A tin of tomatoes, a jar of pesto ... it's amazing what you can make after a rummage through the larder, says Mark Hix

There's a world of difference between outright cheating - opening a can of soup, or unscrewing the top of a jar of cook-in sauce - and using some good-quality convenience foods. After all, everyone uses tinned tomatoes, there are some pretty good pesto sauces in jars, and some canned fish are delicacies in themselves. Then there are all the bottles and jars you accumulate in the cupboard or, if you're like me, the larder. Grabbing a bottle or jar isn't even cheating if it's something you wouldn't make yourself. After all, I'm sure the recipe for HP Sauce is a secret.

I'm lost without a larder. One of the first jobs for the builders when we moved into the new house was to extend the existing larder by knocking into some of the wine cellar. Some people might have done it the other way round, but I couldn't get by without my spices, herbs and cans. For two weeks they were still in boxes, and I ended up dashing round to the local Costcutter every 10 minutes for cumin seeds, sugar, ketchup (for the children) and Worcestershire sauce. Now it's all unpacked and my larder's stocked I've got two or three of everything. And on top of all that, I get sent samples to try, adding to my collection and occasionally giving me inspiration. It means I have the oddest collection of ingredients on the shelves.

All these recipes use cans or jars or bottles to do some of the work for you - they'd be good for students starting out. Most of them are pretty basic and every kitchen should have them to hand, but even if you have to go out and buy a jar of dulce de leche especially for the rice pudding, any that you don't use won't go to waste. This fudgy condensed milk sauce is so addictive you can eat the rest straight from the jar or with ice cream.

Spiced tomato and lentil soup

Serves 4-6

Tinned tomatoes are one of the most indispensable and healthy convenience veg. Like so many perfectly good basics, though, they're often messed around with and come with flavourings like garlic and various herbs. I prefer to buy the plain chopped ones, and then add my own fresh flavours depending on what I'm cooking.

2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small dried chilli
1tsp cumin seeds
160g red lentils
2tsp white wine vinegar
400g can of chopped tomatoes
2tsp tomato purée
Salt and pepper
2 litres vegetable stock - use good-quality stock cubes or powder
1 bay leaf

Gently cook the onion, chilli and cumin in olive oil for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add the lentils, vinegar, chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and stock, season, add the bay leaf and bring to the boil. Simmer for 40 minutes stirring every so often, until the soup is a rich and thick consistency. If it looks too thick, add a little more stock and re-season if necessary.

Baked fillet of pollack with basil crust

Serves 4

You can easily make your own pesto and when it's fresh it will be so much more fragrant than any you buy. But it's versatile stuff and it's worth keeping a jar in the cupboard for the times you want some to use as a flavouring for soups and sauces, instead of as the star sauce on your pasta. 4 x 180g pollack portions from a large fish, skinned and boned

80g fresh white breadcrumbs
3tbsp pesto


for the dressing

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped
1tbsp good quality white wine vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the fish. Allow one spoonful of the pesto to spread evenly over the pollack fillets. Put the rest of the pesto with the breadcrumbs into a food processor and blend for 10 seconds or so until well mixed. Put the fish on to a baking tray and pack the crumbs neatly on top. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is a light golden colour.

Meanwhile mix all the ingredients for the dressing and season.

To serve, spoon the dressing on to warmed plates and place the fish on top. Serve with sprouting broccoli, creamed spinach, anya potatoes or autumn greens.


Barbecue pork ribs

Serves 4-6

Most of us have all the bottles we need to knock up a barbecue marinade. You can adapt it according to what you have to hand, though tomato ketchup makes the best base and I'm sure we all have a bottle of that lurking around. You can either cut up the ribs before you marinate and cook them or leave them whole if you like getting messy when you eat. Children will probably prefer the excuse to make a mess.


1.2kg pork ribs
6tbsp tomato ketchup
2tbsp HP Sauce
1tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2tbsp soy sauce
1tsp Chinese five spice
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100ml orange juice


Put the pork ribs into a non-reactive tray, mix all the ingredients together and pour the marinade over. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Transfer the ribs to a roasting or baking tray and cook for 2 hours, basting and turning them every so often. You may need to add a little water if the marinade dries up.

Serve with a salad, coleslaw and maybe some potato wedges cooked in the oven.


Coconut rice pudding with dulce de leche

Serves 4

This is a delicious pudding you can make with what's already in the fridge and cupboard. A can of coconut milk is always handy for Thai curries, and pudding rice keeps for ages, so all you need is a jar of dulce de leche. Even that's not essential - you can just add about 3 tablespoons of brown sugar to sweeten the rice pudding instead. But, if you haven't come across it, dulce de leche is a delicious Argentinian caramel made from sweetened milk condensed to a fudgy sauce. I've had a jar I've been meaning to try for ages. Now I've finally got round to using it I'm hooked and will have to keep some ready as a sauce for ice cream instead of making caramel when I need it. The Merchant Gourmet dulce de leche is available in larger Sainsbury's and Waitrose in banana and coconut as well as the original caramel. For this recipe I used the coconut one. Be warned, though, it's the sort of thing you might find yourself eating straight from the jar.


125g pudding rice
400ml can of coconut milk
300ml milk
3tbsp dulce de leche


Put the rice, coconut milk and milk into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, stirring every so often. Stir in the dulce de leche and simmer for a few more minutes. Serve hot or cold.

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