How to spring clean (and eat the contents of) your pantry

Annabel Smith
Mixed grains form the base of this Persian lamb and torn falafel one-tray wonder.
Mixed grains form the base of this Persian lamb and torn falafel one-tray wonder. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Fair warning, pandemic preppers: canned goods are not good forever. My mum recently awoke to a bang in the middle of the night and discovered a bloody pantry massacre. The victim-cum-culprit? An exploding can of expired tomatoes. May it serve as a timely reminder to spring clean the store cupboard.

Throughout the pandemic we've all been opening the pantry door more than usual, limiting shopping trips and relying on pantry staples.

But what to do with those open packets and random pasta shapes grabbed from ransacked supermarket shelves back in 2020? We've got you.

Canned tomatoes aren't forever.
Canned tomatoes aren't forever. Photo: James Brickwood

It's easier to use up dry-good dregs than you may think. Here are some suggestions for finishing mixed grains, alternative flours and any other not-so-staple pantry items taking up shelf space.

Pasta la vista

Throw a handful of those random shapes into a pot of kitchen-sink soup, minestronerisoni-minestrone has a nice ring to it, or make like Neil Perry and give rice-like pasta the risotto treatment.

Smaller shapes form the base of this chicken one-pot wonder with harissa and olives or use them in a retro pasta bake with tuna and panko breadcrumbs.

Harissa chicken. Six ingredient recipes for Good Food April-May 2020. Please credit Katrina Meynink. Good Food use only.

Any small pasta works in this harissa chicken dish (recipe here). Photo: Katrina Meynink

Can-do attitude

In the words of my Nanna, be tinny: here are some cheap and cheerful ideas with canned chickpeas, tomatoes, tuna, anchovies and coconut milk or cream.

Hetty McKinnon's Miso e pepe udon.
Photography by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)

Hetty McKinnon's miso e pepe udon noodles (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem

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Use your noodles

Hetty McKinnon swaps cacio e pepe for miso e pepe in these udon noodles with seasonal asparagus, or use instant ramen noodles in Karen Martini's curried noodles which use up some curry powder, too.

And as for that random packet of crispy fried noodles, besides making those retro chocolate spiders? Use them as a crunchy garnish atop this new spice-rubbed pork and slaw.

Legumes and lentils in anything

This hearty sausage and lentil stew blanketed in grilled haloumi uses French-style green lentils (plus tinned tomatoes and stock).

Or raid the spice section for this butter chicken-inspired red lentil dhal and empty a can or two of coconut milk, tinned tomatoes and some stock, too.

Split peas are not just for pea and ham soup, whip them into a dip (it's great with barbecued snags).

And any packet of soup mix bulks up this warmly spiced vegetarian Sri Lankan soup – simply soak a cup of the legumes and grains overnight.

Soupy lemon chicken and orzo with spinach and parmesan. Katrina Meynink's supermarket roast chicken recipes for Good Food June 2021. Please credit Katrina Meynink. Good Food use only. Barbecue chook hacks

Soupy lemon chicken and orzo. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Do a stocktake of the stock-pile

Use up some tetra-pack stock, and rice and chickpeas while you're at it, with this one-pot wonder. There are any number of broth-based soups – may we suggest this chicken, lemon and supermarket leftover pasta soup or soupy lemon chicken and orzo with spinach? Both make short work of underloved and underappreciated pasta shapes (see above).

Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)
Helen Goh: Puffed rice, Pecan and Maple granola

Helen Goh's puffed rice, pecan and maple granola. Photo: William Meppem

Fruits of your labour

Turn dried fruit, nuts and seeds into muesli or granola. Or MYO muesli bars with Alice Zaslavsky's "myoesli" seed bars. Eat cake for breakfast with a batch of choc-banana breakfast brownies which include rolled oats and pumpkin seeds or any trail mix remnants (ah, remember when you could take a hike beyond 5km?).

Helen Goh's oat and spelt biscuits are chock-full of fruit and seeds. While her adaptable seven-seed crackers are perfect for dips, cheese platters and future picnics.

These snacky spiced tamari almonds, macadamias and sesame seeds can also be sprinkled atop soup or added to sushi handroll fillings.

Think-twice rice

If there's a only cup left make fried rice (cook the grains the day before for best results, here are 16 extra-special recipes to try).

Toast and crush dry jasmine rice for Laos-style larb with roasted rice (pictured).

More exotic grains such as wild, red or black rice can be used as a stuffing for pumpkin, or to bulk up salads.

Did you have grand plans to get on a roll and cook sushi rice for handrolls, later to have the short-grains languish in the cupboard? Adam Liaw's bastardised ki si min redux gives the rice the paella-ish treatment instead.

Cr: William meppem (SL food, may 22) Adam Liaw recipe. One-pot lamb and quinoa biryani.

Adam Liaw's one-pot lamb biryani with rice and quinoa. Photo: William Meppem

Grain drain

Persian rice meets biryani meets late-night kebab in this lamb kofta and torn falafel traybake from Katrina Meynink (it's a 1:1:1 ratio of brown rice, pearl barley and whole freekeh).

Or use 2 cups of mixed grains as a stuffing for this vegetarian pumpkin Wellington (think: white rice, basmati rice, farro, yellow split peas, green lentils and red quinoa...).

This gluten-free mixed grain dhal includes quinoa, yellow and green split peas, buckwheat and amaranth and a spice drawer's worth of spices.

Helen Goh recipe : Buckwheat carrot cake with buckwheat praline
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)

Buckwheat carrot cake with buckwheat praline. Photo: William Meppem

Speaking of buckwheat, the kernels become a toasty salad topper to Karen Martini's charred broccoli and spring onion salad or fry them with smoked paprika to add flourish to ich and creamy soups. This gluten-free carrot cake uses buckwheat flour and groats as a garnish.

Millet meets Nicoise in this cous cous-ish salad. And as for cous cous itself, why not stir-fry it in a wok and serve with harissa?

A sprinkling of semolina or polenta adds a pleasant grit to a galette or a sweet pie crust. This simple lemon cake includes almond meal and semolina. This polenta cake is even simpler, topped with on-special strawberries, or head for the tropics with this gluten-free pineapple cake.

Or make polenta chips (cook the polenta in stock for extra flavour, win-win, and let it firm up in the fridge before cutting into Jenga fingers).

Out of rolled oats? Start the day with quinoa porridge instead. Throw a handful into chicken soup, shake up your standard quinoa salad with spicy cauliflower, wild rice and black lentils, or mix it with basmati to form the base of Adam Liaw's one-pot lamb and quinoa biryani. Think outside the stay-at-home lunchbox with these cute quinoa tots.

Interchange whatever alternative flour dregs you have on hand for this pear and fennel slab cake, the financier-style batter is very forgiving – something with a nutty undertone works well.