Dear Xanthe: 'Two different dishes, one oven – what do I do?'

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Golden brown: You could pop a lasagne under the grill for a few minutes so the top is crisp
Golden brown: You could pop a lasagne under the grill for a few minutes so the top is crisp Credit: Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton

Dear Xanthe 

What do you do when you have two dishes (or more) that ideally need to be cooked in the oven at the same time, but at different temperatures? Let’s say a lasagne to cook at 180C, and potatoes at 220C. Would you compromise at 200C, or just give up and accept they need to be cooked at different times? One day, I will have two ovens!

Dear Anon 

This is a perennial problem, particularly at Sunday lunch, so I asked Camilla Schneideman, managing director, Leiths School of Food and Wine, whether she was ever prepared to busk it when it came to oven temperatures.

“Having two ovens is a great luxury but a good cook can produce great food from a single oven. Good menu planning and knowing your own oven is the key. Baking is more of an exact science so temperatures need to be followed precisely, but with other forms of cooking, you don’t need to worry so much. With the example of the lasagne and potatoes, it would be fine cooking both together at a hot temperature (190-200C) – reducing the cooking time of the lasagne somewhat.

“As long as the lasagne is golden brown on top and piping hot in the middle it should be good. What it might lack is that crispness on the top and edges of the lasagne, and especially on the potatoes. A bit of juggling of which dish is on top and a quick (and monitored) blast of heat can add this finishing touch at the end.

“The same goes for other robust dishes – shepherd’s pie, say, or moussaka, meat, potatoes, bakes and general “golden brown” cooking. For all of these I would be happy cooking them anywhere from 170C upwards, raising the heat or grilling to brown if necessary at the end.

“That said, there are some dishes that aren’t good at sharing an oven. Egg dishes where a gentle set is required do need a lower temperature, and many cakes will be dry and over-crisp cooked at a higher temperature – so cook them up in advance. You should also be careful when cooking fish, as it will become tough if cooked for too long, or at too high a temperature.

“As my personal rule, I cook anything very delicate that needs a silky texture, such as a cheesecake or quiche, at 150C, but would go up to 160C or possibly 170C if I really had to, but watching it very carefully. Stews, though, are fine to cook between 150C to 180C being aware cooking times will slightly vary.

“In general, the hotter part of a conventional oven is at the top (it can be as much as 30C hotter at the top than the bottom, according to some manufacturers) so position your trays accordingly. Fan-assisted ovens have a more consistent temperature throughout.

“Using your instinct and keeping a close eye on the oven is key when shifting temperatures but when done efficiently can provide great results in time saving and dishes coming out piping hot at the same time.”