Does your pantry need a spring clean?

What’s the secret to clearing out your food cupboards and getting inspired about cooking again?
Ben, Exeter

With spring here – picnics! People! Pubs! – it’s time to blow away the cobwebs of the past 12 months and start afresh. And the best way to give those cupboards a clearout is, of course, with a handful of recipes.

No one understands this more than our perfectionist Felicity Cloake, who finds a surfeit of an ingredient oppressive. “I don’t like things building up and, as you can imagine with my job, they do build up,” she sympathises. It sounds simple enough, but an audit of what you’ve got can offer relief. “Even if everything is out on a shelf, you still tend to miss things at the back, so I put my beans and pulses in glass jars and then make a concerted effort to make that pile of jars smaller.”

The same applies to dried herbs and spices, says Rukmini Iyer, author of The Roasting Tin Around the World. “Having everything neatly categorised in boxes and labelled – Mexican, south-east Asian, chillies, stock – can be really helpful.” In short: get organised, really look at what you’ve got, then formulate a plan of attack.

If dried beans are in play, get them in water and soak overnight, says Jeremy Lee, head chef of Quo Vadis in London. The next morning, trawl the fridge for carrots, onions and celery to chop up and put in a pan with peeled garlic, herbs, bacon (if you fancy) and the soaked beans, then cover with water. “Put in the oven and leave on a gentle heat for the rest of the day,” Lee says. “You’ll then have a brilliant pan of beans to which you can add a ton of beautiful spring green vegetables or serve with roast lamb, pork chops or a pan of sausages, which I suspect Ben has in his freezer.”

Iyer goes with the grain, cooking odds and ends (think pearl barley, bulgur wheat) in stock to pop in the fridge for future WFH lunches. She bolsters with roasted veg, chickpeas, a spoonful of yoghurt or handful of chopped herbs and nuts. “Having a carby base ready means you’ve got some really quick meals.”

Fried rice is another of Iyer’s go-tos for combating leftovers. She fries near-empty packets of nuts in butter, then adds cooked rice and vegetables, plenty of salt and tops with an egg (or lightly scrambles one through). Lee, however, looks to Madhur Jaffrey and pilafs. “There’s an amazing recipe in which you pound parsley, mint and shallots, then stir that into the rice and steam it,” he says. “It’s wonderful as a support for broad beans, artichokes and peas.”

After months of endless cooking, it’s unsurprising Ben is finding inspiration hard to come by. In the same boat, Iyer set about rediscovering her cookbooks: “I’ve been taking a stack off the shelf every weekend and going through them with sticky notes, then putting something new on rotation.” Variety is, after all, the spice of life. But, Cloake adds, “Don’t go for the first thing you think of. Do something unexpected, because it’s likely to be more fun.”


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