My Life In Food: Anna Hansen

'You can do so much with paella - I often add snails to mine'

Anna Hansen is chef and proprietor of The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, London. Her new cookbook is The Modern Pantry (Ebury, £25).

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I'm constantly using my mandoline, which is a Japanese manual slicing machine. My finger-tips prove that; I think I've sliced the ends off nearly all of them at some point. Finger-slicing aside, its great for making fine slivers of vegetables. My least used piece is a hopper pan, which is for making Sri Lankan bread pancakes. I rather optimistically picked it up when I was travelling, thinking I'd make them at home.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

Well, if I felt like going out, I'd go to Yauatcha on Berwick Street in Soho for some prawn cheung fun. It's a relaxed place to spend lunchtime. Otherwise, straight to the market to pick up some cod, which I'd put with some strong chorizo and then cook in some cheap white wine.

What do you eat for comfort?

If I'm in a rush, I have my two-course comfort snack. The first course is some Vegemite spread thickly on toast. Then, to follow, I smother another piece of toast with manuka honey. I used to have to bring suitcases of both back when I went to New Zealand, though, luckily, you can pick it up in London now. If I've more time, and more ingredients, I make paella (my one-tray wonder). You can do so much with a paella – I sometimes add snails to mine.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Bread, definitely. You couldn't very well put Vegemite or manuka honey on potatoes. I particularly like sourdough. Ideally it would be great big slice of a Y Polyn loaf.

What's your desert island recipe?

I couldn't live without my marinated feta recipe. I chop the cheese up into chunks, then cover it in extra virgin olive oil. Then I add a handful of mustard seeds, some curry leaves, a few fennel seeds and then some chillies, for a touch of heat. I leave it to marinate overnight. It's great cold or warmed on a pancake.

What's your favourite restaurant?

I love Koya, the Japanese noodle restaurant in Soho run by my friend John Devitt. I'm no connoisseur, but the udon they serve there is fantastic – it's no wonder the queues for it are always out of the door. The best thing to have is cold noodles in hot broth. The contrast is amazing.

What's your favourite cookbook?

My all-time favourite is an Australian cook book: Charmaine Solomon's Encyclopedia of Asian Food. I remember getting it 15 years ago, when it first came out, and it looked so exotic – I loved it then and still do. When I was pot-washing for Fergus Henderson at The French House Dining Room in the early 1990s, I used to read a lot of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. I learned so much from them both.

Who taught you to cook?

My granny gave me an appreciation of simple food done well. She hated food that had been ponced around with – and so do I. You don't need to play Jenga on a plate. It just has to taste nice. Fergus and Margot Henderson also gave me the confidence to do away with recipes and cook with my eyes and tongue, a skill many young chefs lack.

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