Imperative Stock Ingredients

In this rather glorious summer we’re having, nothing else has been realised more than how important some really good cupboard and fridge ingredients are to make a meal interesting without slaving away for too long. 

Let’s face it, whilst we are all loving the sun, it doesn’t make cooking that enjoyable especially if, like me, you have a south-west facing kitchen. The sun’s spotlight angled right at the stove and oven from 3-8pm is just a bit too much to handle when it’s already 28 degrees outside! So here’s my list of stock ingredients I suggest you to keep too:

Anchovies

At the top of my list are these incredible fishy friends! Head straight for the jars (easier storage) and don’t scrimp on the greyish looking ones - you want to go for the Italian radiant pink, fleshy fillets. Cook these on low with garlic, chilli and olive oil for a perfect umami hit for pasta, lentils or veggies. Or just lay a few on decent bread, pour over some of its oil and devour! 

N’duja

This very popular and trendy spicy pizza topping is genuinely good in EVERYTHING! Add it to roast veggies at the last minute, cheese on toast, pasta, or even have it warmed, softened and mixed into a salad. And for a real treat, add it into sausage meat for some pretty special sausage rolls…are you dribbling yet? I prefer the stuff from the cured meats section in the deli vs the jarred stuff - less oily, greater depth of flavour and bit more of a kick

Truffle oil

Sometimes you just want to feel a little fancy at home. Cue truffle oil. The infused oil is nothing to be balked at because the flavour is still as you’d expect and want from the knobbly chunks and I mean, who can casually get whole truffles to shave at home unless you’re part of the #ChappettsSearley gang? (Not jealous of their Sunday meals, not at all.) It lasts for ages too because only a few drops are needed to make that lazy ham and mushroom oven pizza that bit less lazy 

Chinese Chilli Oil

Growing up and having dim sum (or going for “yum cha”) each Sunday cemented my love and need for chilli oil in my life, always. There are so many different types in Asian supermarkets; plain, fermented shrimp, black beans, garlic, chicken flavour, the list goes on and admittedly I have a few different types because I can’t stop myself buying new ones! I add them to soba and rice noodles, dumplings, fried rice, plain rice, steamed veg, and eggs. The oil can be off-putting for the saturated fat-intake conscious but it’s full of flavour and only vegetable oil so when you spoon some out, try to get equal quantities chilli to oil. You won’t regret it. 

Toasted Sesame Seed Oil

The beauty of sesame oil is that not much is needed and you only need to add it in at the end as if it’s an afterthought. A few dribbles of the deceptively nutty stuff on warm soba noodles or mixed into a basic salad dressing makes you feel nourished and comforted instantly

Fish sauce

If you need salt but also want some more umami, go for fish sauce. Not exclusively for Thai or Vietnamese style food, add a couple of splashes to raw tomatoes or avocado on toast, into a meat or veg marinade or use as a dipping sauce for some pre-cooked or flash fried seafood. It’s a clever, easy winner every time

Cheddar / Parmesan

I’m quite sure this needs no introduction or explanation because, cheese. BUT just to re-emphasise how great it is, I added some grated extra mature cheddar into a simple bowl of pre-cooked lentils and raw spinach with some home-infused chilli olive oil and it was the perfect, moreish lunch. Cheese provides fat, saltiness and acid all in one that gives a dish a bit more backbone so it can stand on its own. Again, not that you needed persuasion. 

Citrus (lemons, oranges, limes) 

The beauty of citrus fruits is their versatility; you can use the zest, skin or juice, have them make a soft drink more interesting or on the side of a plate for optional acidity and prettiness. Using the zest is perfect when you just want the aroma without the tang, and when you want the tang (whether in salads, veg, meat or grains) there’s the juice to help cut through fats, tenderise and lighten

Chilli Flakes

Admittedly I’m a little bit of an addict when it comes to spicy food so this would have to be on the list, but I’m quite sure I’m not alone in my opinion on how great chilli flakes are. I prefer them  when added into cooking as opposed to raw, simply because their heat and spice aren’t released when cold making the heat more of a quick smack on the lips than anything else. For me these aren’t interchangeable with fresh chillies by any stretch but adding a good sprinkle into home made fried rice or olive oil as its warming for pasta saves you the chopping and the potential chilli finger-sore-eye fiasco afterwards. If you know, you know. 

Cumin (ground or whole seeds) 

Cumin is one my favourite whole spices of all time. It’s warmth and smokiness gives the comfort of a great chilli or curry despite what you’re having it on. Toasting a few cumin seeds in oil before steaming rice changes the starchy mound into more than a sauce soaker. Sprinkling ground cumin onto buttery scrambled eggs helps to cut through the fatty richness without a direct acid hit, and just rubbing the stuff into a bit of meat or oily fish before grilling, frying or baking brings an exotic vibe to the table. Easy peasy.