This page pays tribute to those surprisingly versatile ingredients you make sure are always in your cupboard, come feast or famine.
Besides the obvious, like canned tomatoes, anchovies, pasta and so on – I’m looking for extra surprises for my vast new pantry, when it finally arrives. Till now we’ve had about thirty square cm of pantry space (I’m not joking) and I’m not sure what I’ll do come my glistening new drawers and shelves and cupboards … so let’s share some ideas.
I’d like to kick this list off with a vote for these sweetly succulent little babies that give unexpected zip to all kinds of things. Some uses:
- throw them into a little bit of verjuice (come on down Maggie – more on Maggie-worship later…) and plump ’em up for five or 10 minutes before throwing into couscous.
- toss a big handful into any vaguely Middle-Eastern taginey thing – chicken, lamb, fish, veg – they all love currants.
- soak for a minute in raspberry vinegar and then toss with oil & lemon juice over strips of grilled zucchini.
- plump as above in verjuice or vinegar, then sprinkle through a rocket salad with some feta or goat’s cheese.
ORANGES & LEMONS
I know everybody already knows about the many uses of citrus zest but in the interests of good indexing, I’m linking here to a full post on lemon zest, with a couple of Maggie Beer recipes that have the real zing thing.
And for a look at a couple of the many applications of pancetta and other varieties of cured piggywig, check out this post here. But I think we could use a rather longer list for the pancetta. Any contributions, kitchen kith?
Halve them, sprinkle with salt and occasionally a teeny pinch of caster sugar, drizzle some olive oil over, then bung ’em in the oven on a low heat (our old gas oven only had ‘almost off’ and 280 degrees C, but soon I shall be the possessor of a very swanky one with an actual temperature gauge. But ‘almost off’ did work just fine!) for a good hour or two or three, depending how low you can go. With plenty of olive oil I guess they’d keep in the fridge for a week or so? They never last that long in mine though.
Any other bright ideas for this little flavour bomb?
Another piquant, salty friend of the kitchen, the caper is, I learn here, is the immature flower bud of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa. Either pickled in brine or preserved in salt, as you will all know very well, the caper is an essential zing thing for a great many dishes. I tend to go for the salted babies, although the briny version are just fine if you can’t get the salted ones. And I’ve just found this site about Australian capers, which are apparently even more intense in flavour than the imported ones, which can only be a good thing!
A full post on the caper and the Empress’s ideas for fried capers are here.
I think the porcini mushroom – Boletus edulis – Certainly deserves its own entry here. Apart from being lovely to look at, they’re earthy in flavour, silky in texture, store well and have a cooking aroma to die for – which in my book makes them a perfect zing-thing pantry staple.
I’ve used both dried porcini and the frozen fresh variety, but the frozen seemed to have only about as much flavour as a good fresh mushroom, whereas the dried really pack a punch (if you are very keen, there’s a long discussion about the comparative flavours here).
The way to use the dried porcini, of course, is to toss them into a cup with a little water to rehydrate, and then chop roughly to throw into any ragu or mushroom dish. I use them in mushroom risotto along with other fresh ones, but lately I’ve also used them a couple of times in a very luscious duck ragu.