I have discovered that in a crisis, I am good at feeding people. I can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at the drop of a hat. I love opening the press to see what’s in it when the fridge has let me down. Give a man a few tins of butter beans and he can conquer the world.
I have a dinky little book called Cupboard Love by a man called Tom Norrington-Davies, who cooked at the legendary Eagle in Farringdon, which was London’s first gastropub. I love the title and I love his ethos, sometimes good things are right under your nose.
This week, I’m cooking from my own cupboard. I hope it doesn’t come across as glum and frugal. Cooking by its nature is hopeful and we all need some hope at the moment. A bit of magic can be created with everyday things. Andy Warhol did it with tins of soup and you can do it too, in a simpler way, without the fame, notoriety and fortune, perhaps.
I’m a big fan of traybakes. They’re just easy and sensible. I’m also a champion of fennel. It’s grossly under-appreciated. We’re just not used to cooking with it. I love it raw in the height of summer, but roasting it just makes its aniseedy loveliness shine. It becomes mellow and sweet. The butter beans add some easy heft and soak up all the other fantastic flavours in the tray.
A tin of tomatoes can become something deep and complex. This mozzarella dish is based on the tomato sauce I make at home all the time. The pairing with chickpeas is obvious, and the mozzarella adds cream and comfort. The orange brings everything together.
These flatbreads are pukka. I'm using that word because it belongs to the man who came up with them originally, Jamie Oliver. They are so easy and the simplicity encourages people to make them. In adapting the recipe, I add a bit of lemon zest to my version. I'm using crab and avocado with them here – it's a little bit posh, but these could also accompany a curry, or a simple smear of wild garlic butter would lift them into the stars.
CHICKEN, BUTTER BEAN AND FENNEL BAKE
Ingredients 8 chicken thighs, skin removed 4 tbsp olive oil 2 large red onions, peeled and quartered 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and quartered 1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed 1 packet (125g) bacon lardons 8 cloves garlic, left in the skin 2 sprigs rosemary 250ml cream (optional) Squeeze lemon juice Salt and pepper
1 Preheat your oven to 185 degrees, or equivalent.
2 Put the chicken on a roasting tray with the olive oil and cook for 15 minutes.
3 Add the onions, fennel, garlic, bacon and rosemary.
4 Turn everything together and place back in the oven for another 20 minutes, turning once or twice more.
5 Add the butter beans and the cream, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put back in the oven for a further five minutes, until golden and bubbling.
6 Serve with new potatoes.
MOZZARELLA WITH CHICKPEAS, TOMATOES AND BASIL
Ingredients 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tin chopped tomatoes ½ a chicken or veg stock cube ½ tsp smoked paprika A little squeeze of honey 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed 1 orange, peeled and sliced 4 mozzarella balls Fresh basil Salt and pepper
1 Gently fry the garlic in the olive oil.
2 When it starts to colour, add the chopped tomatoes, stock cube, smoked paprika and honey.
3 Cook gently for 10 minutes before adding the chickpeas. Season and reserve.
4 To serve, place two slices of orange at the bottom of each plate.
5 Tear open the mozzarella and lay it on top
6 Spoon the warm chick pea mixture over each of the mozzarella balls.
7 Drizzle a little olive oil over the top, followed by some torn basil.
FLUFFY CRAB AND AVOCADO FLATBREADS
Ingredients For the flatbreads 350g natural yoghurt 350g self-raising flour plus a little extra for dusting A pinch of salt 1 tsp baking power Zest of ½ a lemon 2 tbsp olive oil For the topping 100g picked crabmeat 2 ripe avocados ½ a red chilli finely diced Juice of one lime Sprigs of coriander Salt and pepper
1 For the flatbreads, mix the yoghurt, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest together until it becomes a dough.
2 Cover the dough with cling film and let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting into eight even pieces.
3 On a floured surface, press the dough into half centimetre (thickness) rounds.
4 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan until it is gently smoking and cook the flatbreads for three minutes on either side, until golden and puffy.
5 Drain them on kitchen towel and keep warm.
6 Crush the avocados with the lime, chilli, salt and pepper.
7 Spoon this, and some of the crabmeat, on top of the warm flatbreads and garnish with a few coriander leaves.