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How to eat well through a lockdown

Publisher - Great British Food Awards
published by

NatashaLS

Mar 13, 2020
13 minutes to read
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Has there ever been a less appetising word than stockpile? A few simple tips will make staple foods positively sing, and make self-isolation a little more bearable, says Anna Blewett

The news, if you’re still following developments, is grim. A curve of coronavirus cases is approaching and a Italy-style lockdown seems (depending on where you get your analysis) inevitable. But entering a period of self-isolation needn’t mean embracing horrid tinned meats and generic dried carbs. Here’s how to keep morale high when fresh ingredients run low.

Dress up tinned foods

It’s time to look afresh at what you have. If canned chickpeas always get blitzed for houmous, try pan-frying them with a pinch of spice, saving the water (or aquafaba) to replace egg whites in anther recipe. Always feed baked beans to the kids? Add a generous dash of smoked paprika and top with pan-fried chorizo for a more grown-up option.

“I’m originally from Anguilla, a tiny island in the Caribbean which is prone to hurricanes,” says Kerth Gumbs, head chef at Ormer in Mayfair.

“When I was growing up, I would always have to get creative during lock downs and while the supermarkets stocks were low due to people panic buying.” Kerth recommends sharpening up a tin of tuna with a few drops of Tabasco, a little chopped onion, mayo, lemon juice a pinch of punchy white pepper. “Cupboard essentials do not have to be dull and tasteless!” he insists.

When in doubt: potatoes

Carbs are essential comfort through any crisis, and fortunately constitute a category that British cuisine excels at. “There is nothing more simple or comforting than the great roast potato,” says Harvey Aylifee, the executive chef across Bluebird Chelsea & White City (Bluebirdrestaurant.co.uk). Harvey’s tip is to add garlic and herbs to a pan of par-boiling spuds. Meanwhile Jack Monroe (AKA a Girl Called Jack), always a great source culinary reassurance in tough times, has plenty to say on the matter of eating well in a crisis. Her tinned potato gnocchi recipe may have been written for times of financial hardship, but it’s also ideal lockdown fare for when fresh spuds have turned green. Find her recipes at cookingonabootstrap.com.

Embrace the pasta

If you live to eat, the thought of dehydrated starch can feel rather bleak. Au contraire: these hearty, glutenous staples are the perfect canvasses for simple additions. “Anything like dried pasta or rice can really be brought to life with fresh herbs and a little vinaigrette,” says chef Nick Alvis, who worked for Gordon Ramsey for 15 years and is now chef patron at Folly by Nick & Scott in Dubai. “You get the fragrant, vibrant lift from soft green herbs like basil or chervil, then a little acidic kick from the vinegar blended with a light olive oil. Some chopped fresh chilli will also take a dish to new heights without over complicating the flavours.”

Optimise fresh veg

Planning to boil or steam your fresh vegetables? What a monumental waste. Your freezer is the place to source side servings – broad beans, garden peas and more. The bounty from your veg box or salad drawer can work harder for your palate and health if simply stored away in brine for a few weeks.

Lacto-fermented veg is the answer to nearly every problem: a long-life source of fibre and vitamins that contributes to your immune-supporting gut microbiome and – crucially – creates a spectrum of flavours from sour and salty to mushroomy and cheesy. Some even fizz; pure magic.

Emma Winterschladen recommends “pickles of all sorts: beetroot, gherkins, onions, and kimchi,” plus flavour-packed gochujang and miso to transform veg ready for fermentation.

Think outside the box

Out walking the dog and generally escaping the crowds? The timing’s right to find a real flavour bomb in the woods. “A seasonal favourite would be to head out foraging for some wild garlic,” says Tom Williams-Hawkes, chef director at The Salutation Inn in Devon.

“This can be cooked from fresh, chopped into butter or made into a vat of pesto that can be added to anything for bags of flavour – it freezes really well too.” Closer to home, the chickweed, dandelion and ground elder colonising flower borders and veg plots can also supplement your salad drawer. As with all foraged foods, it’s key to make sure identification is 100% accurate.

Stock up on gorgeousness

Whether you’re a natural at squirrelling away treats for a rainy day, or need to get a bit more proactive with the store cupboard shopping, small tubs of loveliness can transform a simple dish into a feast. So what should be filling your online basket? “Anchovies, olives, rose harrisa, fennel seeds, herby breadcrumbs kept in the freezer and preserved lemons,” says restaurant PR Hannah Blake. “And marmite. I have enough marmalade to last a nuclear fallout.”

Food writer and blogger Kathy Slack agrees. “I’d also add green tomato (or any homemade) chutney to that,” she says. “And a loose-set hedgerow jam, to be stirred into yogurt, or spooned over rice pudding or vanilla ice cream: reaping the rewards of a September spent preserving the harvest. Oh and Nutella, but that probably goes without saying.”

Forget food snobbery

Dd you know the vast majority of cappuccinos and lattes served in Italy’s world-renowned cafés are made with UHT milk? Or that plenty of chefs flavour stock cubes over a homemade bouillon? Taking a nuts and bolts approach to building meals doesn’t mean missing out on spectacular flavour, so it’s time to think like a student. “Make a large batch of mince which you can then incorporate into multiple freezer-worthy meals including spaghetti bolognese, cottage pie, lasagne and moussaka,” advises Liam Dillon, head chef and owner of The Boat Inn Lichfield.

Keep your base mix deliberately plain – just seared beef mince and caramelised onions – for maximum versatility. Desserts, too, can benefit from a pragmatic attitude.

“Canned fruit is a key kitchen cupboard staple,” says nutritionist Lily Soutter, who has been working with Princes to help shoppers get the best from their store cupboards. “You won’t be compromising on taste and quality by swapping in tinned fruit with juice instead of fresh fruit.”

Go completely off piste

Is it any coincidence that so many of our planet’s most enduring dishes are historically categorised as ‘peasant food’? Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, so your kitchen’s finest hour could be upon us.

“Savoury porridge is so underrated,” says food photographer Nick Hook. “Cook oats in beef stock maxed out with marmite, wholegrain mustard and a parmesan rind (it’s handy to chuck the ends in the freezer as you go). Finish the dish with grated cheese, ricotta [if available] and a little salted butter. I like to add cubes of potato cooked in beef stock, Parmesan and chilli oil, as well as the last of a heart of a little gem lettuce for crunch.”

Who knows, you could emerge from this episode having invented a dish your ancestors will be writing about or generations to come.

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