Updated: Jan 23
Some call this cooking from the larder, but I don’t have a larder, so I can’t. Plus 'cupboard cooking' alliterates.
The two cupboards in my kitchen are stacked above the cooker. The kitchen is a place of activity, but the cupboards are a place of idleness. The can of chickpeas has sat unmoved for months, enjoying its deep hibernation. The half-finished pack of spaghetti lounges horizontally, as if on a deckchair reading a good book. Right at the back, surrounded by a scattering of lentils and various once-used spices, a tin of anchovies chuckles to itself as it remains unopened and uneaten.
The fridge, sat beside the cupboard, swung open and shut throughout the day, is a moratorium. There is a half-finished pot of crème fraiche, opened and showing the scoop marks from yesterday’s eating, a limp and bending stick of celery, the firm days of its youth behind it and a Parmesan rind reduced down to its outer shell.
A large round bowl, just below the cupboard and to the left of the fridge contains a distinct collection of misfits. An onion, its growing body wrapped, but ready to tumble into a pan, a couple of fennel bulbs, spiked like iron railings and some garlic cloves which have rebelliously escaped their homes.
What binds these forgotten and discarded objects together is a meal. So why not save yourself a trip to the supermarket? Save a bit of money, give that can of tomatoes a purpose, release the anchovies from their oily prison and reduce food waste in the process. These recipes are for busy nights, lazy weekends or late-night feasting. Most of the ingredients are usually found lying around the kitchen and here a just a few ideas of what to do with them.
The Best Tomato Pasta
Simple, but the flat's favourite for comfort food. Imagine the fork wrapped in spaghetti coated in the creamy, tomato goodness.
Ingredients: Onion, Celery, Garlic, best quality butchers bacon (if in stock), splash of white wine vinegar, 400ml can of tin tomatoes, crème fraiche, spaghetti, Parmesan, rosemary.
1) Fry the bacon in the pan, with a splash of olive oil, until the fat is golden and the meat a rose red. Remove the bacon from the pan.
2) Add a little more oil to the pan, then tumble the finely chopped onion, celery and garlic in. Season. Fry for at least 10 minutes, getting as much aromatic goodness out the veg as possible. Be patient, meditate, listen to some music. Chop up some rosemary and add.
3) When the veg is cooked, add a splash of white wine vinegar and deglaze the pan. After that, ceremonially squeeze in the plum tomatoes, I do this with my hands, try it. Then fill up the can of tomatoes with water, collecting all the juices and then add that to the pan.
4) Give a good stir, season, bring to boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
5) Put your pasta into some boiling water (salty as the sea), then cook until al dente.
6) Add 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche to the sauce. I have always had a bit kicking about in the fridge. Add the pasta, along with a little cooking water and mix all together.
7) Top with parmesan and basil if there is any kicking about and dig in.
Hungry for Carrot Hummus
There is always time for making your own hummus. It is so easy and leagues ahead of the supermarket unsatisfactory simulacrum.
Ingredients: 500g carrots (or whatever is left over), a can of organic chickpeas, a few cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds, a lemon, some good olive oil.
1) Chunk the carrot. Hurl into a roasting tin, with some crushed garlic cloves and the cumin seeds. Season, then roast until sweet.
2) Put the carrots into your bender, along with the flesh of the garlic which you have indelicately squeezed out.
3) Squeeze in the lemon juice, a few good glugs of olive oil and salt and pepper. Blitz until velvet, top with olive oil. Add in some harissa or za’atar if you got some lying about from when you bought the Ottolenghi book.
Fennel, Cream and Breadcrumbs
You have to give it a go, inspired by a Nigel Slater and a staple in the flat. Making your own breadcrumbs from stale bread is a life hack I wish knew earlier. There is never any need to buy it from a shop.
Ingredients: 2 Fennel Bulbs, Organic Double Cream, enough breadcrumbs to top your dish (and a bit more), Zest of 1 Lemon, 25 g Pine Nuts (or almond flakes, whatever is in the cupboard), sage.
1) Set the oven to 190C.
2) Chop fennel into long strips and add to an oven proof frying pan with some rapeseed oil (or a normal one, then add to a roasting tin). Fry until the fennel are starting to go translucent.
3) Take the pan of the heat and pour in, without guilt, all the double cream.
4) Top generously with the breadcrumbs and a scattering of fresh sage leaves (coated in a bit of oil so not to burn).
5) Put in the oven for half-an-hour. Delicious.
Chickpea, Lemon and pea pasta
Ingredients: Onion, Garlic, Celery, Can of Organic Chickpeas, Pasta, Frozen Peas, Parmesan, Butter, basil.
1) As always, it starts with an onion. Fry the O, G and C for 15 minutes with a good knob of butter and some olive oil.
2) Put your pasta into some boiling water which is as salty as the sea.
3) Add in the chickpeas, with all the juice you can squeeze from the lemon (You can grate in some lemon zest as well). Season and then cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.
4) Grate a healthy mound amount of parmesan, chop a handful of basil and reserve ¾ of a mugful of cooking water.
5) Add the pasta to the chickpeas and veg. Remove from heat and quickly add both the parmesan and cooking water. Toss and mix together until it makes a smooth and silky sauce.