, tomato, pesto and walnut cheesy bake

I used leftover roast chicken thighs for this. It’s important that all the components are ready to eat, and the baking process is just about heating it, bringing the flavours together and creating that ever-so desirable crust.

Play around with this recipe and substitute in other meats or vegetarian alternatives in similar quantities.You can even add in some cooked pasta or roast sweet potato pieces to carb it up.

Keep the components chunky so the textures are retained and make sure there’s one moist ingredient – the tomato wedges here really freshen it all up.

For the bake
300g roast chicken thigh meat, roughly shredded or chopped 200g cooked broccoli, roughly chopped
200g tomatoes, cut into large wedges
100g pesto
500g cheesy sauce, to make a thick coating (recipe below)
150g extra grated cheeses, same as in the cheese sauce
50g walnuts, roughly chopped

In a shallow, ovenproof casserole dish (I used a 1.5 litre Pyrex dish) layer the chicken, broccoli, tomato wedges and blobs of pesto to distribute evenly. Top with larger dollops of the cheese sauce. Don’t worry about spreading it, as it will melt and coat anyway. Top with the extra cheeses.

Bake in a 160C oven for about 15-20 minutes until the top starts to caramelise, remove from the oven and sprinkle on the walnuts, pushing them slightly into the molten cheese to stop them burning. Return to the oven and turn up the heat to 200C to caramelise the top, keeping a close eye – it will not take long!

Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, add some extra dollops of pesto to pretty it up. Perfect as is, or even better with a crunchy side salad and some toast to mop up the sauce.

For the sauce
200g butter
200g flour

Tiny pinch ground nutmeg (if you have it)
6g sea salt
1400ml milk
400g assorted cheeses
, grated (I use mozzarella, Swiss-style and parmesan cheeses. Avoid cheddar, as it can end up a bit greasy when baked.)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, nutmeg and salt and cook off for five minutes, stirring constantly over a low heat.

Slowly add the milk, about 100ml at a time, mixing constantly to stop lumps and create a smooth sauce. Simmer gently for five minutes, stirring often.

Add cheeses a handful at a time, and mix well to melt into the sauce. Once thick and gloopy remove from the heat.

Cheese sauce will happily sit in your fridge for up to a week.

Other uses for the cheesy sauce

  • Add a generous layer of cheese sauce inside a traditional ham and cheese toastie to make it feel fancy

  • Dollop on top of halved boiled eggs and grill to caramelise

  • Warm the sauce and swirl through some tomato relish to create a warm dipping sauce for roast potatoes

  • Pour over the top of loaded chips or nachos and bake for a stretchy, fun kids’ lunch

  • Stir through a creamy-style soup like broccoli or pumpkin to thicken and liven it up

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