Words by Katy Hofstede-Smith
“The first couple of months of the year always seem to drag by and dare I say it, seem slightly dull. Everyone appears to be struggling to stay on their new year diet/vice avoidance or are money saving to replenish the post-Christmas coffers, and to top it all, in the food world we have the hunger gap. Yes, in this day in age you can pretty much buy what you want when you want if you’re happy to pay over the odds and accept artificially ripened global travellers onto your plate, but for those of us that care more about flavour as well as those aforementioned coffers, the tinned aisles can become your greatest friend. These aisles offer a plethora of staple ingredients, tinned quickly at their best to preserve flavour and provide maximum convenience, win win.
Tinned fish is a fantastic way to increase your omega 3 oils, something that we could all benefit from upping, and the tinning process makes the bones edible, providing calcium. Tinned mackerel can be mixed through with some crème fraiche, a little horseradish and some chopped parsley to make a very quick and tasty pâté, perfect for a working lunch or light supper, or mixed through mashed potato with some capers to make delicious fishcakes.
I love sardines grilled on bread with a little salt, but that may be slightly too strong a flavour for most! Cooked down with sweet tomatoes (tinned obviously!), peppers and onions make a delicious pasta sauce. Alternatively, to create a dish slightly more suited to our British palates, swap them into the Swedish dish, Jansson’s temptation. This is more commonly made with anchovies, but the combination of sardines, onions, potatoes and cream is very comforting on a miserable late winter night.
Chickpeas and beans have to be one of the other go to groups for tin savvy chefs. Mix chickpeas with tomatoes, middle eastern spices and yoghurt for a mezze dish, or take them in an Indian direction and serve with a pile of warm chapatis. Cannellini beans can be heated through and blitzed into a smooth purée, which sits perfectly alongside good quality sausages, a tomato-based stew, grilled vegetables or fish.
One of my go-to easy supper dishes is a sausage and cannellini bean stew which tastes even better reheated the following morning with fried eggs. When it comes to beans, there can’t be many things more comforting than baked beans on toast. However, with the high sugar and salt content of many brands, making your own is by far the best and tastiest way. Add in smoked paprika or some spicy chorizo, mix up the beans, add in chilli if you are a fan or some other spices such as cumin and coriander, and take this dish to a whole new level.
An area that I don’t tend to venture into as much as I should is tinned fruit and this is a huge failing on my part. Tinned fruits retain a lot of their nutrients, often those we lack in the winter months and while most fruits lose some of their texture in the process, this makes them all the better for cooking with and using creatively. Tinned cherries or berries can be added to a sauce to pair with game, duck or lamb, or blitzed into a compote to add to yoghurt or porridge for breakfast, or mixed through a smoothie.
Tinned fruits work fantastically baked into a crumble – pineapple, peaches and pears all cook down to a delicious thick fruit layer. Pears cooked in a pastry case with a simple frangipane never fails to please and who can resist the best of school puddings – pineapple upside down cake! In fact, maybe it’s time to bring back the anything upside down cake; peach, cherry, mango, lychee…I’m off to raid my tin cupboard, happy cooking.”