Are you tired of your pantry? Sick of standing in front of it, staring at its contents and hoping for something more interesting to materialise? Us too.
So, to find some inspiration for our next food shop and level-up our home-cooking game, we’re taking a squiz inside some others.
As culinary development chef at Andrew McConnell’s Trader House Restaurants, Ben Pollard heads up research and development of new dishes at all of McConnell’s Melbourne restaurants. On any given day, Pollard could be experimenting with modern Japanese fare destined for the neon-lit dining room at Supernormal, refining gastro-pub plates for the Builders Arms, or creating Eurocentric snacks to pair with cocktails at the group’s latest endeavour, Gimlet at Cavendish House.
Pollard, who McConnell calls a “seriously rare talent”, has a special interest in regional Chinese cuisine. He spent three years travelling and working around China before starting at Trader House. He’s also worked under Neil Perry at Rockpool in Melbourne and Sydney, and at Spice Temple in Melbourne.
What pantry staples can’t you live without?
A selection of good vinegar (Forvm is my favourite brand). Vinegars really bring any dish to life and I always crave that flavour in my food. I add a splash of it to tomato-based pasta sauces, right at the end of cooking, for a bit of zing. I also just love it mixed with olive oil and chopped anchovies with some crusty bread as a starter.
Good quality pasta in various shapes. I love this one, as I find the shape really picks up any sauce you have with it. There are so many sauces you can make and most of them are so simple and quick. For a super simple sauce, we do heaps of garlic fried until it is quite dark, and then add some of the water the pasta is cooking in, and finish it with some parmesan, parsley and lemon juice.
I love cooking with spices, especially smoked paprika. My family might say I overuse it, but I strongly disagree. We love going to a bulk wholefood store where we can stock up, bringing along our containers to fill up. There’s always such a great variety to choose from. Back home, we make hummus or whipped tahini at quite a lot. I fry garlic in olive oil and then add a spoon of smoked paprika to the pan, then I spoon this oil over the hummus. It really gives it a good punch.
How do you keep things organised?
We have a backup pantry with bigger containers of the things we have in our normal pantry. With four kids we need to keep things hidden or it all gets eaten pretty quickly.
What’s something just taking up space – you’re not sure what to do with it, or it just hasn’t had much use?
I’m pretty confident I can cook with most things in our cupboard, but there’s a tub of glucose in there that I’ve used maybe twice in the past five years!
What are your go-to dishes when cooking at home?
If it’s not pasta, it’s spiced, grilled chicken with flatbread on the barbeque. The wholesomeness of homemade bread and cooking outside – along with the interactive side for the kids – makes this a great family meal.
I’ll serve it with maybe a tomato salad, some green beans, and marinated eggplant with garlic yoghurt and tahini. We love having a lot of different elements that are all pretty simple in themselves but beautiful when eaten together; it’s such a nice way for our family to eat at home. And usually there are leftovers for lunch the next day.
What item is a simple shortcut to making something really special?
We love doing a super-simple flatbread of just baker’s flour, yoghurt, honey, salt, a little dried yeast, a pinch of baking soda and some warm water. It’s so versatile, it pretty much goes with anything – curries, grilled meats and salads (see above), rice. We make it in the afternoon, stretch it out at dinner, and put it straight on the barbeque with some garlic oil.
Is there anything that’s become a new staple for you, something you’re cooking with more now than before?
A good-quality can of beans has become a bit of a quick, go-to dinner for us. Five different beans, some good olive oil, Forvm vinegar, Danish feta, red onions, lots fresh of herbs, tomato and cucumber. Quick and easy for our big family.
Read more of Broadsheet’s Pandemic Pantries series here.