Inspired by the Italian grand tour, the Giro d’Italia, Performance Chef Alan Murchison shares four simple but mouth-watering food recipes for cyclists.
After what seems like an eternity since the last grand tour, the Giro d’Italia 2018 finally kicks off on the 4th May after a thrilling and historic depart in Jerusalem.
If you get the chance, it’s a fantastic race to watch on the road side for so many reasons, the passion of fans, stunning scenery and of course with the tactics, drive & enthusiasm that the riders throw into the race at every stage.
Of course, most of us will be following the daily drama from the comfort of an armchair on TV or via social media instead. However, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy some great Italian culture – at home – to get us into the spirit of things.
Italian cookery is based around regional specialities using local fish, meat and the abundance of seasonal vegetables – this is great for endurance athlete types as they are usually paired with fantastic starchy complex carbohydrates in the form of the pasta (so many types to try and enjoy) and, one of my personal favourites, risotto.
Great food for cyclists does not have to be overly complicated, get the basics right and don’t try to be too clever with the flavours.
Mix carbs, protein – in the form of fish or meat – and lots of fresh veg with a few simple cooking techniques and you have a winning combination.
I have deliberately simplified all dishes where possible as I know if it ends up looking too complicated you are less likely to give it a try – so here goes:
Classic risotto with pesto & chicken
This is an ideal meal to have the night before a long ride or a race, as it is easy to digest and light on the stomach.
The key to maximising the nutritional quality and taste of your Performance Chef meals is to get the basics right. I have put together some pointers for your basic risotto recipe to make this meal bombproof.
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 125g rice per person, I generally cook 250g for 2 ‘athlete’ style portions which basically means ‘large”
- 500ml chicken stock
- Touch of grated Parmesan or mature cheddar
- Add at the end: fresh pesto
Over a medium heat cook the onion in the butter or olive oil for 2 minutes with no colour, add the rice and 3/4 of the stock, bring to the boil then turn down to gentle simmer, as a general rule you need double with weight or stock to rice, high quality stock cubes are fine. Cook gently in line with cooking instructions, different rice, aborio, canarolli, own brand rice, most will take 15-18 minutes, keep an eye on it and add the extra stock as and when required. When the rice is tender, remove from the heat and allow to ‘rest’ for 5 minutes, stir in some grated cheese, season and serve. For pesto risotto, spoon over risotto only when served onto the plate, this ensures freshness and you will use less pesto.
Ambient pesto: don’t use as been pasteurised and no nutritional value…
Fresh Supermarket pesto: all pretty good but expensive for what it is…
Home made: always best. You control what goes into it
- bunch of parsley
- bunch of fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
- handful of nuts
- 300ml olive oil
This makes loads (so don’t be alarmed by the quantity of oil!) and it freezes well to preserve the herby freshness.
Easy Spaghetti Bolognaise
This is a great meal to throw together using simple store cupboard ingredients and every day products.
- 500g lean mince, (5% fat)
- Normal or gluten free pasta
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 chopped red pepper
- 1 x 500g pasatta
- 6 chopped fresh tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- olive oil
Cook the onion, red pepper and mince in olive oil, add tomato, garlic, passatta and simmer for 10 minutes while the pasta cooks. That’s it!
This is best served with green salad on the side and some gated Prarmesan and black pepper.
Pasta Gratin (chicken, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach)
This dish is perfect for making in advance and putting in the oven whilst you are training, takes 40-60 mins in the over depending on temperature (I advise 140c for 30 minutes then turn up to 200 for 10-15 minutes to crisp up the top).
Pre-cook the pasta, broccoli and cauliflower. The chicken can be grilled in advance. Make basic cheats white sauce by simmering 600ml of semi skimmed milk, thicken with 2 tbsp of cornflour diluted in 3 tbsp of water, whisk in gradually to the simmering milk, allow to thicken. This cheats method contains minimal calories in relation to a classic béchamel sauce which is 50/50 butter and flour! At the start, add 1 tbsp strong mustard and 3/4 tbsp of strong hard cheese, I prefer parmesan. Check the seasoning. In a large casserole dish put in 3/4 large handfuls of spinach. Then add in large chunks of the cauliflower and broccoli, add chicken then pour over cheese sauce, top off with some breadcrumbs and some grated parmesan cheese. Finally place in the oven or set aside for later.
This is a really hearty meal to eat and proper comfort food. It works wonders after a hard days training. After the time it takes to do the basic preparation, it’s really quick and easy.
Minestrone soup (with a Scottish twist, this is based on my Grandmother’s Scoth broth)
Again, perfect to be made up in advance and super tasty served with a chunk of crusty bread.
It’s also got the benefit to be made up from cheap, widely available ingredients. You can use pasta -or for an alternative use rice – in the soup, this soup also works well with the addition of a spoon of pesto at the end to add a lovely fresh flavour.
This is my version of the classic, using ingredients I was brought up with but the basics are the same:
- Root vegetables
- Brown rice
Dice 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 2 carrots, 1 parsnip, 1/2 a turnip and 1 leek. Cook everything over a medium heat for 2/3 minutes in 2 tbsp olive oil. Then add 300g diced chicken and cook for further 3 minutes. Now add 150g of brown rice or small pasta like Orzo and 1.5/2l chicken stock. Bring it to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Correct seasoning and finally add 3 chopped fresh plum vine tomatoes, some fresh basil & oregano or pesto at the end.
Alan Murchison is a Michelin starred chef, enthusiastic time trial cyclist & Elite duathlete, Alan provides bespoke food and nutritional plans for athletes including multiple National Time Trial champ & GB cyclist Hayley Simmonds & UCI pro continental cycling team Pedal Heaven. Find out more on his website – performancechef.com – and follow him on Twitter @AlanMurchison.