Claire Thomson is a chef, author, and food writer. She has written three books, published numerous recipes, and for the past five years posted on Instagram and Twitter as @5oclockapron; a daily snapshot of the food Claire cooks at home for her family. In her new book ‘The Art of The Larder’, Claire takes us through the essentials of building a storecupboard filled with everything needed to produce delicious, interesting food, whenever it is needed. It features 150 recipes inspired by Claire’s travels, and speaks of how having a well-stocked larder is key to inspired everyday eating. Locavore presents a short extract and a recipe from the book.
This book concerns my love of and respect for a well-stocked larder. By larder, I don’t mean an enormous stately-home-sized pantry, stacked floor to ceiling with luxury preserves and pristine packets. The larder, storecupboard, pantry, cupboard or shelf, call it what you will, epitomizes the nuts and bolts that facilitate good home cooking.
In the writing of this book, with a view to its being used relentlessly and greedily by all who have bought or borrowed it, I’m looking to encourage a storecupboard state of mind. Stock your given space discerningly with key pantry ingredients and this culinary framework will help you to cook more creatively, thriftily and with greater ease. A well-stocked storecupboard is an empowering thing, and with it, the possibility of cooking something from anything (a hard-won skill on which I pride myself) is entirely achievable.
But life would surely be a crumply, monotonous existence for everyone if all the food you ever made came solely from the dry store. So (full disclosure), this is in fact a book of two halves, since a storecupboard cannot stand entirely alone if your cooking is to remain inspiring and varied. For a pantry to work at optimum, it must exist in conjunction with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Meat, fish, cheese and eggs can be viewed as culinary stimuli to inspire and govern which particular storecupboard staple you then turn to. Easy.
The contents of your storecupboard represent culinary independence. Ingredients for me spark adventure, a sort of ‘where in the world would I like to cook?’ attitude. Take gram flour (ground chickpea flour), for example: this thrifty ingredient is a pantry staple and a favourite of mine. It can be used in traditional Indian recipes, such as pakora, in southern French, in socca, and also in Italian cooking, for farinata. Knowing how this amazingly versatile flour behaves when you cook with it means that in combination with other storecupboard and seasonal ingredients, you can make a variety of dishes from the one core ingredient.
Give me an apron, a sharp knife, a chopping board and some good ingredients, and I am happy; truly I can cook almost anything. I cook because I love it and we all need to eat.
White Beans with Toulouse Sausage, Broccoli and Garlic.
White beans and broccoli are a wonderful combination – with the sausage and rosemary and so easy to make, this dish is a winner.
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large head of broccoli (about 500g), broken up into smaller florets
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
4 Toulouse sausages (about 400g), meat squeezed out roughly into chunks
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
a good pinch of chilli flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, slightly crushed
1 good-sized sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 x 400g tin of cannellini or butter beans, rinsed and drained
a few shavings of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese per portion
50g breadcrumbs, freshly toasted in a pan or in the oven
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the broccoli until tender, about 6 minutes, and drain well.
In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat and cook, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, until the sausage is cooked through and beginning to brown in places. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the fat and any cooking juices. Set to one side.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil and the onion to the same frying pan and cook over a moderate heat for 8–10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, rosemary and drained beans and stir over the heat so that the flavours meld and the mix begins to smell fragrant, about 2–3 minutes.
Add the cooked broccoli, mixing well. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with salt and pepper if necessary.
Divide the mix between bowls, topping each with some shavings of Parmesan or Pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil and the toasted breadcrumbs.
The Art of the Larder by Claire Thomson (Quadrille, £20) Photography: Mike Lusmore
For Claire Thomson’s website, click here.