It struck me this week that I had too little, and yet too much stuff. Too little because, once the shops started to close early, I didn’t have enough required staples to make a cup of tea (milk); too much because, even without shopping, I still threw away a large head of broccoli that had turned the sort of fetching shade of yellow that is only seen at the end of rough Channel ferry crossings. So, even though I am very careful about how much I buy (bar the odd kid-in-a-sweetshop trip to the farmers’ market) I am incapable of getting it right and avoiding waste.
Yet, thanks to WTF I am more and more aware of how little is required to make an interesting meal. Many cookery books include a list of store-cupboard ingredients; some of them are brief (Innocent‘s half a page) and some a little ridiculous (The Art of Simple Food‘s rather oxymoronic ten pages) but they all assume that you want the same thing all year round. And that you have enough room for all that stuff.
However, even in this rather disappointing British summer I have realised that there are certain things I want now (basil, lemon zest, black olives) that I won’t even think of in February. What’s more, if you keep a certain number of truly seasonal basics in the fridge you will rarely ever need to go shopping for more than one or two ingredients.
My top ten for summer are as follows: olive oil, lemons, basil, small red chillis (fresh or dried), sea salt and black pepper (I’m counting that as one…), a hard or salty cheese (so Parmesan or feta), black olives, capers, anchovies and garlic. With those things at home, and the leanest of shopping trips, you can make any of the following from the site: roasted squid, gnocchi all’oglio, herb and butter pasta, Bill Granger’s honey and lemon chicken, baked feta, courgette gratin, sweet potato salad, bagna cauda, chicken with roasted veg, puttanesca…With a few other bits (salad, eggs, flour, milk, tinned toms) you could even cut out the shopping. I find this immensely liberating; I do love food shopping but I also like the sense that, if the streets started burning again I could keep my hunger at bay for a few days or more without panicking.
Tonight, then, I am putting this into practice. I have some Cornish sardines and, with lemons, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and parsley, I’m going to have grilled sardines (you don’t need a recipe for this: de-head them if you don’t like to look at/cook the heads, slice across their flesh with a sharp knife, grill at a high temperature on both sides, either indoors or out, until the skin is crispy and the flesh is opaque) with gremolata and yesterday’s bread. Sardines are at their best at this time of year, as others have pointed out, and they are cheap, easy to buy without compromising your principles and quick. This is fast food of the loveliest order.