Good things to keep in the storecupboard, fridge and freezer
There are some ingredients that I always fall back on. They are the standbys, cheats and shortcuts that mean you can create something out of nothing and make great use of leftovers.
Lots you can do with this meaty paprika sausage. It keeps well in the fridge and a little goes a long way. I normally remove the skin before cooking and it’s great fried, releasing its brightly coloured oil. Good things to do with chorizo include:
- Cut into cubes and fry to spice up a green salad. Frying croutons in the oil left in the pan after you’ve taken out the chorizo is a real treat and good combined with cooked chicken or prawns to turn a simple salad into a more substantial meal.
- Fry in slices then pour in red wine to make a classic tapas dish. Fab for dipping crusty bread in.
- With chilli con carne, add a few cubes in with the onion to give an extra depth of flavour. This works with ragu/Bolognese sauce too.
- Fry in a pan with some onion. Add a slug of white wine and lemon juice and reduce. Stir in a few tablespoons of creme fraiche to make a lovely sauce to add to pasta. Great with a bit of grilled fish.
It’s one of the things I use most in the kitchen. A block of parmesan is pretty good value given how long it lasts and the strength of flavour you get from it. Look for the PGI mark to show it’s the real stuff – I buy Aldi’s and it’s pretty good stuff for a couple of quid.
Obviously, it makes a big difference to a bowl of pasta, but it’s also good grated on top of soup, shaved with veg peeler over salads, stirred through a risotto and makes the most amazing mash. Just grate into the potatoes along with butter and a splash of milk.
As it lasts so long its a good stand-in for any recipe that needs a bit of cheese, whether it’s an omelette or a cheese sauce when you go to the fridge and realise you’ve run out of normal cheese (or it’s started to grow new and interesting life forms!).
I saw a chef using Marigold Swiss Vegetable stock a few years ago, tried it and am never without a pot in the cupboard. I even keep one in work as it makes a lovely, savoury hot drink – much better than a cup-a-soup for keeping hunger at bay. It’s on Delia‘s list of cheats too so it must be good!
By all means make your own stock if you have time/can be arsed. I do whenever I’ve got a chicken carcass and it freezes well for soup or risotto. That said, I’ve also been using the Just Bouillon beef and chicken cubes recently which are really good too if you want that extra meaty taste. My rule of thumb is if it tastes good enough to drink, then it’s good enough to cook.
I prefer basmati for long grain rice – it holds its bite better. My foolproof way of cooking was: add rice to boiling water and stir while it come back to the boil to keep the grains separate. Once it’s cooked, drain in a colander and pour a kettle of boiling water over it to rinse it. Easy.
Lately I’ve been following the Jamie method. Once the rice is nearly cooked, strain it into a colander and then sit this back on the pan (while there’s still a bit of water coming out – or add a bit more from the kettle). Put the pan back over a very low flame and put the pan lid in the colander to cover the rice. Let it steam like this for about five minutes to give you light, dry, fluffy rice.
I try to keep a box of risotto rice in the cupboard too as it’s an easy 30-minute tea which uses whatever other ingredients you have to hand. You can press it into service for a quick paella too.
Good things in tins
Tuna, obviously. Never without a tin of tuna for sandwiches, salads or a quick pasta – nice cold as a pasta salad too. Recently discovered the joys of tinned white crab meat which I used to make a Chinese style soup. Also, you can’t beat Portuguese sardines, smooshed up with a bit of salt and vinegar and toasted on a thick slab of brown bread.
I grew up loving a tea of stewed steak (M&S is good), mash and veg – really easy tea that. But it’s a good quick filling for a homemade pie too – roll out some ready made pastry, throw in some fried onions and a spoon of mustard and you’ve got a pie in the oven in about five minutes flat. M&S also do a fine tin of mince. Warm it through while you cook a few diced veggies. Pop an Aunt Bessies giant Yorkshire pud in the oven then fill with the mince and veg mix. Proper comfort food.
Herbs & Spices
As a student, I got by with a big tub of mixed herbs/herbes de Provence and little else. It’s a pretty good all-rounder.
Now I’ve got a bit of a garden, I can keep pots of rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme to use. They’re a piece of cake to grow, look after themselves and can be picked up on a three pots for a fiver type deal at most garden centres in the spring. The more you pick, the bigger they grow too.
As far as spice goes, black pepper goes without saying. Paprika gets used a lot as does cumin and coriander. Plus whatever curry or other mixes you like.
Peppers in a jar
Like most of the M&S ingredients I use, I was introduced to their chargrilled peppers in a jar by Cara. They’re fab in all Italian recipes, great in soups and a little of the oil that the come in added to a sauce adds a really deep, sweet, smoky flavours. Recently bought some that Tesco do which were good too.
Lots of recipes call for wine. I don’t get the concept of ‘leftover’ wine and it seems a waste to open a bottle to just slug some into a risotto or sauce. My friend Angela came to the rescue by recommending dry vermouth. A bottle costs a couple of quid and lasts for ever so no waste. It’s perfect for risotto but I use it now wherever a dish needs a glass of wine added.
The first thing I do to start most recipes seems to be chop and onion and garlic. I also usually buy peppers, mushrooms, courgettes, spinach, carrots and of course spuds. Or whatever else happens to look good in the veg aisle. You’ve got a pretty good base for most things then.