Preparing meals does not have to be complicated and making the most of fresh local produce enables us to cook quick meals in a few simple steps.

Many of us enjoy the process of cooking in a relaxed way and pasta is the one dish that reminds me of being in my grandmother’s kitchen perched on a high stool watching her assemble the most mouth-watering dishes for Sunday lunch. Involving me as a child in the process of getting a meal ready gave me a sense of achievement and pride when the pasta was brought out to be served.

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to pasta shapes. Matching the shape to the sauce has almost become an art as we work out which pasta shape offers the best curves for our sauce to cling to but plain old spaghetti and penne remain my favourites.

Penne with Kale and Chickpeas

Photos: Felix CesarePhotos: Felix Cesare

Kale is locally available in a few varieties and for this recipe I use ‘cavolo nero’. Save the tough stalks to make a good vegetable stock.

You will need:
500g penne
12 kale leaves, stalks removed and shredded
4 tbsps olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp capers
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
A pinch of stevia
1 tbsp mascarpone
A pinch of allspice
½ cup grated Grana Padano

Cook the penne in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the instructions on the packet.

Prepare the kale by removing the tough stalks. Stack and roll them and cut into thin shreds. Keep aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook on low heat until it softens and becomes translucent.

Add the finely chopped garlic and allspice and cook for a few minutes stirring constantly. Then add the wine and bring to the boil.

Add the kale and stevia. Cook for five minutes, then add half the capers and half the chickpeas and stir until they are warmed through.

When most of the wine has almost evaporated, add the water. Cook on medium heat for about two minutes, then use a masher to break down some of the chickpeas. Cook for another four minutes and remove from the heat.

Add the rest of the capers and chickpeas. Taste and season if required.

Drain the pasta. Stir in the kale mixture and add the mascarpone. Mix and add the cherry tomatoes. Toss and serve in a large dish. Top with grated Grana Padano.

Serve immediately.

Lea’s tip: Remember to save the chickpea water (canned or from cooking them) to use as an egg replacer. Three tablespoons of aqua faba are equivalent to one egg. If you do not need it immediately it can be frozen for six months.

Baked Spaghetti Omelette with Artichoke Hearts

This is a great way to use leftover spaghetti and baking the omelette rather than frying it produces a great result and reduces the use of excessive oil.

You will need:
250g spaghetti
6 eggs
120g grated Grana Padano
150g cooked artichoke hearts
50ml skimmed milk
Salt and pepper
A pinch of smoked paprika
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp nigella seeds

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water and follow the instructions on the packet. Drain well.

Place the eggs and milk into a large mixing bowl and beat with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the smoked paprika and half of the cheese. Mix in.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush an oven-proof dish with olive oil and place it on a baking tray. Pour the spaghetti mixture into the dish.

Chop the artichoke hearts into quarters and spread on the surface of the omelette. Press down slightly so that the surface is quite even. Scatter the rest of the grated cheese on top and finish off with a light dusting of nigella seeds.

Carefully place the baking tray with the dish on top of it into the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving

This dish is also delicious cold.

Lea’s tip: For a gluten-free option use gluten-free pasta and cheese. For a dairy-free spaghetti omelette replace the skimmed milk with a plant-based milk and the Grana Padano with a hard non-dairy cheese.

Pasta Pesto Salad

This is another pasta dish that can be served hot or cold. The yellow cherry tomatoes are locally-grown and in season right now. They are very sweet with a firm consistency giving the dish a great texture.

You will need:
300g rigatoni
3 cups packed fresh basil
1 cup packed fresh parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest
A pinch of nutmeg
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
250g yellow cherry tomatoes, halved or left whole if they are small enough

Make the pesto by placing the basil, parsley, garlic, nutmeg, lemon juice, salt, pepper and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse to process.

Add the grated cheese, lemon zest and salt.

Add the olive oil. If you prefer a rough paste process by pulsing otherwise turn on full speed for a smoother creamy paste and season if desired.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and run quickly under cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a large bowl, combine the pesto and Greek yogurt and stir until well blended. Add the pasta and toss to coat with dressing. Top with tomatoes.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve chilled.

Lea’s tip: For a nut-free or more economical pesto, replace the pine nuts with roasted chickpeas.

You can find more of Lea’s recipes on and follow her blog You can watch her new live programme in English ‘Lea’s Good Food Everyday’ every Friday afternoon on Smash TV.

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