A month ago, I had a baby. The last 28 days will forever be remembered as a blur of oxytocin, Green & Black’s chocolate and the BBC World Service, which – with the shipping forecast and hourly news bulletins – has reminded me of the outside world during night feeds.
Not that I can say I’ve really wanted to be reminded of the world outside in its current state. Nappies and vomit are positively desirable in comparison to grim tidings from Westminster, where the Brexit debate rages on. Here we are, almost three years later, with question marks over whether, after 29th March, we’ll still have access to myriad things we’ve heretofore taken for granted: the likes of medications, a foreign workforce on our farms and in our hospitals, workers’ rights, opportunities to work abroad, and imported foods. To the last point, in Britain, one third of our food comes from Europe, including 90% of lettuce, 80% of tomatoes, 70% of strawberries and blueberries. Clearly, I should enjoy these salad days following the birth of my daughter while I can be sure to actually get hold of salad ingredients.
Although if we’re going to be literal about things, it’s March, so salad isn’t exactly abundant right now. We’re in ‘the hungry gap’, the pause in the British food calendar when produce is thin on the ground. Winter’s root veg is coming to a close and it’s still too early for Spring’s tender greens and new potatoes, so this is a moment which has cooks scratching their chins for inspiration – and when canned, dried and ambient goods come into their own.
In recent weeks, there have been days when I can’t seem to get dressed, let alone go to the supermarket, so I presently have my own reasons for cooking with what’s already in the cupboard. I’ve also realized, however, that babies and Brexit have more in common than I first thought they’re messy, unpredictable, and have me bulk buying tinned tomatoes online with furious urgency.
But baby or none, Brexit or otherwise, hungry gap or not, I’ve always held that a small but mighty repertoire of recipes using dry or tinned ingredients is essential for everyone. Cheap, low effort and, I find, often just the thing I most crave, here I give you my top nine store cupboard staples (with a good recipe for each) * to cover you for any event. Now that’s a good deal.
* In many cases above, olive oil can be substituted where butter is called for. Any essential vegetables are those that can happily linger in the fridge for weeks – like onions and potatoes – and anything greener or fresher can be left out if you don’t have them.
1. Dried pasta (and noodles) – try Anna Del Conte’s Marmite pasta
2. Tinned plum tomatoes – try this failsafe, crowd-pleasing tomato sauce for pasta and beyond
3. Tinned fish (anchovies, salmon, tuna) – try these easy fish cakes
4. Dried or tinned pulses – for braises, curries, stews, salads, and Anna Jones’s all-pleasing chilli
5. Miso – for quick noodle soups like this ramen (use as many of the fresh ingredients as you have or exclude them entirely for a superior pot noodle affair)
6. Peanut butter – try Rosie Birkett’s peanut noodles (swap the broccoli for frozen spinach or peas – you lose the crunch but keep the green element).
7. Rice – to accompany stews and curries, or for the spiced chickpea rice component of this recipe, which I often make to eat alongside various incarnations of chicken
8. Coconut milk – for quick curries like this one (exclude the cauliflower and it is still excellent)
9. Oats – for breakfasts (my current favourite is porridge with tahini and date syrup).