Eight of our favourite cooks, including Rosie Sykes, Jane Baxter and Anissa Helou, show you how to make great-value meals - without taking a trip to the shops
Lemon and roast garlic pearl barley
Mary-Ellen McTague, chef-patron, Aumbry, Manchester
As far as mealtime stress goes, there is little worse than knowing, as you drive tired and ravenously hungry children home from school, that the cupboards are bare. Completely bare. The shopping didn't happen that day for whatever reason, and there you find yourself opening and closing fridge and freezer and store cupboard doors, staring blankly at the meagre and uninspiring contents, while small children clamour, bray and become increasingly enraged with hunger at your feet. Better organised folk than I probably face this situation only occasionally, but for me, it's at least a weekly occurrence. Thankfully, years of working in kitchens and having to create staff meals that the rest of the crew won't despise you for producing - despite having naught but meat trim and scraps of vegetables to play with - has left me with skills where making something from nothing is concerned.
At work, the key to producing something edible from a load of old crap is having access to a healthily stocked "dry stores", the kitchen equivalent of your home store cupboard. You need to have a stash of pulses, pasta, rice, noodles, spices, dried herbs, nam pla, tinned tomatoes, soy sauce, coconut milk, anchovies, olives (and anything else with a long shelf life that you like to eat) in the house at all times, so initially there is a bit of an outlay. But it is honestly worth a bigger shopping bill one week because if the dry stores are well stocked, you can do anything, even with the bare minimum of vegetable matter or protein to add in. Add an onion and some garlic to a combination of the above and you pretty much have a meal.
One of my favourite store cupboard items is pearl barley. It is so much more forgiving than risotto rice as it won't overcook in the two minutes you leave it alone to break up a toddler fight, or answer the phone, but with a bit of care can produce something really beautiful. The following recipe requires some fresh produce too, but nothing exotic, and all things can be easily substituted if necessary.
garlic 1 head
oil (olive oil preferably, but vegetable will do) 2 tbsp
pearl barley 300g
shallot (onion can be used instead) 40g, finely chopped
white wine 150g (optional)
chicken stock, veg stock or water 400g
grated cheese (preferably Old Winchester, or another firm, nutty cheese such as parmesan, but any will do) 125g
lemons zest and juice of 2
chives or spring onion tops 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Cut the top off the garlic bulb and wrap in tin foil with 1 tablespoon of the oil and the salt. Place in a 150C/gas mark 2 oven to roast for approximately 40 minutes. The garlic will feel soft to the touch and have a deep golden brown colour all over when ready.
Set the garlic aside to cool for 15-20 minutes, then squeeze the pulp out of the cloves. Mash with a fork and push through a fine sieve, or don't bother if you don't mind lumps of garlic. Place the roast garlic puree in the fridge in a tub with a close-fitting lid, or a zip-lock bag, so that your whole fridge doesn't reek of garlic. There will be more puree than you need for this dish, but it is good to have to hand as it can be used in all sorts of other recipes such as curries, pasta dishes, stir fries etc, or can be mixed with butter and spread on warm bread.
Place the other tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the pearl barley and warm through in the pan until it is beginning to toast slightly.
Keep the pearl barley moving constantly at this stage. When starting to turn a light golden colour, add the chopped shallot and stir through the pearl barley.
Sweat the shallot until translucent then add the wine if using, and about a quarter of the liquid. Stir well, then leave to simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add another quarter of the stock, simmer, reduce by half, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and repeat until all of the liquid is in the pan.
Simmer until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed, then taste the pearl barley to see how well cooked it is. I prefer pearl barley with a bit of chewiness to it, but some prefer it softer - if you want to cook it further, add a little more liquid and cook for another 5-10 minutes, checking every once in a while.
When the barley is as you would like it, add the cream and stir well, then simmer for one minute. Add a dessertspoonful of the roast garlic puree then stir well, taste and add more if desired.
Add the cheese and stir well, but don't allow to simmer after this or the cheese will overcook and the sauce around the pearl barley will become grainy.
Add the zest, juice and chives or spring onion tops and season to taste. At this stage you can also alter the consistency by adding some more stock, water or cream - the ideal consistency is creamy and unctuous, similar to a good risotto. Check the seasoning again and serve with anything green you have in - it works particularly well with dark green vegetables such as kale or sprout tops, or peppery salad leaves, but even frozen peas aren't bad with this dish.
Olive, anchovy and onion tart with cornbread crust
Rosie Sykes,head chef, Fitzbillies, Cambridge
This hybrid savoury tarte tatin and pizza uses cornbread instead of pastry or yeasted dough as its base. So it's a breeze to put together, quick to cook and very possible on the days when the fridge is looking stark and the store cupboard is your only hope. One of the great joys of cornbread is that you can make it very simply or you can make little additions, which I have listed in this recipe as optional. The best thing to make this in is a frying pan (about 20cm) that has a metal handle so you can put it in the oven.
red onions 4, peeled and halved
olive oil 2½ tbsp
balsamic vinegar 2 tsp
chilli flakes a pinch
salted anchovies a small tin or
roasted red peppers 4, tinned or jarred, cut into strips
marinated pitted black olives 3 tbsp
capers 1 tbsp
Salt and pepper
For the cornbread
plain flour 40g
baking powder 1¼ tsp
bicarbonate of soda ½ tsp
soft brown sugar 2 tsp
salt ¾ tsp
smoked paprika ½ tsp
milk or plain yoghurt 120ml
grated parmesan 35g (optional)
flavourless oil 45ml
butter 15g, melted
spring onions 2, trimmed and finely chopped (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Cut the red onion halves into wedges - about 6 per half - toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chilli flakes and salt. Put into a roasting tray or ovenproof dish and cook for about 25 minutes until the onions are soft and sweet. Stir a couple of times during cooking to avoid sticking or over-browning.
In the meantime, oil the base of a 20cm ovenproof frying pan or similar with the remaining half tbsp of olive oil. Arrange the anchovies in a grid all over the base of the pan. In each square of the grid place an olive and scatter in the capers wherever you like. For a vegetarian version replace the anchovies with strips of roasted red pepper.
Now make the cornbread. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and polenta in a bowl, add the sugar, salt and paprika. Whisk together the eggs, yoghurt, cheese (if using), oil, butter and spring onions (if using).
When the onions are ready turn the oven up to 200C/gas mark 6. Put the frying pan with the anchovies, olives and capers over a low flame and start to heat. Once warm, cover the anchovies and olives with a layer of onions - scatter them on gently using a spoon so as not to disturb the anchovies. Now finish the cornbread, add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until amalgamated - be careful not to overmix. Pour the batter over the hot pan and put in the oven for 15 minutes until the cornbread is cooked. Test by inserting a thin knife blade. If it comes out clean the dish is ready.
Take out of the oven and rest for a few minutes before turning out. Serve warm.
Kaushy Patel, cookery writer, co-owner of Prashad, Drighlington, West Yorkshire
Flakes of flattened or beaten rice are often used in Indian cooking as a convenience food, and can be soaked, steamed, baked, fried or even made into porridge. You can find it in Indian supermarkets and online. Quick and easy, perfect to serve to unexpected guests, and can be made with no planning or advance preparation.
dried green chillies 2-3
garlic cloves 1-2
root ginger 4cm long, peeled and roughly chopped
medium-thick flattened rice 250g
sunflower oil 130ml
cumin seeds or powder 1 tsp
brown mustard seeds ½ tsp
dried curry leaves (if you have any in the cupboard) 15
large red-skinned (or other waxy) potato 1, cut in 1cm chunks
turmeric ½ tsp
salt 1 tsp
sesame seeds 4 tsp
tinned chickpeas 200g, drained
sugar 2 tsp
fresh coriander 2 handfuls, rinsed and finely chopped (if you've got some growing in a pot - if not, 2 tsp of coriander powder)
warm water 30ml
Crush the chillies, garlic and ginger together with a pinch of salt with a pestle and mortar (or in a blender) to make a fine masala paste.
Soak the rice for a minute in enough warm water to cover it, then drain.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a medium heat, then fry the cumin seeds until they start to darken. Tip in the mustard seeds and once they start to pop, add the curry leaves. Stir together, reduce the heat to low and stir in the potato chunks, turmeric and salt.
Turn the heat up slightly, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potato starts to soften.
Stir in the masala paste, sesame seeds, chickpeas, sugar and either a handful of fresh coriander or the 2 teaspoons of coriander powder. Cover and leave to cook for 4-5 minutes over a low heat until the potato is cooked through.
Add the drained rice and warm water and stir gently - the pauwa will start to turn the yellow colour of the turmeric. Cover and cook for a further couple of minutes, stirring occasionally to stop anything sticking to the pan. Continue to cook covered until the pauwa has absorbed all the liquid and the dish has a loose rice-like texture.
Adapted from Prashad Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Kaushy Patel, Saltyard Books 2012
Sardine and pea pilaf
Jane Baxter, cookery writer and chef
Tinned sardines are a great standby, healthy and versatile; they can be combined with pasta and a tomato sauce or with Sicilian flavours using fennel and saffron. Here they are used with another store cupboard favourite - peeled red peppers. These can be roughly chopped and added to freshen up, or dress, lots of cooked dried goods including pulses, quinoa and couscous.
sultanas 2 tbsp
olive oil 2 tbsp
large red onion 1, chopped
tinned peeled red peppers 200g, chopped
garlic cloves 2, crushed
paprika 2 tsp
ground fennel seeds 2 tsp
dried mint a pinch
basmati rice 300g, rinsed well
cinnamon stick 3cm long
fish stock cube (or pot)
boiling water 700 ml
tinned sardines in olive oil 2 x 120g
tinned peas (or frozen) 200g, drained
tinned green lentils 420g, drained
lemon juice of ½ (or a little balsamic)
flaked almonds 50g, toasted
Soak the sultanas in boiling water. In a large heavy-based saucepan (with a tight-fitting lid) sweat the onions in olive oil for 10 minutes .
Make a paste by blending the peppers with the garlic, paprika, fennel and mint. Add to the onions and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes.
Add the drained rice and cinnamon stick and cook for a minute stirring well. Mix the stock cube with the hot water and pour over the rice. Stir and bring back up to a simmer. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes
Drain the sardines and cut each into 4 pieces. Add to the rice along with the peas, lentils and drained sultanas. Fold through the rice mix, season and cover for another 5 minutes
Before serving add a little lemon juice (or vinegar) and sprinkle with toasted almonds .
Carrots and lentils
Anissa Helou, food writer and chef
I travel a lot and every time I return home, I promise myself to go shopping for food immediately but never do. As a result I have to live off what I have in my kitchen cupboards for two or three days before I get organised. However, I always keep yoghurt, lemons, carrots and potatoes in my refrigerator, and fresh herbs if I am not away for too long, which means that I can include some vegetables in the dishes I cook with my dry ingredients. The Turkish dish below is one of my favourites for when I return from a trip and have yet to do my shopping.
extra virgin olive oil 3 tbsp
medium onions 2, thinly sliced
tomato paste 1 tbsp
carrots 500g, sliced into thin discs
green lentils 100g, soaked for 30 minutes
freshly ground black pepper
Greek-style yoghurt 250g
garlic clove 1, crushed
For the garnish
fresh dillora sprinkling of dried herbs such as mint or oregano
Put the onions and olive oil in a deep sauté pan and place over a medium heat. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelised and golden. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the carrots and stir for a minute or so. Take off the heat.
Drain and rinse the lentils. Put in a saucepan. Add ½ litre water and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lentils and their cooking water to the carrots and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pan, raise the heat slightly and boil gently for 2-3 minutes until the excess liquid is completely evaporated. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let cool.
Mix the yoghurt and crushed garlic. Add salt to taste. Then transfer the carrots and lentils to a shallow serving dish. Spread the yoghurt over the top, but without covering it completely. Scatter a few sprigs of fresh dill over the yoghurt or sprinkle a little dried mint or oregano. Serve with good bread.
Spicy peanut butter noodles
Fuchsia Dunlop,food writer and broadcaster
When I need to rustle up a quick meal out of nothing, I often turn to my stash of dried noodles and Chinese seasonings. A simple bowl of noodles, stirred into excitement by a spicy Sichuanese sauce, finished with a little fresh spring onion greens and some fragrant seeds or nuts, is extremely satisfying and takes less than half an hour to make.
This particular recipe is inspired by similar noodle dishes I've tasted in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, although I've used peanut butter instead of the more typical sesame paste. If I happen to have a cucumber or a crisp lettuce in the fridge, I might make a little salad to serve on the side.
I try to keep a supply of Clearspring dried udon and buckwheat noodles in my larder, but you can use any kind of dried Chinese or Japanese noodle for this recipe. If you don't have Chinkiang vinegar, use a marginally smaller amount of red wine vinegar instead: just enough to sharpen up the rich, nutty sauce.
smooth peanut butter 4 tbsp
light soy sauce 2 tbsp
dark soy sauce 1 tsp
Chinkiang vinegar 1 tbsp
chilli oil 2-6 tbsp, to taste
sesame oil 2 tsp
garlic finely chopped 4 tsp
stock or water 3-4 tbsp
dried udon noodles 500g
white sesame seeds 2 tsp
finely sliced spring onion greens 4 tbsp
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry wok or frying pan, over a gentle heat, until golden. Set aside.
In a bowl, use a spoon to mash the peanut butter with the soy sauces and vinegar until evenly mixed. Stir in the chilli and sesame oils and the garlic, with enough stock or water to give the sauce the consistency of single cream.
Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Drain well and divide among the serving bowls. Sprinkle each serving of noodles with the spring onion greens and toasted sesame seeds. Ask your guests to mix everything together well before eating.
Florence Knight, head chef of Polpetto, London
When you open the cupboard and feel uninspired, tins of plum tomatoes are always a saviour. I find their texture and flavour much better than their chopped cousins, so try not to break them up too much by over-stirring. This sauce improves over time but can be made quickly and eaten with pasta, bread or even my favourite brown rice. Add a healthy glug of your best extra virgin olive oil right at the end.
Makes four bowls
extra virgin olive oil
salt a large pinch, plus some for the water
garlic cloves 2
dried chilli a pinch
thyme 3 sprigs
oregano 3 sprigs
plum tomatoes 2 x 400g tins
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
sugar a pinch
unwaxed lemon 1, zested
parmesan cheese to serve
Heat a glug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan on a low heat. Halve, peel and finely dice the onion. Tip the onions with a pinch of salt into the hot pan, then reduce the heat, place the lid on and cook for 10 minutes or so until they're soft and colourless. While the onions are cooking, peel and finely slice the garlic.
Stir through the garlic, chilli and herbs and cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and their juices from the tins. Swill each of the emptied tins with a little water to get the last remnants of tomato and add this to the pan too. Increase the heat, add the vinegar and sugar and simmer for a few minutes, avoiding the temptation to keep stirring. Turn the heat down low and leave to reduce to a thick chunky texture. The longer you cook it, the better the sauce will be. I tend to leave it to simmer quietly for about 30 minutes to an hour, preferably letting it cool and sit overnight to improve the flavour.
Place a large pot of salty water on to boil. When it reaches a rolling boil, tip in the spaghettini and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Stir the spaghettini and a couple of ladles of its water into the hot sauce and let it simmer, gently stirring until the sauce coats each strand, which will take a couple of minutes.
Add the lemon zest five minutes before serving. Spoon the spaghettini into shallow bowls, grate over the parmesan and finish with a dash of extra virgin olive oil.
Nieves Barragán Mohacho, executive head chef of Fino, London
Where I'm from in the Basque country, a good store cupboard would always have a few patatas viejas in it, which last a few weeks as long as it is dark. I always have eggs and onions too and in fact a few dried mushrooms, or a chorizo that's been stored well, or a tin of piquillo peppers can always be thrown into any tortilla.
onions 700g, peeled and finely sliced
ordinary white potatoes 700g
large free-range eggs 5
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Take a medium-sized frying pan and heat about 1cm of olive oil. When hot slowly cook the onions for about 30 minutes until soft and golden. While they are cooking wash and cut the potatoes into 1cm thick slices. Add the potatoes to the cooked onions and increase the heat. Continue to cook until the potatoes are soft and golden and able to be gently broken with a spatula. Remember to stir the mixture so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and when it has turned brown in colour and is completely broken down, remove from the heat and drain well on kitchen paper. Leave to cool a little.
In a bowl beat the eggs and add the cooled potato and onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper. In a non-stick pan heat 1 tsp olive oil over a medium heat and then pour in about a sixth of the mixture. As it cooks, use the back of the spatula to soften the edges. It will take about 2 minutes to cook. Turn the tortilla out on to a plate and then place back in the pan so as to cook the other side. This will take about 1½ minutes. This way the centre should remain runny. When done, turn out on to a warm plate and keep warm while you repeat this method for the remainder of the mixture. Can be eaten hot or cold.
Photo: Lemon and roast garlic pearl barley. Photograph: Karen Thomas for Observer Food Monthly