“The super-snob is the gastronomic snob. One of his greatest affections is to despise tinned food.” Ambrose Heath, Open Sesame, 1939
The early months of the year can be bleak in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables. Pickings from the garden or allotment are limited. Fortunately, supermarket shelves are stacked with imported fresh produce which means we can have strawberries in February and asparagus in November. But there are other ways to source your five-a-day that can involve fewer air miles and be just as tasty. I am of course referring to tinned and frozen food.
It’s interesting how attitudes to tinned things haven’t really changed. Heath’s comment above was made as the UK teetered on the brink of war. Food rationing was yet to be introduced and refrigeration was still a novelty in the domestic sphere. And yet certain sectors of society sneered at the prospect of eating something out of a can and still do. While products like pulses have gained a degree of acceptance (mainly because negate the long winded cooking process – no pun intended) others, like tinned fruit, are largely scorned.
I was encouraged to see Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing’s The Corner Shop Cookbook last year which embraces some of the convenience foods within our reach. Recipes like Linguine with Tinned Crab are just what you need if you are watching the pennies or even can’t be bothered to cook and prepare a crab from scratch. Not all convenience food is bad. Fruit is often packed with natural juice with no added sugar. You can also buy vegetables and pulses that aren’t excessively salted. Plus if you buy a tin of something and decide you don’t want to use it immediately it will sit happily in your cupboard for ages until you do decide to use it (unlike the quiche you fancied but never ate and is now past it’s use by date).
“My business is to make [tinned foods] palatable,” explained Heath. “And to offer my readers dishes which, by the artful combination of tinned and fresh, are in their way well worth eating, if only in honour of our modern civilisation which brings so many marvels to our board.”
And in this post I aim to do the same.
Store Cupboard Romanesco
I’ve used Pepperdew hot peppers here rather than dried chillies for a less fiery result. If you want to ramp up the heat add a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes.
- 3 cloves garlic, whole
- 25g hazelnuts
- 75g sun dried tomatoes in oil (I used smoked tomatoes from Terre à Terre)
- 8 Pepperdew hot peppers, drained
- 1 tbsp dry sherry
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- small handful of parsley (about half a 28g pack)
- ¼ tsp salt and a little pepper
- Olive oil (from the tomatoes if possible)
- A pinch or two of dried chilli flakes (opitional)
- Preheat the oven to 200℃. Place the garlic on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes then add the nuts and roast for a further 5 minutes.
- Put the nuts, garlic, dried tomatoes, hot peppers, sherry, balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper in a food processor. Add the olive oil while the motor is running. Start with 2-3 tablespoons then add more if you want a runnier consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding some dried chilli flakes for a hotter sauce.
Mango Meringue Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie was a family favourite in my childhood. I was particularly pleased when my mother made it with a biscuit base rather than in a short crust pastry case. Feel free to use a pastry case that has been baked blind first to ring the changes. The cooking time should be the same.
- 125g unsalted butter
- 250g digestive biscuits, crushed
- Zest and juice of 2 limes
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 5 medium eggs
- 425g can mango purée
- 100g caster sugar + 280g for the meringue
- A few drops of lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 140℃.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan then stir in the crushed biscuits. Line a 22cm loose bottomed tin with foil. Press the butter biscuit mix into the tin, including the sides, effectively lining it. Place in the fridge while you make the topping.
- Put the cornflour and zest into a jug. Gradually stir in the lime juice ensuring there are no lumps followed by the mango purée and 100g caster sugar. Separate three of the eggs, reserving the whites for the topping. Add the remaining 2 whole eggs to the yolks and lightly beat. Mix this into the mango and pour into the prepared case. Bake for around 1 hour until firm (it’s OK if it’s a little wobbly – it will firm up as it cools). This can be done in advance.
- Turn the oven up to 200℃ (or preheat it if you made the base in advance). To make the meringue, put 280g caster sugar in a saucepan with 75ml cold water. Cook over a high heat until the sugar syrup reaches 120℃. While the syrup is cooking put the egg whites in a food mixer with a whisk attachment along with a few drops of lemon juice. Whisk on a medium speed until you reach firm peak stage. When the syrup has reached the required temperature reduce the speed then pour the syrup in slowly. Increase the speed to maximum and continue to whisk until thick and glossy (about 2 – 3 minutes).
- Spread the meringue over the cooked base and filling. Use a spatula to make peaks. Place in a hot oven for no more than 5 minutes – 3 may be enough. You just want the peaks to take on some colour.