The fast show

An average weekday evening. It's late and you're hungry. Do you reach for a ready meal? Mark Hix has other ideas
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Planning, shopping and cooking are all very well at weekends, but there's nothing wrong with knocking up something to eat double-quick when you get back from the pub or a busy day at the office. A Mintel survey found that more than one in four adults spend less than half an hour making the weekday supper. But just because you're in a hurry, it doesn't mean it has to be a ready meal bunged in the microwave. It's possible to make wholesome and tasty suppers without a last-minute dash to the shops - all it takes is a little forethought.

Planning, shopping and cooking are all very well at weekends, but there's nothing wrong with knocking up something to eat double-quick when you get back from the pub or a busy day at the office. A Mintel survey found that more than one in four adults spend less than half an hour making the weekday supper. But just because you're in a hurry, it doesn't mean it has to be a ready meal bunged in the microwave. It's possible to make wholesome and tasty suppers without a last-minute dash to the shops - all it takes is a little forethought.

I'm surrounded by wonderful, fresh ingredients in the kitchens at work, but it doesn't mean I've planned what I'm going to eat when I get home; I'm no more likely than the next person to have fresh meat and veg on hand, just waiting to be cooked. But because it's my job, it's second nature for me to have things that don't go off stashed away in the fridge or the store cupboard, ready for those moments when you need to eat, fast.

Like everyone else I always have pasta, cheese and canned tomatoes handy. But I also keep sliced mushrooms such as ceps, as they are the only ones that will stand the temperatures in the freezer. They're joined by those handy little cubes of pancetta - sold as the French version, lardons, or the Italian cubetti di pancetta - that are now sold in supermarkets. These are great for frying off with a shallot or onion for a quick pasta fix. Oh, and for pasta, my preferred brand is Cipriani, for two reasons: it cooks in two minutes and the quality is excellent.

Also in my freezer: meat stock frozen in little cubes in the ice cube tray, containers of shellfish stock made from langoustine, prawn and lobster shells, bread crumbs made from stale bread, and let's not forget frozen peas, broad beans and tiger prawns.

In the fridge I always have jars of anchovies, home-made paté or rillettes, and a slab of smoked Black Forest bacon. All this stuff keeps for ages. As I live on my own, a loaf of bread is likely to go to waste, so I tend to buy half-baked ciabatta, sliced Poilâne for toast, and crumpets, and keep them in the freezer. To complete the picture, in the bottom of the fridge there's garlic, and shallots or small onions such as Roscoffs - these are ideal if you're only cooking for one or two, as you can use the whole thing and don't end up with half an onion lurking in the fridge for weeks. Add in some seasonal meat, fish or vegetables - or freshly picked wild garlic leaves - and you can have a delicious supper in minutes. Here's how.

Fried St George's mushrooms and duck livers

Serves 4 as a starter

St George's mushrooms are traditionally picked and eaten on St George's day, 23 April. They look rather like pure-white field mushrooms and have a similar meaty flavour. Of course, if you're struggling with St George's mushrooms then field, or Portobello, as they are sometimes called, will do just fine. Keen foragers could throw some wild garlic leaves in with the mushrooms and livers at the end.

300g fresh duck livers (chicken livers will do if you can't find them)
2-3tbsp olive oil
300g St George's or field mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g butter
1tbsp chopped parsley

Duck livers are generally sold ready-cleaned, but check them and remove any white sinew. Also look out for and remove any green bile sac, which can leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth. Pat the livers dry on kitchen paper and lightly season.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan until it's just beginning to smoke and quickly fry the livers for a minute on each side, until nicely coloured but still pink inside, then transfer them to a plate. Clean the pan, or grab a fresh one, and heat a little olive oil. Add the mushrooms and garlic, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and fry over a high heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and are lightly coloured. Return the livers to the pan with the mushrooms and add the butter. Cook for another minute or two and add the parsley. Stir well and spoon on to warmed serving plates.

Welsh rabbit crumpets

Makes 8 crumpets

I'm not one for messing with the classics, but I do love toasted crumpets with this classic cheese topping. The other day I went to make some and found I was clean out of crumpets. A lesson to be learnt: always have some in the freezer. I've burrowed into the rabbit versus rarebit debate before, and I'm sticking to rabbit, the term used as far back as Hannah Glasse's day in the 18th century. She gives recipes for Scotch Rabbit, two for English Rabbit and one for Welch, yes Welch, rabbit. Whatever you call your poshed-up cheese on toast - or crumpets - it's delicious, and you can spice it up as much as you like.

8 crumpets, toasted
250g Caerphilly or Cheddar cheese, grated
2 egg yolks
3tsp Worcester sauce
1tsp English mustard
40ml double cream
Salt and pepper

Mix the cheese, egg yolks, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and double cream together and season. Toast the crumpets on both sides, spread the cheese mixture on top, about 1cm thick, and to the edges to avoid burning, and grill on a medium heat until nicely browned.

Tagliolini with wild garlic and pancetta

Serves 4

As I mentioned, Cipriani pasta is my favourite: it comes in handy little boxes, and it cooks in no time. The fact that I've got wild garlic in my fridge is because I'm a bit of a forager and find anything that grows wild and is edible to be irresistible. If you haven't got wild garlic leaves to hand, then chop some spring onions and crush 3 or 4 cloves of garlic for a similar, though not as subtle, effect. Garlic chives work well, if you have an Asian food shop nearby; some supermarkets sell them, too.

500g tagliolini
4tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
150g pancetta, cut into rough 1cm cubes
100g butter
A good handful of wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan to serve

Gently cook the onion and pancetta on a low heat in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often. Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet's instructions, then drain into a colander. Add the wild garlic leaves and butter to the pancetta and onion, season, then toss with the pasta and serve. You can stir a tablespoon of Parmesan into the pasta before serving if you wish.

Lemon syllabub

Serves 4

This is from Rose Prince's New English Kitchen, just published by Fourth Estate. The book has an old-fashioned binding, with no shiny dust jacket, but with two handy ribbons for marking pages. This practicality carries through to the text, which has advice on shopping for quality ingredients and extending meals in a practical sort of way. It's a timely reminder of what food, cooking and eating should be about. There are handy notes all the way through and hints for giving recipes a clever little twist. This syllabub is quick and straightforward to make.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
125ml white wine or sherry
A pinch of grated nutmeg
90g golden caster sugar
300ml double cream
Borage or heartsease flowers, or dried Moroccan rose petals to decorate (optional)

Mix the lemon zest, juice, white wine (or sherry) and nutmeg, and leave to infuse for at least an hour. Stir in the sugar and then pour in the cream. Whisk for a minute or two until the cream thickens. Spoon into small tumblers or old-fashioned tea cups. Decorate with an edible flower from the garden, such as borage or heartsease, and chill. You can substitute a different alcohol for the wine. Rose suggests dry Somerset cider, or a combination of cider and apple brandy (calvados), which are good with a little apple purée in the bottom of the cup.

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