It’s in the can
Having the essential canned foods in your store cupboard helps you save money and time but doesn’t mean you have to compromise on flavour. Sometimes you can even improve it and many canned foods are equally nutritious as fresh. Be inspired by our top recipes that make clever use of canned food heroes.
Plum tomatoes: rigatoni with amatriciana sauce
Without a doubt, tinned tomatoes are the most essential can for the cupboard. They’re great value so spend a little more and buy a good Italian brand which is usually less watery. Sweet, canned plum tomatoes are worth stocking up on to make a variety of pasta dishes, especially when fresh ones aren’t in season.
Plum tomatoes: spicy prawn stew
Tinned plum tomatoes are also great for a variety of soups and stews to create a rich a sauce. The secret is to use the best canned tomatoes you can and cook them slowly to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes. In this recipe, the tomatoes get a lot of help from a variety of spices and seasonings, like ground cumin and caraway seeds.
Chopped tomatoes: butter chicken
This irresistible butter chicken uses a can of chopped tomatoes which combines with spices like cumin, cardamom, turmeric and ground fenugreek to create a tangy sauce. It’s one of those great dishes which takes little prep then simmers away for 30 minutes. You can make it in advance or even the day before serving and it’s way better than a takeaway too.
Canned chickpeas more than deserve their place in your store cupboard. High in protein, fibre and potassium, all you need to add is tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil for smooth and silky home-made hummus. Once you’ve got the basic recipe down, experiment with additional ingredients – try beetroot, red pepper or caramelised onion.
Chickpeas: potato curry
Chickpeas are a great way to bulk out stews, soups and curries. You’ll probably have everything else you need in the store cupboard and it’s ready in around an hour. In this curry recipe, the chickpeas also add a lovely texture in contrast to the soft, fluffy potatoes and paneer.
Chickpea water (aquafaba): vegan pavlova
Don’t throw away the water from a can of chickpeas – it’s more useful that you might think. Chickpea water, also known as aquafaba, can be used as a vegan egg white substitute to make meringues, marshmallows and mayonnaise. You can use this tropical vegan pavlova recipe as a guide and vary the fruit topping depending on the season or what you already have at home.
Cannellini beans: kale and cannellini soup
Cannellini beans are incredibly versatile. Use them as a filler in a casserole, add to a tomato-based stew with peppers or make a healthy mash which is high in protein and counts towards your five a day. One of the easiest ways how to use a can of beans though is a minestrone or a take on this classic Italian soup. The beans are combined with greens in a rich tomato-based soup that’s served with a runny egg and toasted bread.
Butter beans: smoky bean stew
While dried beans are widely available, they take a long time to soak and cook so canned beans are a lifesaver. Meatier than cannellini, butter beans are really great in vegetarian dishes as well as a variety of stews and casseroles. Combine with other beans, like haricot and cannellini, and you’ve got yourself a filling meal.
Anchovies: salade Niçoise
It’s rare to find fresh anchovies as they deteriorate so quickly due to their high natural oil content. When buying canned, try to find them packed in olive oil rather than sunflower and generally, the more you pay, the better the quality, so hunt out a Spanish brand such as Ortiz. Surprisingly, they don’t add a fishy flavour but a more intense savoury taste, making them an essential component in a classic salade Niçoise.
Anchovies: creamy roasted broccoli
The salty, savoury taste that anchovies bring works excellently with cream, providing balance and a savoury tang to the dish. In this roasted broccoli recipe, the cream is flavoured with anchovies, chilli and Parmesan, making it the perfect side to roasted meat or a juicy steak.
Crab: crab cakes
Let’s face it – crab from a can can’t replace the fresh version. But in some recipes, such as these quick crab cakes, you can get away with it. The addition of lemongrass, chillies and mango really helps to bring out the sweet flavour of crab.
Tuna: fritters with tzatziki
Where would we be without canned tuna? The flavour is quite different from fresh so think of them almost as two different ingredients. The tinned stuff is great for sandwiches, salads and the good old tuna pasta bake. The flavour is better if you buy it packed in olive oil, but if you’re watching your fat intake, spring water is an option. These tuna fritters are the ultimate warm weather meal that pairs brilliantly with fresh tzatziki.
Olives: fougasse with olives
Olives picked fresh from the tree are soaked then brined for several weeks to make them soft enough to eat. Some canned olives can be quite salty, so do buy a few and find the ones you prefer. Cheaper canned olives come in a brine, so it’s best to drain and rinse, then add to good olive oil in a sealed container. They’re perfect for a variety of bakes, especially bread like focaccia and fougasse.
Tapenade is a chunky olive paste, great eaten as a snack on toasted bread or served on the side with fish cakes or grilled salmon. It’s pretty good with a barbecued steak too. Serve with pan-fried lamb for a tangy contrast to the rich meat.
Tuna and olives: stuffed peppers
A brilliant side dish or a main, this thrifty recipe combines several store cupboard favourites into a delectable meal. There’s tinned anchovies, tinned tuna and olives too. The winning mix is stuffed in peppers and roasted to perfection. It’s also a quick recipe that will take less than an hour to make.
Artichokes: lamb steaks with artichokes
Fresh globe artichokes don’t have a long season and can be fiddly and time-consuming to prepare. You can buy them chargrilled and jarred in olive oil or canned in water. If you buy the tinned stuff, you can dry them and then toss in olive oil in a hot grill pan for the same effect. Their delicate sweet, nutty flavour pairs well with fragrant ingredients and meat.
Black beans: smoky black bean side
Black beans are a staple in Mexican cooking, and we know they’re a great addition to burritos and quesadillas. High in protein and fibre, they are a great addition to many dishes. This side dish takes them to the next level though. Paired with onion, chilli and spices like cumin and cinnamon, these smoky beans are perfect with a dollop of sour cream.
Kidney beans: aubergine chilli traybake
Chilli con carne is the obvious choice when it comes to kidney beans but here’s how to up your game when you want something a little bit different. Swap the minced meat for some aubergines and serve this veggie dish instead. Topped with tangy cheese, the aubergines are roasted atop a spicy tomato sauce that’s bulked up with chickpeas and kidney beans.
Corned beef: potato hash
Did you know it would take more than ten days to make your own corned beef? And you’d need a fridge large enough to cure a whole piece of brisket in for that time? This is where canned corned beef comes in. It was a favourite sandwich filler in the 1970s, but we think corned beef really shines in a potato hash for brunch. Fry onions, cooked potato and corned beef until crispy, then add Worcestershire sauce, mustard and tomato purée. Top with a fried or poached egg.
Beansprouts: Indonesian potato salad (gado gado)
You may think it a little odd to have a can of beansprouts in the cupboard but apart from the convenience, fresh beansprouts go off very quickly. To use canned, just drain and rinse then dry off on kitchen towel. You can use in any recipe where fresh are required. We love this Indonesian potato salad.
Sweetcorn: spiced corn and lentil chowder
Chowder is another great dish to cook with sweetcorn if you’re not into the seafood version. The warmth from the blend of spices is delightful with the sweetness of the corn and squash and the recipe uses another store cupboard staple – coconut milk.
Lentils: vegetarian stew
Canned lentils come into their own for a cook who wants to save time. Serve them cold in a salad with feta, chopped herbs and spring onions, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Our favourite recipe is this hearty vegetarian stew perfect for winter dinners. It’s a warming dish that’s full of flavour and nutrients. Don’t be alarmed by the long ingredients list – the recipe is actually ready in less than an hour.
Sweetcorn: cashew curry
Canned sweetcorn is one of the best ready-cooked vegetable to have on hand. You can add kernels to stir-fries and soups or make fritters and mash. This quick cashew curry is definitely one to try. It’s a recipe inspired by Sri Lankan cuisine and has a flavoursome coconutty, base.
Borlotti beans: pasta e fagioli
Fresh borlotti beans have a short season and are hard to track down, but the canned ones are just as good and save all that soaking and cooking time. Loved by the Italians, they shine in pasta e fagioli, which literally translates to “pasta and beans”, where they’re simmered with macaroni in a hearty broth. You could also turn them into a thick, creamy dip or use in a simple salad. Just add a little red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, then throw in chopped tomatoes and rocket leaves. Remember to season it well.
Bamboo shoots: Thai-style stir fry
You can track down fresh bamboo shoots in Asian food shops, but they are difficult to prepare. Canned ones are an excellent substitute. They are used in dumplings, Thai curries and soups. Do rinse them before use and start by trying them in a Thai-style stir fry.
Coconut milk: creamy egg and coconut curry
Coconut milk is a brilliant ingredient to always have in stock. One can of coconut milk can easily be transformed into a variety of soups, curries, stews and even desserts. One of our favourites is this take on an Indian egg curry with plenty of warming spices, like turmeric and garam masala.
Coconut milk: vegan crème caramel
Canned coconut milk is also widely used in vegan recipes as a dairy substitute, as here in this vegan espresso crème caramel recipe. The lower fat versions tend to give a watery result so you’re better off with the full-fat stuff for a proper creamy flavour.