What dishes should students know how to cook?

What recipes are useful to know before going to university?
Ian, Stamford, Lincolnshire

Comfort food exists for a reason, so first get those family favourites written down and practised. “If you’re feeling homesick, there’s nothing quite like eating your favourite paella, pasta bake or whatever it might be,” says Rukmini Iyer, author of The Sweet Roasting Tin. “It’s also a nice bonding activity to do before you go.”

Then, says Ben Lebus, MOB Kitchen founder and author of Comfort MOB, you’ll want some basics to riff on throughout the week: “Make a bit of an effort on a Sunday, say, and it really pays off; it will also save you money.” Ratatouille, for example, can be served on rice, as a side for chicken or fish, or tossed through pasta. “Chilli and bolognese are also great to batch cook, and you can use them in all sorts of ways – with rice, soured cream and coriander to take to the library, or on pasta or a jacket potato with salsa for dinner.” Both freeze well, too.

It’s worth having a good basic tomato sauce in your cooking arsenal, too. “Sometimes, I’ll do a base of onions and garlic, sometimes just garlic,” says chef and cookery teacher Gill Meller. “Sizzle in oil until the garlic begins to brown at the edges, then go in with tinned tomatoes, a good amount of salt, black pepper, a teaspoon of sugar and a bay leaf, if you’ve got one.” Add the same amount of water as tomatoes, and cook for an hour. Eat this “master sauce” simply on polenta or pasta, spice it up with coriander, cumin, kidney beans and peppers for a chilli, or chuck in roast red onion, courgettes, capers and basil, and layer up in a lasagne. Alternatively, Rachel Roddy advises, “boost it with the addition of a tin of tuna or sardines, or some sausages, mince or mushrooms”.

“Dal is another useful thing to have up your sleeve,” Meller says. “It’s relatively inexpensive to make, but has enough body to fill you up, whether you eat it on its own, or with eggs or wilted greens.” Get a few nutritious soups under your belt, too – “Think about the roots coming through,” Meller says. “Celeriac, carrot, parsnip” – and don’t underestimate the beauty of traybakes. “The principle of whacking everything in one pan and leaving it to caramelise, soften and crisp up is a great way to cook.” Iyer is particularly partial to a sausage (or veggie sausage), sweet potato and onion medley, while Meller’s spiced potato wedges will beat the chippy any day. Scrub a kilo of king edwards or maris pipers, cut into wedges, then “put in an oven tray with a teaspoon or two of smoked paprika, the same of coriander, fennel and maybe cumin seeds, salt and olive oil.” Roast, turning, for a good hour (and chuck in some garlic part way through, too, if you fancy), then eat with guacamole or a sandwich.

Finally, snacks, which are, of course, a key part of university life. “Muffins are great to take to the library and they also make the house smell amazing,” says Iyer, whose go-to is cheddar and sage. And, for the sweet life, it’s wise to keep caster sugar, self-raising flour and cocoa to hand. “All you need then is butter or olive oil and eggs, and you’ve got yourself a chocolate cake.”