Dinner at Zizi

I love the odd meal out. The little splurge, the termly treat, the special occasion. This time, the occasion was my lovely friend Laura’s birthday. She decided that she wanted to go to Zizi, an Italian chain restaurant located on Lendal, near the River. With a generous 40% discount using an NUS (National Union of Students) card, Zizi beckons to the discerning student, on their continuous prowl for a bargain.

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Already decked out festively for Christmas, Zizi’s interior is warm and inviting. I particularly appreciated the quirky water jugs, and the sight of the huge open oven behind the counter.

After the opening of birthday cards, and much studious examination of the menu, we ordered starters: I shared a dish of jewelled gnocchi with a pepperonata dipping sauce, and spent an enjoyable ten minutes musing over the possible flavours of each colour. Having never tried gnocchi, I was quite pleased to become acquainted with it; it reminded me strongly of the potato croquettes eaten on the occasional school-night dinner in my childhood. But, of course, these gnocchi were slightly more grown-up.

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Also on the table were two starters of garlic bread, a starter of ‘Little soul’ bread (available with dips), and a generous pot of calamari with a garlic and aioli dip. The bread was served on rustic wooden platters.

Moving on to mains, I ordered lamb meatballs, with casareccia pasta (miniature penne), spinach, garlic, and plenty of mozzarella, all baked in the oven. The meatballs were soft and coated in a flavoursome tomato sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish, finding the portion size exactly to my liking. To drink, I tried a seasonal strawberry and peach cooler; very sweet but still refreshing, with a sprig of rosemary adding a complimenting splash of green.

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Between them, my friends ordered two lasagnes, which came to the table bubbling quite fiercely, as freshly-cooked as could be. Zizi’s menu consists of generic Italian dishes such as bolognese, and a wide range of classic and skinny pizzas, fish dishes, calzones, salads, and risottos. The waitress was friendly, and the waiting time between courses wasn’t long, but left enough time for us to decide on dessert. The drinks menu is very diverse, and I do wish I’d opted for a cocktail – the spiced apple mojito was a temptation I sadly resisted.

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Lasagne al forno

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Spaghetti bolognese

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Skinny pizza primavera

Dessert was a no-brainer, it being a birthday, and the discount rendered the extra expense nothing more than a trifle. The popular choice between us was the chocolate melt, a pudding oozing a warm chocolatey sauce, and served with a scoop of vanilla gelato. I bowed instead to my craving for ice cream, and savoured a scoop each of chocolate (by far my favourite), honey, sea salt and mascarpone, and white chocolate and caramel swirl. The seasonal scoop on the menu unfortunately didn’t exist; but I enjoyed the chocolate substitution all the same.

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Overall, the meal formed part of a very enjoyable evening, and I would visit again – the food trumped the likes of Pizza Express, and with that NUS discount, it makes for an affordable night out. But with or without that bonus, I’d reccommend Zizi with good faith!

Fish and Chips

Fish and chips beats all other takeaways, for me. It’s not the cheapest, nor does it offer the most variety – but it’s spot on for filling up a hungry belly at the end of a long day.

Another plus of fish and chips is that it’s generally more traceable than a cheap pizza or a dubious Chinese. There is less grease, fewer oily chunks of meats, and no runny vibrant-coloured sauces.

I had a go at making my own, using sweet potato instead of boring old ordinary potatoes.

You’ll need:

  • one salmon or cod fillet
  • a beaten egg
  • 30g plain flour
  • paprika
  • a handful of breadcrumbs
  • one sweet potato
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 80g frozen peas
  • condiments of your choice: ketchup / mayo / sweet chilli sauce

Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Slice the sweet potato into chips, and give them a light coating of olive oil, salt, and pepper. (I normally give them a sprinkling of rosemary or paprika, but I thought I’d keep it simple this time – and sweet potato chips are surprisingly tasty when relatively naked.) Put them in the oven to roast for thirty-five to forty minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg into a bowl. In another bowl, mix the breacrumbs with the paprika. When the sweet potatoes have about ten minutes left, dip the fish fillet in the egg, then coat in breadcrumbs, and place in a heated pan. Fry it for six minutes or until golden on each side. If you fancy going the whole traditional fish and chip hog, boil some peas and cut a slice of lemon for the fish. (Don’t do mushy peas – they’re hideous.)

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Serve up the fish and chips with whatever dips you fancy: I made a quick garlic and lemon mayo. Enjoy on a windy pier at the seaside – or in your cramped student kitchen.

Autumnal sweet potato and bean stew

Autumn has arrived in all its cold and crisp glory. As the nights draw in and frost begins to settle, I find myself craving richer, more satiating food, in the form of hotpots, thick soups, and luxuriant stews. Red wine and rosemary, one of my favourite flavour combinations, join hands perfectly in one of these such dishes. I can vividly recall the scent of a beef hotpot bubbling on the stove one autumn of my childhood, wafting its aroma through the entirety of the house, and sending anticipatory tremors down my tastebuds. Casseroles are the perfect mode of resistance to the chillier evenings, and can provide an abundance of leftovers to be eaten on a busier day.

I came across a recipe for a sausage and bean stew, which I used as my base to this meat-free version. Sweet potato, always preferable to beef in my eyes, is the most comforting and satisfying of all vegetables.

This recipe makes two portions. You’ll need:

  • half a red onion
  • quarter of a carrot
  • two cloves of garlic
  • two small sweet potatoes
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes
  • a tin of beans (I used kidney, but cannellini would work excellently)
  • 100ml vegetable stock
  • red wine, or red wine vinegar
  • a small bag of spinach
  • dried rosemary
  • chilli flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Scrub clean the sweet potatoes, chop them into chunks, and drizzle with olive oil before seasoning with salt and pepper. Set them in the oven to roast for around thirty-five minutes.

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large-ish saucepan, and gently cook the onions and garlic until softened, for about five minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stock, then season with red wine (or red wine vinegar), rosemary, and chilli flakes, until you have a delicate balance of sweetness and herbs. Let it simmer away for twenty minutes.

(I used red wine vinegar, as someone who doesn’t drink very much, thus does not have bottles of wine at hand. However, red wine would give much more depth of flavour.)

When the potatoes are nearly ready, stir the beans into the sauce, and begin wilting the spinach by handfuls. Tip the potatoes in and give it a good mix to incoporate all the ingredients together.

Plate up and enjoy!

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(I do apologise for the injustice done to food by my camera – but as I don’t own a good camera, this is the best I can offer. But I can assure you that it tasted better than it may look.)