With everyone being locked inside right now, more of us are being forced to cook – even on those lazy days when we really can’t be bothered. Takeaways are limited, restaurants are a no-go and it’s hard to justify queuing 45 minutes at the supermarket for a microwave burrito, so we don’t have a whole lot of options…
Being at the mercy of your own kitchen comes with plenty of downfalls. Not only do you have to muster up the energy to cook every. single. night. (seriously, what the hell is that about?), but we’re also having to deal with the fact that our shopping trips are restricted and you never know what will actually be available on the shelves once you get there. It’s really put “making the most of what you’ve got” to the test, food-wise.
I’m lucky that I enjoy cooking and find the kitchen a creative space; it’s a distraction for me, really. I’ve had fun rummaging through the cupboards, trying to figure out what we can do with the most basic store cupboard ingredients, and I thought it was about time I shared a few ideas with you all – and I’m starting with one of my favourites! If you’re looking for inspiration on what to do with that old tin of chopped tomatoes gathering dust on the back of the shelf, look no further…
1. Quick spaghetti bolognese
It’s the obvious choice, but you literally can’t go wrong with a heap of delicious spaghetti in a sweet tomato sauce topped with a shaving of cheese. The most popular way to make spag bol is with beef mince, but you can use lamb mince, soy mince, or replacement vegetables such as lentils – whatever you’ve got at home!
I make mine with a veggie mince alternative – all it takes is frying off a little onion and garlic, adding the mince (or your weapon of choice) and sliced mushrooms, followed by a cheap tin of chopped tomatoes. Then simply season with a crumbled stock cube, a dash of tomato puree, mixed herbs, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper and combine with spaghetti until it transforms into that delicious hug in a bowl – i.e. spag bol.
2. Winter stew
You can whip up a super quick stew (yes, there is such a thing) using nothing but the humble chopped tomato as a base. The best thing about this sort of meal is that you can use literally anything – I’ve made this using black beans and sweet potato, chicken and root vegetables, and even a random array of canned and frozen veg that happened to be around.
For the sake of lockdown, I’d suggest going for the latter – grab your unwanted tins of sweetcorn, kidney beans and baby carrots, along with that squashed-down, half-empty packet of Birds Eye Mixed Vegetables in the bottom of the freezer, throw the lot into a pan or slow cooker with chopped tomatoes, 200ml of stock and a little seasoning (whatever you have – I like using garlic, thyme, marjoram, paprika, chilli flakes, salt and pepper in mine) and cook down for 20-30 minutes.
3. Chickpea chilli
Chickpeas are always knocking about in my kitchen and, given how quickly they disappeared from the supermarket shelves at the start of all this, it makes sense that there are a lot of unwanted chickpeas kicking around in other people’s kitchens up and down the country right now.
I’m a big fan of chilli – especially making my own random versions depending on how bothered I can be or what I have to hand. Sometimes, that’s chickpea chilli. Rinse off the chickpeas and cook them in a pan with onions, peppers, kidney beans and, you guessed it, chopped tomatoes, along with a generous dose of paprika, cinnamon, cumin and chilli. I like to pile my chilli on top of steaming hot jacket potatoes with a handful of cheese and sour cream, my boyfriend prefers to carb-load with a mountain of rice – go with your heart.
4. Patatas bravas (sort of)
Okay, so I probably don’t make this quite right. Patatas bravas is a traditional Spanish tapas dish, and I make some sort of version of it using what I have in my kitchen. I also make it into a larger portion because I’m greedy and tapas is too small for my liking – unless someone else is cooking it, obviously.
All you need is potatoes and chopped tomatoes – couldn’t be simpler, right? I like to throw in some chopped onions and serve it up on a bed of greens as well, but that’s totally your call. Simply chop the potatoes into cubes and roast in the oven until crispy – in the meantime, simmer the chopped tomatoes for around 10 to 15 minutes with some garlic, paprika, chilli, salt and pepper. That’s all there is to it, and you’ve got a lightly spiced dish with very little effort.
5. Vegetable soup
I know tins of soup were at the top of everyone’s shopping list as soon as whisperings of lockdown started, because it’s a classic, right? If you’re cold, if you’re sick, if you’re feeling a little down… there isn’t much that a bowl of soup can’t solve. I firmly believe that being able to find comfort in the time it takes to microwave a tin of Heinz tomato soup is a blessing, but if your local store is sold out or you just fancy making your own, chopped tomatoes go a long way.
Fry off some onions and garlic, add a litre of stock and literally any vegetables you want – seriously, anything will do – along with a tin of chopped tomatoes, then season (I’m using cumin, coriander, mixed herbs, salt and pepper, with an optional dash of English mustard and tomato puree) and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Cool, blitz in a blender and then heat as and when you want! You can freeze it, keep it in the fridge, batch cook it, reheat it (safely, of course) – it’s the perfect lockdown recipe.