In my dreams, I have a pantry. My friend Caroline says that every woman has a dream pantry, even if they don’t cook, because of historical novels. This may or may not be true: in any case, I do. It has slate shelves, my dream-pantry, and jars of preserved plums. It has many sorts of jam, and many jars. Jars, and tinned things, and canned things. A hundred kinds of flour, and things put away for the winter. It has plaits of onions, and It has Farrow and Ball walls. In my dreams, everything is Farrow and Ball.
As it stands, however, what I have is several small kitchen cupboards, a windowsill- two windowsills!- where things grow, and a very forgiving bookshelf. The Tall Man carried it home for me from half-way across the East End, and it holds my unbelievably silly cookbook collection, and all my flours and sugars. Well, most of them.
When I’m thinking about food- when I’m cooking food- when I’m eating food- I like to pretend that these together make up my larder, and my spice rack, and my kitchen garden. I also like to pretend that there isn’t mould in the bathroom and that my bookshelves are made out of antique oak instead of whatever was cheapest on Gumtree. Hurrah for pretending!
I used to have a very complicated table here, of all the things you should have in, but updating it hurt my head. Instead, here’s a list of all the dry-goods, preserved things, and cupboard things that I keep in.
-Buy olive oil. My favourite is a fancy Palestinian kind called Equal Exchange, but for God’s sake don’t let’s talk politics at dinner.
-Buy balsamic vinegar. I used to think that more expensive was better, but really, I think I was just being pretentious. I like it generally better than other kinds of vinegar, probably; and probably proper people can tell the difference between brands, but I can’t, so I don’t.
-Buy really good sea-salt. I mean it. Really good, like Maldon: I can’t pass the saltpig without licking a finger and dipping it in. For even fancier occasions, I really, really like the salts from Hoxton Monster Supplies: I have got the Tears Of Anger, Tears Of Envy, and my favourite, Tears Of Boredom. I will never get bored of black salt, incidentally.
-Buy chilli flakes. Mine come in an enormous sack from the Bangladeshi supermarket downstairs.
-I have recently been convinced of the importance of black pepper, ground in a pestle and mortar, and in enormous quantities. Mine are Wayanad peppercorns, and they are really good, but I suspect them of being expensive (Christmas present).
–Dried mushrooms are great. My secret shame is a pot of dried mushroom dust called Shake-o-cini: it’s essentially umami dust, and it makes dark things darker.
-Knorr stock pots are unbelievably good, and I hate writing this, because they are terrible for the environment, and probably for me too, but I love them, and I use them all the time.
-I have seventeen kinds of flour, and only ever use ordinary plain.
-I have a similar quantity of sugar, and mostly use soft brown.
–Oats are good.
–Mustard is good! Mustard is great! I would eat Maille with a spoon. Not even a teaspoon. An ordinary spoon.
-You should probably keep in dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, tinned chickpeas (KTC brand are cheap, good, and very easy to shell).
-My favourite thing in the whole world are tiny pasta stars, and tiny pasta letters.
–Pomegranate molasses really is a lot of fun. And it makes raw kale edible- better than edible.
-Risotto rice! (Carnaroli is best, the Tall Man says: can’t see it myself, but he’s the expert).
-Don’t rush out and buy a lot of extravagant spices: the things you really want for curries, to start off, are turmeric, chilli powder, ground ginger, ground fennel, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom and some cinnamon sticks. Or, you can just buy a bag of garam masala, which has the incredible advantage of being ready-mixed, but in a sort of authentic feeling way, so you never feel like you’re cheating.