Three delicious dishes you can rustle up with fish from your kitchen cupboard

A three-course menu made with tinned anchovies and clams and tuna from a jar

Crostini with sun-dried tomato and anchovy, tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, and spicy clam pasta with bacon, peas and basil. Photographs: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

Crostini with sun-dried tomato and anchovy, tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, and spicy clam pasta with bacon, peas and basil. Photographs: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times

 

I’m an avid home cook, but preparing three meals a day, as many of us have been doing during lockdown, can be taxing, to say the least. Food shopping becomes an ordeal, rather than a pleasure, and the mere thought of planning ahead may seem too much.

When I’m at a loss, wondering what to cook that is appealing and relatively easy, I scan the nonperishable items in my pantry and take a glance at the fridge and freezer. Often, I come across some forgotten treasure, making a trip to the shops unnecessary.

As I rifled through the canned goods assortment recently, it occurred to me that a fish dinner was in the cards. It would not require a fishing pole or a visit to the fishmonger, just a can opener and a few other staple ingredients.

Seafood from a can doesn’t have to be survival fare. Superior preserved products are a delicacy, if your budget allows. It’s worth the investment to pay a little more for high-quality anchovies and Ventresca tuna, and a joy to find them lurking in the cupboard.

Among my bounty was a tin of anchovies, a jar of tuna fillets in oil and a couple of cans of baby clams. I also found a jar of Italian sun-dried tomatoes and a can of Spanish piquillo peppers. With a box of spaghetti, a bit of bacon and a bag of frozen peas, a stellar menu was coming together.

For a mouthwatering snack, there would be crostini, the endlessly variable Italian standby. This version would be simplicity itself: thin slices of toasted day-old baguette or ciabatta, rubbed with garlic, smeared with a dab of chopped sun-dried tomato and topped with a bit of anchovy.

I was so happy to find the piquillo peppers, bright red, roasted and peeled, ready to stuff. Every tapas bar in Spain serves them, sometimes with a filling of creamy salt cod or a slice of sheep’s milk cheese. But a clear favourite for many is piquillos with a filling of seasoned, dressed tuna. They would be my first course.

Finally, for a main course, I made a garlicky basil-parsley purée to toss with the clams and spaghetti, and kicked up the flavour with green chilli, bacon and peas. The overall effect was very bright and summery.

Of course, you could serve any of these dishes by themselves. Crostini are welcome any time drinks are served. The stuffed peppers could be served as a light lunch, and a big plate of pasta can certainly suffice for a whole meal. But having them together in one festive menu gave us time to linger at the table, enjoying companionship and discussing the complex challenges we face at this moment in time.

CROSTINI WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND ANCHOVY

Crostini with sun-dried tomato and anchovy.
Crostini with sun-dried tomato and anchovy.

If you have sun-dried tomatoes and anchovies on hand, turn to these little toasts, which are simple to assemble. The intense combination of flavours, both sweet and salty, creates an ideal savoury bite. This particular recipe makes eight crostini, enough for four polite diners to have two each before dinner. Scale up if your crowd is a bit more ravenous.

Serves four

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Ingredients
8 baguette or ciabatta slices, cut about into slices
1 garlic clove, peeled
15g chopped sun-dried tomato
4 anchovy fillets
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red-pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Flaky salt (optional)

Method
1
Toast the bread, then lightly rub each slice with the garlic clove. Just two quick swipes will make it garlicky enough.

2 Spread each toast with about 1 teaspoon sun-dried tomato, and top with half an anchovy fillet.

3 Drizzle each toast with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with red pepper and rosemary. Add a tiny bit of flaky salt and serve.

TUNA-STUFFED PEPPERS

Tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers.
Tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers.

Chopped capers, parsley, red onion, lemon zest and fruity olive oil flavour the tuna mixture that’s then spooned into these sweet peppers. A few of these make a zesty first course, served with crisp lettuce leaves and hard-cooked egg. (If piquillos are not a possibility, a jar of roasted ordinary red peppers are a good substitute.)

Serves four to six

Ingredients
200g high-quality Spanish, Italian or Irish tuna from a jar or tin
1 tbsp small capers or roughly chopped large capers
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped mint
55g celery, tender centre stalks and leaves
75g finely diced red onion or chopped spring onions
Salt and pepper
½ tsp red-pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tsp lemon zest, plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
12 piquillo peppers, from a jar
Lettuce leaves, for garnish (optional)
Hard-boiled eggs, cooked for eight minutes, for garnish (optional)

Method
1
Drain the tuna and put it in a medium mixing bowl. Use a fork to break tuna into large flakes and push to one side of the bowl.

2 Put capers, parsley, mint, celery and onions on the other side of the bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add red-pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, then stir the mixture to coat the tuna well.

3 Use a teaspoon to fill each pepper with some of the tuna mixture.

4 Arrange the stuffed peppers on lettuce leaves on a platter. Garnish with quartered or halved hard-cooked eggs sprinkled with salt. Serve at cool room temperature.

SPICY CLAM PASTA WITH BACON, PEAS AND BASIL

Spicy clam pasta with bacon, peas and basil
Spicy clam pasta with bacon, peas and basil

When you’re far from the sea or the fishmonger, you can reach for canned baby clams as they make a very decent main-course pasta ingredient. There is great variation between different brands of canned clams. Most are mild in flavour and some are not briny tasting at all. I find they always need a bit of perking up and take well to aggressive seasoning. The liquid in the cans is usually rather watery and can be discarded.

Serves four to six

Ingredients
20g basil leaves, loosely packed, plus some pretty ones reserved for garnish
20g flat leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
2 small garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
60ml, plus two tbsp extra virgin olive oil
170g bacon, cut into lardons
2 cans baby clams, drained
1 tsp finely chopped mild red chilli
Pinch of red pepper flakes
150g frozen peas, thawed
450g spaghetti
Lemon wedges

Method
1
Put the basil, parsley and garlic in a mortar or food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste and 60ml olive oil. Pound or whiz to obtain a bright green purée.

2 Put a pot of water on to boil and make it very salty. (It will boil faster with the lid on.)

3 Over medium heat, render bacon in its own fat until browned and crisp but not hard, five t eight minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off the fat but leave a small amount in the pan, just to coat the bottom.

4 Increase the heat to medium-high, add two tablespoons olive oil, the clams, chilli and red pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook for two minutes, stirring and coating the clams well. Add peas and warm through, then turn off heat.

5 Boil the pasta and cook until slightly underdone. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with clams. Turn heat to medium-high and stir all together. Add a splash of pasta water, if it seems dry. Add basil purée and toss well. Top with bacon and reserved basil leaves. Serve with lemon wedges. – New York Times.

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