Credit:Tara Narayan

Elliot’s Recipe Corner

As we enter the final term of the year, and with it, our student accommodation kitchens, we leave behind the luxury of meals with family and the trappings of furnished kitchens, and return to the age-old university student classic – pasta. It’s simple, quick, and easy, but it can be highly mediocre. Occasionally – not often, but occasionally – uni pasta slips into the realm of the deeply disturbing. I shudder at the memory of a friend’s dried pasta boiled in English breakfast tea. Fortunately, though university student pasta sometimes manifests into the stuff of nightmares, it is usually reliably okay.

Of course, there is no shame in pure convenience, but one need not sacrifice quality for haste. While nothing will ever be so convenient as jarred pesto or a pot noodle, it is possible to make genuinely tasty pasta from the confines of a university kitchen with just a bit of extra effort. I offer these two recipes as twists on uni pasta classics, equally easy to make after a night out as for a nice lunch with friends.

Chopped pistachio pesto pasta

This pesto makes no pretense towards authenticity – it is a take on a usually smooth sauce made with a mortar and pestle. However, a chopped pesto retains the flavour of the original and is far more feasible in the absence of a blender or mortar and pestle.


  • 150g dried pasta
  • ½ cup basil, finely chopped
  • ½cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ tsp salt, more to taste
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • ¼ cup olive oil, more if required 
  • ½ clove finely diced garlic

To make the pesto, chop the basil, pistachios, and garlic as finely as possible, and combine with the liquid ingredients and salt. Adjust to taste by adding more salt or lemon, if desired.

Combine with cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water to thicken the pesto sauce.

Penne alla vodka

This dish is a familiar classic, and a convenient way to use up the dregs of vodka that remain on one’s shelf the night after hosting pre-drinks. There are a plethora of extant penne alla vodka recipes – this one has its roots in my New York Italian family and uses a squeeze of lemon juice to cut through the rich cream sauce.


  • 200g dried penne
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¾ tsp thyme
  • 150ml double cream
  • dash of chili flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • grated parmesan, to top

Add olive oil to a pan on medium-high heat, and cook onions for about five minutes until they are browned. Add garlic and cook for about two more minutes. Add tomato paste and spices, then stir. Add vodka and allow to cook off for another two minutes.

Turn heat to low and add the cream, and let simmer for two minutes. Add the pasta and a splash of pasta water, more if needed. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and combine, and top with grated parmesan to serve.