Creating delicious, interesting meals with fresh seasonal ingredients is so easy when you have a well-organised pantry at hand. With very little fuss or effort you can take a simple everyday ingredient, be it a piece of fresh chicken or some lovely greens, and come up with a range of dishes with different and interesting flavours. That is what Free Range cooking is all about - the freedom to be creative when you start with the best quality fresh ingredients!
Here is my primer on what you need in your Free Range pantry to make everything from my show:
For all non-Asian cooking, use extra virgin olive oil. I use commercial brands for cooking and frying and dressings, and have a special bottle of estate extra virgin olive oil for salads, dressing pasta, cooking vegetables, garnishing bruschetta or putting the finishing swirl on a dinner or lunch plate.
Neutral flavored oil, such as grape seed, rice bran, canola, corn or safflower, should be used when you don’t want the taste of the oil to come through. (Olive oil provides a rich Mediterranean kind of flavour.) For Asian cooking and dressings, choose sesame oil. It can be used hot or cold, but be careful as it has a low burn temperature. It’s strong, so you don’t need much. 1-2 tsp adds a real zing of flavour to a dish.
Red and white wine vinegars are good for wine-based sauces and mustardy dressings. A splash in mashed potatoes is also really good. Balsamic - a sweet, aged vinegar - is ideal for bitter greens, tomatoes and strawberries, and to finish casseroles and sauces. Rice vinegar is slightly sweet, aromatic vinegar, ideal for cooking and cold uses.
Fresh aromatics bring a clean, bright taste to your food. Included in this group are fresh ginger, garlic, spring onions, lemons and limes, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and fresh herb pestos.
Flavor boosters deliver a depth of flavor. Included in this group are fresh stocks, tomato paste, miso, parmesan, fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce, other Asian-style sauces, curry paste, tahini, spirits such as brandy or sherry, anchovies, sun-dried and semi- dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, olives, capers, horseradish and mustard.
Spices should be bought regularly and kept sealed for freshness. Discard those that don’t have any aroma when you open them. Purchase whole spices and toast and grind for more flavour, eg cumin and coriander seeds. Spices such as fennel seeds, star anise, cardamoms and saffron are a fast track to creating exotic flavours.
Fresh herbs are indispensable in Free Range Cooking - they make everything taste fresh and lively. If you don't have a garden, a pot of basil or parsley is really easy to grow on your kitchen windowsill. pureé soft herbs, eg basil, coriander, parsley, with a little oil or make into pesto. If not using immediately, you can freeze them in ice blocks for easy anytime use. Woody herbs tend to have much stronger flavours so you need less. Freeze woody herbs on the branch, eg thyme, rosemary, sage, kaffir lime leaves, or dry them.
Nuts and seeds, if not used within a few weeks, are best stored in the fridge or freezer to prevent them from turning rancid.
Starchy staples include different types of rice, pasta, couscous, polenta, potatoes (store these in a dark, cool place in the pantry), flour or corn tortillas.
Useful cans such as canned tomatoes, tomato pureé and tomato paste are always useful to have on hand for quick sauces and to add to stews and slow cooked dishes. Artichokes, water chestnuts, beans and chickpeas, tuna and anchovies are also useful.
For desserts and baking keep flour - wheat, corn flour, chickpea flour, plain and self-raising - in airtight containers. The baker’s pantry should also include rolled oats, honey, butter, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, maple syrup, sugar (white, brown and icing), coconut, vanilla extract and vanilla pods, gelatine, wine and port, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate, and plain sweet biscuits.
Dairy products such as cheese, butter, buttermilk, yoghurt, cream and milk are useful to have on hand for all manner of things.
Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturdays).
Watch more Annabel Langbein recipe videos.
Get Annabel Langbein's Tea Smoked Salmon or Trout recipe here.
Get all Annabel Langbein's cooking tips here.
See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.