WHEN IT’S OK TO CHEAT
It’s a familiar scenario. You arrive home from work and stare into the abyss that is your pantry, wondering what you can make for dinner. For some inspiration, ANGELA SAURINE asked top chefs and cooks to share their best tips and tricks for transforming t
In today’s frenetic world, it can be all too tempting to order UBEREATS if you haven’t had the chance to visit the supermarket. But if you are smart about the ingredients you buy, and how you prepare them, you can always create a little culinary magic with what you already have.
Australia’s best chefs and food experts have plenty of advice on making the most of the items already in your freezer and cupboard. Here are their top tips for pantry alchemy.
The restaurateur behind Glass Brasserie in Sydney and Salt Grill in Surfers Paradise always has eggs in the fridge.
“If you have eggs then you can create a meal,” he says. “I’ll use them to cook up a quick frittata or omelette. Throw in some leftover vegies, herbs and feta cheese. Toss together a quick green salad and serve it with tomato chutney.”
Or you can use a fried egg to bulk up another dish, like fried rice with hot sauce or mie goreng.
“Freeze items that thaw quickly like crab meat and peas, to create a quick pasta dish,” continues Mangan. “I also freeze ripe bananas for smoothies, and I’ll freeze soup portions in winter.”
TV presenter, cookbook author and Italian native Silvia Colloca is passionate about cucina povera, or “peasant cooking”.
“It’s the principle of Italian home cooking where a little bit goes a long way,” she says. “Any leftover can be turned into something new.”
In her delicious. on Sunday meal plan this week, Colloca creates an appetising bruschetta using canned tuna, turns cannellini beans into a salad, and makes quinoa a showstopping dish. Stale bread, meanwhile, can be used to make a pangrattato to top off a simple pasta, adding crunch and flavour, or to create a hearty panzanella salad.
If Alastair Mcleod needs to turn around a home-cooked meal in a flash he can do it with just three ingredients: miso, butter and pasta.
He boils the pasta in salty water, cooks the miso and butter in a pan using water from the pasta to make a sauce, and seasons with black pepper.
In fact, miso paste has many applications beyond Japanese cuisine. Use it sparingly to pump up the flavour of any dish. For example, rub 1 tbs of miso paste over a steak as a quick marinade and then char the meat on the barbecue.
The Ready Steady Cook regular and Queensland Weekender presenter also cooks double the amount of rice that he needs in order to make fried rice for the following night’s dinner.
If he’s strapped for time, delicious. on Sunday food editor Warren Mendes always turns to pasta.
“You don’t need a million ingredients for a satisfying pasta, or fresh ingredients for that matter,” he says. “Add punchy elements like anchovies, garlic, olive oil, capers and you have a pretty decent, quick meal.”
Mendes says puff pastry shouldn’t just be reserved for desserts.
“Pop a frozen sheet in a hot oven (about 220 º C) and top with any vegetables you have, goat’s cheese and herbs and you’ve made a free-form savoury tart.”
Mendes also always makes sure he has some parmesan in the fridge.
“Never throw away your parmesan rinds,” he adds. “Wrap them up and keep them in the freezer.
“Added to pasta sauces, braises or stocks, they pack a umami punch and will help season a meal without much effort.”
Ice cube trays are one of the most under-utilised items in kitchens, says Melbourne chef and former Conviction Kitchen star Ian Curley. “When you have excess servings of cooked vegetables like roasted pumpkin or sweet potato, don’t throw them out, freeze them,” he says. One transferred to a freezer tray, the vegetables can be reheated as small portions for kid’s meals, or added to a stir-fry. “Spinach is very bulky when fresh, but once cooked down it becomes very compact and freezes well, ready to be added to the pan straight from the freezer,” he adds.
As well as always having ingredients for pasta in the cupboard, chef Danielle Alvarez from Sydney restaurant Fred’s, admits buying par-cooked brown rice.
“I love brown rice but it takes so long to cook that those packages really help to get something nutritious on the table swiftly,” she says. “A fast stir-fry or steamed with any little bits of vegies I have, toasted nori and a fried egg with chilli sauce can make something appetising super quickly.”
If there is one thing VietnameseAustralian chef Luke Nguyen always has in his freezer, it’s pho broth. “You cook a lot of it and instead of having instant noodles you have a nice broth that’s a healthy, light dish.” Nguyen, whose restaurants include Red Lantern in Sydney and Fat Noodle in Sydney and Brisbane, says green Asian staples, such as choy sum, last longer than other vegetables. Wrap leafy vegetables in damp tea towels before storing in the crisper to extend freshness. “I would toss the Asian greens with something in the pantry that keeps forever – fermented bean curds. Good quality shrimp paste also keeps well in the fridge, and you only need a small amount to add a great deal of flavour to a dish. Something like that with a bit of rice goes a long way.”
While Matt Moran prefers to use fresh ingredients as much as possible, he does freeze produce from time to time. The Great Australian Bake Off judge, whose restaurants include ARIA in Sydney and Brisbane, saves the tops and bottoms of vegetables and freezes them in a container.
“I don’t believe in being wasteful and they come in handy when I want to make the next batch of stock, soup or braises,” he says. “When it comes to pantry staples, my household always stocks legumes, pasta, baking basics, spices and seasonings,” he says.
Moran advises storing ingredients correctly so that they last longer. For example, keep avocadoes or bananas in the fridge to slow the ripening process.
Canned chickpeas are Scott Pickett’s number one go-to pantry item.
“They’re great for making a quick dip at home and they are always perfectly cooked and ready to be poured with some tahini, lemon juice and olive oil for a great snack,” says the chef, whose Melbourne restaurants include Estelle Bistro and Saint Crispin. For an instant bar nibble, fry chickpeas in a little oil, tossed with salt and spices.
Frozen prawns are the key ingredient when it comes to last-minute meals for David Whitting. The executive chef at Bistro Remy at The Langham Sydney loves to make pasta with pumpkin and prawns he’s cooked on the barbecue. His other go-to is a prawn laksa.
“I keep a homemade laksa paste portioned in the freezer that’s ready to add to the pan,” he says. “I add a stick of lemongrass and some coconut milk from the pantry and then the prawns at the last minute. I then take some rice noodles from the pantry, soak them in the bowl and pour the hot liquid over the top. Garnish with bean shoots and some coriander from the garden.”
Anyone who knows Matt Preston, Masterchef judge and delicious. on Sunday columnist, knows that he is a major exponent of hacks. His most unusual is for a two ingredient cake involving self-raising flour and melted vanilla ice cream – available on delicious.com.au.
Preston also suggests freezing ingredients that can be used as flavour bombs. “Fresh bay leaves, curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves defrost in no time, and can be used to enliven a soup, curry or stir-fry,” he says.
Cured meats, like speck and pancetta, have long shelf lives in the fridge and add flavour to pastas, soups and more. “Fry them off with onions and let the fat render to offer savoury notes to the dish,” he adds.