Sometimes my fridge is so empty i swear I can hear the rumble of my stomach echoing when I peer inside. Perishability is the issue here. I like to eat fresh food, but eating fresh food often requires more organization and time management than I can muster (most days, truth be told). Enter the five saviors of my empty fridge. These ingredients pack a load of flavor, have a really long shelf life and can turn almost any sub-par ingredient into something really yummy.
1. It’s good to have some kind of cured meat or other hanging around, but chorizo is on the top of my list of emergency ingredients. This fermented, cured and smoked Spanish sausage is flavored and colored with smoked paprika and white wine. Render small dice or slices of this with your onions/garlic/other aromatics, and in no time at all, you will have a beautifully red, complex dish. Try it in soup, egg dishes, bean stews and with potatoes. A little chorizo will get you a very long way.
2. Parmigiano Reggiano is packed with umami, that meaty, “savory” flavor that makes us love mushrooms, meat and cheese so much. Grate it on everything and don’t stop there — the rind is an often-overlooked flavor resource. Let it simmer in a sauce or soup and it will add a haunting richness.
3. In addition to being an advocate of good health, garlic can have almost any flavor profile you can dream up. Want it spicy? Add it raw and very finely chopped. Want it super mellow? Roast it or poach whole cloves. With versatility like this, it’s no wonder that this bulb turns up in every cuisine around the globe. Check out some hardcore garlic lovers at the yearly Gilroy Garlic Festival.
4. Lemons are like smelling salts for limp veggies. Add a squirt of juice to finish a dish and the flavor will wake up. Lemon juice also is a great way to get rid of a “canned” taste. I’m extremely fond of finely grating the zest into things like compound butters, desserts, whole grain salads… Just the other day I pureed a whole chunk of lemon with some garlic and a bunch of mixed herbs and rubbed it under the skin of a chicken. I’ll be doing that from now on.
5. Anchovies have a bad reputation. The only thing I can blame this on are the fuzzy and brittle little anchovies delivery pizza chains put on their pizzas. Even I don’t like those. If that’s what has ruined them for you, you’ve got to give them another chance. Not only are they really high in omega-3’s, but they are actually really subtle when you melt them into a sauce or puree them into a dressing. Anchovies are what you should add if you just don’t know what a dish needs (apply this rule within reason, of course. I do not recommend adding anchovies to a dish that is already salty). I love to throw a couple into tomato sauce, into salad dressing, into white bean dip…you get the idea. They can be the main thing, or they can be a background note. Either way, you should find some love for them.
So there you have it. Five ways to perk up even the saddest of refrigerator contents. Just imagine what they can do to fresh food.