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Friday, 1 October 2010

My top 5 hero products

A little while ago I posted a recipe for pappardelle with peas and beans, but was unable to remember the brand of pasta that I had used to create this particularly delectable dish.  Well, I was in Waitrose, I mean the John Lewis Foodhall, the other day and saw an elegant box of Filotea pappardelle, which is the brand that I  deployed so successfully.  I reckon it'd be great with a homemade pesto or with a meaty ragu.  It's a available here.

Thinking about how I would incorporate that information on to the blog got me thinking about the store cupboard/fridge essentials that I wouldn't or couldn't be without.  Here they are:

1.  Expensive jars of marinated artichokes.

I remember when I was a student seeing people buying these in Sainsbury's on Sidney Street and thinking: "What on earth!  FOUR QUID for a jar of preserved vegetables!  Get OUT OF TOWN!"  But then I got a job and started buying them.  Now I use them in pasta dishes (with roasted aubergines, diced fresh tomato, pine nuts and basil), on pizza, and as an alternative to olives with an aperitif.  The other day I also added a few chopped up preserved artichokes to peas that I was braising with garlic, white wine and vegetable stock.  They were delicious. 

2.  Breadcrumbs

Folk who are able to do meat cookery will probably have cause to use fresh breadcrumbs more often than I do because they'll use them in stuffings and that.  I use toasted breadcrumbs to scatter over pasta dishes, and coat fish- and bean-cakes with dried breadcrumbs (NOT the gross out yellow crumbs that are clearly nothing to do with bread).

3.  Frozen spinach

Oh my!  Frozen spinach is one of my favourite things!  Not to eat plain and unadorned you understand, but to have in my freezer.  When I've got a stash in I know I am going to be able to create such wondrous things as saag paneer, spinach and feta pie, and cannelloni.  I'm sure I should defrost the spinach before I use it, but, truth be told, I never do. It seems to withstand the extra cooking that is necessary to ensure that the excess water cooks off. 

To make my spinach pie I fry two big cloves of garlic, grated, in a lot of olive oil, before adding the frozen spinach (about 400g, weighed frozen), a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a bunch of salt.  I cover and let cook for about 10 minutes.  After the spinach is all melted, I uncover to let the water evaporate off (about 10 minutes more).  I then roll out a block of shop-bought puff pastry into a square that's about 0.5mm thick.  I place it in a square baking tin (measuring about 17cm by 17cm - the pastry will be way too big, but that's fine) and pile the cooked spinach in.  I cover with about 100g of feta cheese, a good glug of olive oil and a bit of chopped dilll.  Then I fold the edges of the pie up, brush the top with egg yolk, and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes.  This is delicious served with a simple, thick tomato sauce.

4.  Parmesan

Need I say more?  Anyone who associates with vegetarians is going to appreciate the need for an umami kick when chowing down on yet another supper based on chickpeas.

5.  Plain yoghurt

If you've got plain yoghurt in the house you'll always have a quick sauce or raita available to you.  I used to think that Greek yoghurt was the only yoghurt that I could palate, but then I gained 20 pounds and realised that I needed to back off things that were more than 10% fat.  So now I use Yeo Valley natural yoghurt, which is mild and tart, without being distressingly acidic.  I use yoghurt in everything, including baking.  It's really great in pastry (see the plum tart recipe here) and in scones and pancake batters.

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