Help! All I know how to make is Spaghetti: Cottage Pie & Valencian Paella

Header image courtesy of  Cordelia Hsu .

Header image courtesy of Cordelia Hsu.

Looking for a meal that will fill you up and not break the bank? These recipes are undoubtedly more nutritious than spaghetti, and don’t take too long to make either.

Cottage Pie

For four serves
10 mins prep time, minimum 30 mins cook time

There’s a big difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie. Both use minced meat, but the former uses mutton or lamb and the latter uses beef. If you were to add breadcrumbs and cheese atop the potato crust, then that would warrant a different designation altogether: Cumberland Pie. If you think these differences negligible, well, be sure to stand by that argument because the Brits take their comfort food very seriously. You can use the terms interchangeably if you like, but it’s always better to be equipped with the definitive answer to the inevitable question, “What’s the difference?”

This is a recipe for Cottage Pie, since minced beef is much more readily available than mutton. In fact, Cottage Pie predates Shepherd’s and Cumberland by at least fifty years. We have the British peasants of the 18th century, who lived in cottages in the countryside and relied on potatoes as an everyday food, to thank for this staple savoury pie. They made something foolproof and timeless, out of bare and simple ingredients.


Art courtesy of  Nima Sotoudeh .

Art courtesy of Nima Sotoudeh.

  • 2 tbsp of olive oil

  • 500g minced beef

  • 1 brown onion, diced

  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 3 carrots, diced

  • 1 1⁄2 cups of frozen green peas

  • 6 small washed potatoes, peeled and diced into 2cm cubes

  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste

  • 3 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 vegetable stock cube

  • 35g of butter

  • 2 tbsp of milk


  1. Place the diced potatoes into a large saucepan of boiling water. Cook for 12 minutes until tender.

  2. Crumble the stock cube into a heatproof jug and add 200mL of boiling water. Add the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine.

  3. Heat the oil in a medium deep frypan over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic and carrot for 6 minutes until soft.

  4. Increase the heat to high and add the minced beef. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until browned, breaking up the meat with a spoon.

  5. Add the stock mixture and bring the contents to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until thickened. While the beef is cooking, preheat the oven grill to high.

  6. Add the peas to the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Then remove the pan from heat and divide the contents into the two pie dishes.

  7. Drain the water from the saucepan, leaving the potatoes. Add half the butter and all of the milk to the potatoes. Mash the contents roughly. Spoon the mash over the pie filling to form a crust. Dot with the remaining butter and place the dishes under the grill for 5 minutes.

Valencian Paella

For four serves

10 mins prep time, minimum 30 mins cook time

If you want to up the culinary ante, paella is the way to go. Before you embark on this great enterprise of cooking paella, make sure you’ve got the pronunciation down pat: it’s pah-eh-yah (or pah-eh-zhah with an Argentine accent). Depending on your company, pronouncing the double ‘L’ according to English conventions will get you anything between a raise of the eyebrow to a grievous sob.

The original paella recipe comes from a city called Valencia on the south-eastern coast of Spain. This recipe takes several liberties in adjusting the traditional recipe to accommodate the resource-strapped student. For one, traditional paella uses rabbit, snails and duck. The saffron used in this recipe has been coveted by paella-makers since the Moors first brought it over with their rice in the tenth century. Since then, the earthiness of the spice has been swapped out for the much cheaper paprika. Paella is an incredibly versatile dish and has undergone several permutations according to different tastes and resources. For example, seafood paella was borne out of the wealth of prawns, mussels and squid available on Valencia’s Mediterranean coast. Experimenting, as with most dishes, is built in to the culture of paella. Let’s see where you take it.


Art courtesy of  Nima Sotoudeh .

Art courtesy of Nima Sotoudeh.

  • 400g of paella rice (You will have to buy it from a specialty foods store like The Essential Ingredient in Rozelle. Some Harris Farm Markets sell it too)

  • 1kg of chicken thigh, sliced into fillets

  • 300g of green beans, washed, with the ends removed and de-stringed

  • 300g of lima beans, washed

  • 150g green capsicum, sliced

  • 1 large ripe tomato, grated

  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika

  • A pinch of saffron threads

  • Yellow food colouring

  • 120mL olive oil

  • 1.2L water

  • 800mL chicken stock


  1. Add the oil and a bit of salt to the paella pan over low heat. When hot, fry the chicken for 3 minutes or until they are slightly browned.

  2. Add the green beans, lima beans and capsicum and stir fry for 3 minutes or until they are sautéed.

  3. Add the minced garlic, sweet paprika and grated tomato and fry for 1 minute.

  4. Add the water and chicken stock. Let it boil for at least 10 minutes. Then add the saffron threads, food colouring and salt to taste.

  5. Spread the rice over the dish and ensure it is all submerged in the liquid.

  6. Cook the mixture over high heat for 5 minutes, then lower it to medium heat for the next 5 minutes, then low heat for the last 5 or 10 minutes, depending on your preferred texture and the absorption of the rice. If the rice begins to form a crust at the bottom of the pan, don’t fret! That’s desirable – it’s called soccarat.

  7. Let the dish stand for 5 minutes before serving.

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.

Natasha Hau likes grammar a lot, which explains why she's still studying German.