If you’re anything like me, your larder is probably an eclectic mix of treasures picked up from spontaneous shopping trips.
We all have them – that forlorn bag of lentils that you used once for something creative and then promptly forgot about; that interesting spread, paste or chutney that seemed intriguing at the time and for which you now can’t think of any use; numerous grains and pulses that never seem to quite make it into a meal.
In the spirit of spring cleaning, it’s time to extend the love and care you’d give to the rest of your home to your larder. This is a great time of year to be thinking about using up those odds and ends – not only is it frugal, it will also clear out space and get you into the mindset of putting together a satisfying meal with seemingly disparate bits and bobs.
Here are some ways of using up any abandoned ingredients you might have in your larder:
Pulses and grains
One of the best uses I have found for those odds and ends in bags (bulgur wheat, lentils, beans) in the larder is Anna Jones’s vegetarian chilli recipe, though you could also use your own favourite chilli recipe. To a rich, smoky tomato sauce (also good for using up tinned tomatoes and, if you have any, smoked paprika and/or chipotle chilli paste) add your miscellaneous grains and pulses. This works best if they are all of a similar size and cooking time – I’ve successfully used a mixture of lentils, quinoa, bulgur wheat and tinned beans before. Dried beans should be soaked and boiled until nearly tender before adding. The different combination of textures makes for a wonderfully interesting chilli, even better – dare I say it – than the usual beef version.
Bottled, tinned fruit and jam
These are often given as gifts, especially around Christmas time – Morello cherries or apricots in syrup, perhaps – and they look beautiful on the larder shelves, but at some point it might be time to stop admiring and start eating. One of my favourite ways of using up almost any fruit is this delicate almond cake recipe. Incidentally, it’s also a great use for leftover egg whites from making custard or ice cream, and takes minutes to put together. You can use whole fruit pieces, or even dollops of jam that needs using up. The most successful versions I’ve made have been with cherry jam, cherries in syrup, figs in syrup, and tinned peaches, but almost any tinned fruit or jam will work. You could also try an Italian crostata, which is essentially a large jam tart. Fill a blind-baked pastry case with jam, criss-cross pastry strips over to make a lattice, then bake until the pastry is crisp and golden.
Like artichokes, peppers and olives in jars can form the basis of a delightful mezze-style dinner. Simply add some good bread (either bought or homemade), a fresh white cheese such as goat’s cheese, and perhaps a crisp green salad, and you have something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Another option is to make homemade pizza (again, you can either make your own dough or buy ready-made bases, although I would always go for the former), which will also help you to use up any passata or tomato sauce in the larder. Top with cheese and your favourite marinated vegetables for an easy meal.
Flavoured olive oils
Aside from garlic and perhaps chilli, do these ever find much use in the average kitchen? If you happen to have a lemon or orange-flavoured oil, try it in a fabulously tender olive oil cake, which also happens to be gluten-free. You could even use herb-infused oils for baking – both basil and rosemary work wonderfully in lemon cakes. This is a quick way to use up the rest of the bottle (you could also mix half-and-half with regular olive oil, to make the flavour less overpowering).
Muesli, dried fruits, nuts and cereals
They don’t need to sit around becoming increasingly sawdust-like – turn them into quick, tasty flapjacks. Simply melt 125g butter, 2 tbsp golden syrup and 125g light brown sugar together in a large pan. Add 250g mixed cereals and/or dried fruits and nuts and mix together well. Press into a greased, lined 20x20cm cake tin, score into squares with a sharp knife and bake at 180C for 15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool, cut into squares and devour. You could even drizzle them with melted chocolate to use up any odds and ends.
Another good way to use up bits of dried fruit is this breakfast compote. It’s particularly good with fresh sliced orange stirred in at the end, and spooned over hot porridge. You can use any dried fruits; a mixture of prunes, apricots, figs, raisins and dried cranberries is my favourite.
Chocolate bark helps to use up pesky bits of chocolate, plus any dried fruit, nuts and seeds you might have lying around. Simply melt all your chocolate (you can mix milk and dark) in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, then tip out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. While it is setting, sprinkle with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. When completely cool, break it into shards and devour.
That are less than crisp – we all have those couple of sad specimens left at the end of the packet – can be blitzed to crumbs, mixed with melted butter and a pinch of ginger and used to make the base for a cheesecake. You can mix different varieties to use up any packets that are taking up valuable space. This cherry cheesecake is one of my favourites, and will also help to use up any jarred cherries you might have.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.