Megan McKenna on coping with coeliac disease, the joy of cooking and learning from her mistakes

The reality star turned singer chats to Katie Wright as she launches her first cookbook.

After winning The X-Factor: Celebrity at the end of 2019 and landing a deal with Simon Cowell’s record label, Megan McKenna was on the brink of taking her singing career to the next level. But then the pandemic hit.

So instead of following a musical path, the 29-year-old got busy in the kitchen instead. She shared cooking videos with her 2.4m Instagram followers, and found her gluten-free recipes struck a chord.

Diagnosed with coeliac disease – where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten – and a wheat allergy in her teens, McKenna knows the stigma that can come with a gluten-free diet.

“People automatically think you’re fussy. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re just one of them, you’re just gluten-free’. But no, actually, it can make me really, really ill”.

“The book isn’t just for allergy people,” she insists. “Some of the recipes in the book are naturally gluten-free anyway. That’s just how I cook.”

Pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup recipe

Ingredients:

(Makes 12)

450g gluten-free self-raising flour

2 eggs

300ml semi-skimmed milk

Olive oil for frying

For the bacon:

1tbsp olive oil

1 x 200g pack of streaky bacon

Maple syrup for drizzling

Strawberries, for garnish (optional)

Method:

1. Put your flour, eggs and milk into a large bowl and whisk until smooth.

2. Place one tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick pan over a low heat. When hot, add one heaped tablespoon of your pancake batter and swirl it into a small circle about five millimetres thick. Depending on the size of the pan, add another one or two spoonfuls in the same way. The circles look thin, but they will rise, don’t worry!

3. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for about one minute on each side, until fluffed up and lightly speckled brown. You’ll know when they’re ready.

4. Transfer the pancakes to a plate and keep warm while you make as many more pancakes as you can with the remaining batter. Remember to heat a spoonful of oil for each batch.

5. For the bacon, heat your olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add your bacon and cook for six to seven minutes, turning as needed.

6. Once golden and crisp, drain on kitchen paper, then serve on top of your fluffy pancakes with a drizzle of maple syrup. If you want to be extra fancy, cut up some strawberries and add them too.

Parmesan risotto with garlic prawns recipe

Ingredients:

(Service 4)

750ml gluten-free chicken stock

60g unsalted butter

1 onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, 2 crushed, 2 finely chopped

240g carnaroli rice

125ml dry white wine

150g Parmesan cheese, grated

4tbsp double cream

Zest of 2 lemons

Juice of half a lemon

Olive oil for frying

2 bird’s eye chillies, deseeded and finely sliced

12 large raw peeled prawns, deveined

Sea salt flakes and black pepper

Lemon wedges, to serve

Method:

1. Pour your stock into a saucepan, bring to a simmer and keep warm. Place half your butter in a separate saucepan over a medium heat. When melted, add your onion and cook for four minutes, until slightly softened.

2. Add your crushed garlic and cook for one minute.

3. Stir in your rice and one teaspoon of salt and cook for about three minutes, stirring often, until the grains start to become translucent. It’s really important to keep stirring, so your rice doesn’t stick!

4. Add your white wine and stir for about two minutes, until the pan is almost dry.

5. Add a cupful of your warm stock and continue cooking and stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed; this will take about four minutes.

6. Continue adding the stock a cup at a time, allowing each addition to be almost fully absorbed before adding the next. When all the stock has been used, the risotto should be moist but not loose, with al dente grains.

7. Take the pan off the heat and stir in your Parmesan, cream, lemon zest and half the lemon juice, one teaspoon of pepper and your remaining butter. Taste and season with extra salt if you like.

8. Place two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over a low heat, add your chillies and chopped garlic and leave to infused for one to two minutes.

9. Add your prawns and cook until they’re nice and pink; about three to four minutes should do it.

10. Serve your risotto in shallow bowls and top with the prawns, making sure to leave any excess oil in the pan. Squeeze over the remaining lemon juice and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chillies over the prawns and add a wedge of lemon on the side of the bowl with the risotto.

Chocolate brownie recipe

Ingredients:

(Makes 12)

170g unsalted butter, at room temperature

200g caster sugar

90g brown sugar

3 large eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

3tbsp chocolate and hazelnut spread

70g gluten-free self-raising flour

40g cocoa powder

100g white chocolate, broken into small pieces

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C fan, gas mark 6). Line the bottom and sides of a deep 30 x 20 centimeter baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

2. Place your butter in a large bowl, add your two sugars and whisk together until smooth and creamy.

3. Add your eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Now whisk in your vanilla extract and chocolate spread.

4. Sift in your flour and cocoa powder, then fold in with a spoon until completely combined.

5. Finally, fold in your white chocolate pieces.

6. Pour your brownie mixture into the prepared tray and smooth the surface.

7. Bake for 50 minutes, reducing the heat to 180°C (160°C fan, gas mark 4) after 20 minutes.

8. Set aside to cool before cutting into pieces and serving.

Can You Make That Gluten-Free? by Megan McKenna is published by Hamlyn, priced at £20. Photography by Louise Hagger. Available now.

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