Look to the cupboard for inspiration

Every so often, though not often enough, I assess what's on the shelves in my kitchen and figure out ways to get the bounty into our meals.

A quick look recently revealed canned tuna, tomatoes and beans; boxes of pasta and couscous; rice, polenta, multiple bottles of marinades, and even packets of seasoning for tacos and slow-cooker dishes.

The freezer held promise, too. In the icy depths were treasures to be unearthed, or at least thawed and cooked. Bags and boxes of frozen vegies, and even chicken, pork and sausage can be put to good use.

I am no food hoarder, but I often take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free offers on items such as pasta sauces, canned tomatoes, olive oil, salad dressings, tuna, mayonnaise, bacon, frozen meatballs and butter. I have to stop myself sometimes, knowing I already have three jars of pasta sauce in the pantry and that the deals come around frequently.

To save on groceries and to use up my stores, I took inventory of what I had and came up with some recipes to match, enough to get us through the work week. My plan required a stop at the store to pick up vegetables and other perishables, but the weekly bill was much less.

Canned tuna

Good for tuna melts (in a pan or under the grill as an open-face treat) or tuna pasta casserole, which uses up a box of bow-tie pasta. I prepare a simple version by making a sauce from two small tubs of Boursin cheese with herbs, loosened with some of the hot pasta water. Mix cooked pasta into sauce, then add two cans of drained tuna and a handful of peas and heat through. Simple, and my people love it. Plus, there are always leftovers to take for lunch.

Frozen spinach

The uses for chopped frozen spinach are nearly endless, so we have plenty of "Florentined" meals at our house. From omelettes to quiches, soups to baked dips, frozen spinach brings the nutrition and flavour. It can also be used in lasagne, casseroles, frittatas, pizza and stuffed shells. Thaw and squeeze out as much water as you can before using; otherwise, your finished dish will be runny.

Canned beans

I make a simple soup of chicken broth, white beans, sliced sausage and fresh spinach. There are so many varieties of beans that can add flavour and bulk to soups and stews.

Canned tomatoes

A home cook should never be without cans of diced tomatoes, which can augment soups, stews and chilli, but are also excellent for pasta sauces and meatloaf. I brown boneless, skinless chicken thighs, then let them simmer with seasoned diced tomatoes. Once the chicken gets tender, I serve it over egg noodles.

Rice and couscous

Couscous is an amiable partner with mint, cucumber, diced tomatoes and feta cheese dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Rice - white or brown - is versatile as a salad component.

Frozen fruit

A bag of blueberries, one of peaches and another of mixed fruit stare at me in the freezer door each time I open it. I know they all last in there, but not forever. I can add them to an apple crumble or they are delicious in smoothies. Because the fruit is frozen, I don't need ice. 

BAKED CHICKEN WITH WHITE BEANS AND TOMATOES

Ingredients

6 bacon slices, cut into 2cm pieces

4 large chicken thighs with skin and bone

Salt and pepper

2 medium onions, chopped

400g can stewed tomatoes including juice

2 x 400g cans small white beans, rinsed and drained

Method

■Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 180 degrees. 

■Cook bacon in a 10-inch heavy ovenproof pan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about eight minutes. 

■Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in pan.

■While bacon is browning, pat chicken dry and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Brown chicken in fat in pan over moderately high heat, turning over once, about eight minutes total, then transfer chicken to paper towels to drain.

■Pour off all but three tablespoons fat from pan and reduce heat to moderate. Cook onions in pan with 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. ■Stir tomatoes and juice into onions and boil, uncovered, for three minutes to concentrate juices slightly. Stir in bacon and beans and bring to a simmer. 

■Nestle chicken, skin side up, in beans and bake, uncovered, until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Note:If you don’t have an ovenproof pan, after simmering bean mixture, transfer it to a shallow baking dish, then add chicken and bake as above.

Serves 4.

AAP

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