THE Rugby World Cup is dominating the sporting headlines - but many women, as well as men, play their hearts out every week. "It's a great way of keeping fit," says Debbie Cracknell, 34, who plays for Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. "Eighty minutes on a rugby pitch is far more exciting than spending an evening in the gym. That's why a lot more women are playing rugby now." So why did Debbie write to us? Well, Burnham, who play in Division Four of the National Challenge League (London and Eastern Counties) had a vital game coming up and she wanted to get the players together the night before the big match. It was a chance for their coach, Gig Ingham, to talk tactics and for the girls to relax before the game with Mill Hill. "I've offered to do the cooking but I'm not a great cook and the others arealways teasing me. So I want to surprise them. I need something simple, enough to feed 20 hungry people and it has to be full of energy but low in fat. So there's a real challenge."
LUCY SAYS: The trick when catering for lots of people is to make a couple of meal-in-one dishes. Hot pots are great (but out of the question because although rich in protein, they're not high in carbohydrates). The answer is to make an easy pastadish - lots of it - to which we can add protein such as chicken. It makes sense to make a chicken dish and a vegetarian dish (we opted for trendy stuffed peppers).It's easy to prepare in advance - Debbie and I did that while the other girls trained. And puddings should be scrummy and fun. A simple trifle made with boudoir biscuits is low in fat. We also did baked bananas which are rich in potassium and magnesium (to prevent players getting cramp).So what did the team think? Coach Gig gave the meal the thumbs-up. "This is just the thing they need thenight before a match. It's filling and full of energy but not heavy." Debbie's boyfriend, Paul Smith, added: "I'm so proud of Debbie. I can't believehow good this is!" Simone Collins said: "I love the crunchy texture of the filling in the peppers. With the garlic and chilli, it's not bland like a lot of vegetarian food." "I can't believe I'm asking Debbie, of all people, for a recipe," said Jenny Charnock with a laugh. "But I love this pasta." Karen Mihill, Teresa Barr andClare Hamilton asked: "Can we have some more, please? We'll sweat off the extra ounces in the game tomorrow."
Pasta quills with Tuscan chicken
1kg pasta quills, 32 mini plum tomatoes, quartered, juice 1 lemon, 90ml olive oil, 8 cooked chicken breasts, sliced, 2 x 410g cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained, 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 2 x 15g pkt chives, chopped, 2 x 15g pkt tarragon (or basil) chopped, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 bags mixed salad leaves, to serve.
COOK pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Drain. Tip pasta into a large bowl and stir in the lemon juice and olive oil and mix well. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (You can leave for up to six hours. This helps flavours infuse and means you can go out and train with the others, if you want to). To serve, arrange the salad on oval platters and top with the pasta mixture.
Piedmont stuffed peppers
500g couscous, 20 red peppers, tops sliced off and seeds scooped out, 90ml olive oil, 1 bunch spring onions, sliced, 4 cloves garlic, chopped, 2 mild red chillies, seeded and sliced. 2 mild green chillies, seeded and sliced, 4 sticks celery, chopped, 1 head broccoli cut into tiny florets and blanched, 15g pkt coriander, finely chopped, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, 4 x 125g pkt light mozzarella cheese drained and cut into chunks.
PRE HEAT oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Tip couscous into large bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand 10 mins. Slice a bit off bottom of peppers so they sit neatly in two roasting tins. While couscous is still warm, stir in 60ml olive oil, spring onions, garlic, chillies, celery, broccoli and coriander. Season. Divide couscous mixture between peppers, pop lids back on top, drizzle with 30ml olive oil, roast in preheated oven 30 mins.
Red fruit trifle
175g box sponge boudoir biscuits, 100ml brandy, 250g raspberries, 375g strawberries, hulled and halved, 500g carton low- fat custard, 2 x 450g pots apricot yoghurt, 20 strawberries to decorate.
BREAKthe biscuits into small pieces and scatter in the bottom of 20 wine glasses. Pour over a little brandy followed by the raspberries and strawberries. Mix together the custard and yoghurt and spoon over the fruit. Cover and chill for up to 6 hours. To serve, decorate each portion with a strawberry. (If you don't want to use alcohol, use fresh orange juice instead). KITCHEN TIP: It's easier to make and serve this dish in individual portions - a small wine glass is the perfect size.
20 bananas, 20 tbsp rum, 20 tbsp clear honey, 20 tbsp Greek yoghurt
PRE HEAT the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Put the bananas in a single layer in a couple of roasting tins and cook until the bananas are blackened (about 10 minutes) then turn them over and cook again until blackened all over. Check them after 5 minutes (the exact cooking time depends on how ripe the bananas are). Remove the bananas from the oven, carefully slit down the middle and pour 1 tbsp each of rum, honey and yoghurt into the slit and serve at once. (If you don't want alcohol, simply leave it out. It's still delicious.) KITCHEN TIP:This is a brilliant last-minute pud which needs no preparation.
Knox, Lucy. "Eating Zone: My rugger girls want something scrummy; EACH week LUCY KNOX offers a Zone reader a food makeover. Today, Lucy helps a women's rugby team with a high-energy, low-fat meal the night before a vital match." Mirror [London, England] 12 Oct. 1999