my store cupboard
My French upbringing taught me economy and practicality. Careful shopping is more rewarding than buying the latest “must have” ingredient.
Time is precious, and a sensibly stocked store cupboard can yield a meal in minutes (a pack of spaghetti, a tin of plum tomatoes, a tin of anchovies, a clove of garlic and a splash of olive oil can make the best pasta dish ever).
Over the years, I have learned to stock only what I really need and regularly use, and eliminate the tempting stuff that will only be used once or twice, and end up in the back of the cupboard.
Here is the content of my store cupboard…
A good quality extra virgin olive oil is useful all round. Rapeseed oil adds a nutty taste drizzled over soups or vegetables or mixed into salad dressing. A few drops of truffle oil can enhance the simplest dish with gutsy, earthy flavour – delicious over risotto, pasta and any mushroom dish. It will add a touch of luxury to basic mashed potato. It’s expensive, but you only need a few drops to elevate a dish.
I use white wine vinegar for everything and also when a recipe requires white wine and I don’t want to open a new bottle, I just add a little sugar and water. Good quality balsamic vinegar like balsamico di modena does impart a spicy yet sweet taste to the cooking.
my own lemon preserve – easy to make and delicious with chicken, fish and pulses
My favourite sea salt “Fleur de Sel de Camargue”.
Whole black peppercorns for grinding.
I use caster sugar for everything.
Preferably from local beekeepers. The supermarket ones, because they are processed to achieve consistency, have less flavour. I also stock a jar of Gran Luchito smoked chilli honey to glaze over chicken, ham, sausages, or make a marinade.
Horseradish is a great accompaniment to cold meat or sausages
Capers and gherkins will always add a zingy taste.
OK, I admit I use pesto in a jar. It’s quite easy to make the real thing but, as they say, life is short!
An assortment of dry spaghetti, tagliatelle, penne, vermicelli cover most of my requirements, and always at hand for a quick supper dish.
Arborio rice is the classic Italian rice used for risotto. Best all round for cooking. Basmati, a long grain rice from India considered the best quality white rice. Red rice from Camargue is also one of my preferred kinds of rice.
But when I wish to make a risotto and I am pressed for time, I use risotto pronto. It’s cooked in 10 minutes and the result is surprisingly good. There are different varieties available in supermarkets, mushrooms, asparagus, 3 cheese, saffron…
Ever so quick and easy, it’s a great accompaniment to chicken, stews or vegetables. It can also be turned into tasty salads.
I keep small packs of black and green olives. They are handy for casseroles, pasta… and of course Salade Nicoise.
Fresh stock is best, failing that, good quality bottled ones are available. I always keep bottles of chicken, beef, and vegetable stock.
Self-raising flour is the only one I use.
I love Bath Oliver biscuits with cheese, but I can also eat them on their own when feeling famished. I also keep a packet of Biscottes or French toasts, for when I run out of bread.
My favourite is Apricot. I only stock marmalade for when I have visitors, but I also have maple syrup for pancakes.
As well as the traditional Dijon and wholegrain mustards, I couldn’t be without savora mustard. It’s cinnamon, cayenne, muscat, cumin, tarragon content add a touch of “Je ne sais quoi” to any salad dressing.
Tuna and mackerel (in olive oil) are great to add to salads, while sardines mixed with crème fraîche and a hint of mustard will top up a toast and make it yummy.
A few chopped anchovies added to a stew will bring out the flavours without making it taste fishy.
I particularly like puy lentils, easy and quick to cook, a perfect accompaniment to meat, but also happy to turn into salads dressed in onions, fresh herbs, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper. I recently discovered a cheat way – ready to eat puy lentils. They only need 1 minute in the microwave and are quite delicious.
Tins of good quality Italian plum tomatoes, preferably whole, are the basis of so many recipes, while tomato purée boosts flavour. When making a tomato sauce, I always use half fresh, half tinned tomatoes.
Borlotti, cannellini, or the humble red kidney beans, and my favourite flageolets, the perfect accompaniment to lamb. These can be added to soups or salads. Chickpeas crushed with garlic, olive oil and lemon to make delicious houmous.
I prefer fresh peas but tinned petits pois are almost as good.
A couple of tinned soups are always at the back of my cupboard in case of an emergency when I don’t feel particularly well and don’t wish to go out.
dried mushrooms, always at hand for a soup, pasta or a sauce
dried porcini mushrooms
Soaked for a short time, they are delicious in pasta and sauces.
Maybe it comes from my French culture, but I am not a great fan of spices.
I think if you use good ingredients, fresh herbs are all you need to spice them up. Having said that, I keep in my store cupboard small jars of cumin, cinnamon, paprika, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel seeds… and my favourite Herbes de Provence, perfect for grilled meat or fish.
Bay leaves are useful for casseroles and soups.
dried nuts, almonds and raisins
They are packed with vitamins and minerals and great to sprinkle over salads and rice and to add a bit of crunch.
Tea, of course, plain “builders’ tea”, earl grey, chamomile, mint.
Did George Clooney have any influence? And… but don’t tell anyone, I also have a jar of instant!
A couple of bars of chocolate never live for very long in my cupboard. I’m addicted. I also like to indulge in chocolate for a hot drink.
Nothing is exotic or difficult to find, but always reliable to turn a simple meal, with minimum time and effort, into maximum reward.