On Sunday, I cycled just under 120 miles for charity, but also just to see if I could do it. The answer is: I can!
Three months of training saw me change from a girl who felt 9 miles was a decent distance to cycle, improving into one who battled the winds of the New Forest but still felt disheartened to have ridden only 40 miles over 5 hours, then one who managed an exceptionally hilly 76-miler through Cornwall, right up to 87 miles round the London countryside a week ago. And then on Sunday it was time for the Big One: the Ride Around London encompassing Box Hill, the North Downs, and the Chilterns and featuring some epic descents and slightly scary B-roads. And the most alarming thing is, I think I’d do it again.
A big part of my training involved learning to eat in order to keep riding, which involved chowing down what I still class as fake food (energy gels and bars) but at least now I understand that it’s essential to keep my muscles working and mean that I am not on the verge of tears and/or vomiting 30 miles in (or in the case of Box Hill, up). As an aside, I’d recommend Torq gels and Mule bars (especially the Black Cherry yogurt, and Apple Strudel and Pina Colada flavours respectively). And all that exercise meant a bigger appetite and some great post-ride dinners, the mother of them all being the double rib roast with a massive Yorkshire pudding followed by sticky toffee pudding (from Simon Hopkinson’s The Good Cook, an utterly delicious recipe but definitely serves at least 10!) I made for 6 of us on Sunday to celebrate finishing the ride! Still not quite sure how I managed to do that…..
Anyway, as part of the preparation, we started carb-loading from Friday night and it seemed only right to go for this Ligurian pasta dish. Its delicious on its own, but as you’ll see from the photo, I served it with some red mullet fillets, quickly fried in a very hot pan with a little oil in order to bulk up our dinner and help distract from the almighty portion of carb we consumed each (don’t worry, the quantities in the recipe below are for more typical appetites!). If you’re serving it alongside some meat or fish, the quantities below will serve 4.
Pasta with potatoes is not as heavy as you might imagine, and tasted really great with the last of the new potatoes. It’s also a great packed lunch option (cold or warmed through) by itself.
Based on a recipe from River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but made the lazy way with ready made (but still very good) pesto. I’ll make it his way next time.
Potato and pesto pasta
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes (or whatever your pasta instructions say)
200g new potatoes, scrubbed
200g pasta (small penne, rigatoni or gemelli are perfect but really any short pasta will do)
170g pot of good quality basil pesto (I used Purely Pesto)
200g green beans, topped and tailed
100g cherry or tomato berry tomatoes, halved
Torn basil leaves to garnish
Extra cheese to serve: I’d suggest parmesan, or soft or hard goats cheese.
Get a large pot of water on to boil, large enough to hold the pasta, potatoes and beans.
Slice the potatoes into slender sticks. You will be cooking the potatoes with the pasta so ideally they should be roughly the same width and length so they cook in the same amount of time. As a guide, slice the potatoes into 0.5-1 cm slices lengthways, then slice again to get similarly sized sticks – thicker than matchsticks but thinner than a pencil. The length isn’t too important – if you potatoes are big, chop them up but they’ll break a little when you stir the pesto through.
By now, the water should have boiled, so add the pasta and potatoes to the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes, according to the pasta packet advice If your pasta is the type that cooks in a lot less than 10-12 minutes, cook the potatoes first, then add the pasta at the correct time.
Set a timer for the pasta cooking time and keep an eye on it – you need to add the green beans when there’s 3 minutes of cooking time left. Chop the green beans into pasta-sized lengths, and add them when there’s just 3 or 4 minutes to go.
When the time is up carefully drain the pasta, potatoes and green beans so as not to create a mashed potato sauce in the pan. Gently stir through the pesto and tomatoes, and serve with extra parmesan (some soft goats cheese, or grated hard goats cheese would also be great here), some freshly torn basil leaves and a slug of olive or rapeseed oil.