Getting home late and hungry, only to find bare cupboards and the fridge empty aside from some old lettuce leaves and dribble of ketchup, is no fun for anyone. But, there is a way to avoid this depressing predicament.

In Zimbabwe-born, and now Bristol-based, Claire Thomson’s cookbook, The Art Of The Larder, the chef shares her thoughts and ideas for building up a store cupboard of ingredients – so never again will you be able to say, ‘There’s nothing to eat’.

The chef behind @5oclockapron believes anyone can cook, you just need the supplies to get you started. “It’s about understanding ingredients and having everything in your store cupboard, then you’re able to cook with greater ease and confidence,” she explains. “That doesn’t have to equate to expensive or esoteric [ingredients], it just needs to be your everyday pulses, pasta, noodles, rice, jarred goods. Your larder needs to encompass all those things that mean, when you get back from work at half five, six o’clock in the evening, you can cook something from anything.”

 

We’re ready! @porteliotfestival #cookingforkids come & say hello 💕

A post shared by Claire Thomson (@5oclockapron) on

Top tips for stocking your larder

Here are her top tips on what to stock up on…

You can’t beat pasta

“Pasta and noodles are brilliant, they’re the quick thrifty food that can be made into a meal in minutes – you can go anywhere with them. My thing with pasta is often that I should be able to make the sauce in the time it takes for the pasta to cook.”

Almost any meal can be bulked out with pulses

“Pulses are a brilliant thing, really cheap – you can go salads, soups, stews… endless possibilities.”

Grains are fundamental too – but be adventurous with which ones you buy and use

“Rice, lentils and flours – I’m all about diversity, buy little and often. You don’t have to buy these great big sacks of flour, just buy a flour, understand its properties and then move on.”

 

Buy little and often

“Lots and lots and lots of ingredients isn’t good cooking husbandry. As a chef, you’re encouraged to cook and use stuff with zero waste and use ingredients well and wisely – use them up and move on. If you have loads of stuff on your shelves, sell-by dates on packets do work; for instance, pasta should be used within three months of opening because it can become brittle and cook unevenly.”

Consider your fridge and freezer an extension of your larder

“Frozen spinach is a wonderful thing, it’s like frozen peas, it retains its nutrients. Fresh spinach can be difficult to come by, but frozen spinach you get quite a high yield for quite a small amount of money – chuck that in curries with coconut milk and you’ve got a really great supper.”

Tinned things can really perk up a meal

“I don’t eat a lot of fish, but the fish I do eat tends to be sardines and mackerel, because they’re more sustainable options. Tinned sardines are brilliant – tinned sardines with fennel leaves, spaghetti and breadcrumbs and lemon and chilli flakes, it’s really delicious.”

 

 

Don’t forget the sweet stuff

“Molasses, maple syrup, golden syrup and honey! I’m OK with using a bit of sugar from time to time because when I do bake, it’s a treat.”

Never be without your favourite ingredients

Claire says she couldn’t live without: “Olive oil, lentils, tinned tomatoes, lemons and garlic.”

Have a system for organising your ingredients, so you can find what you need easily

“I don’t have a huge pretentious, Downton Abbey-style larder,” Claire explains, before describing her narrow Victorian kitchen and its bespoke shelves. “I have one shelf for grains, one for pasta and noodles etc, and I keep my ingredients in plastic boxes with lids and labels – all chefs love a sharpie and a roll of masking tape! Slap on the masking tape and label what each thing is.”

The Art Of The Larder by Claire Thompson, photography Mike Lusmore, is published by Quadrille.

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