Beetroot bread and sardine pasta: recipes to liven up those ubiquitous canned foods

Eating your way through tins and staples on your shelves does not have to be grim. Sure canned vegetables often have a softer texture and might take a bit of spicing, baking or pureeing to make them shine, but these processes often result in ideal comfort food.

Beetroot
Lurid, sweet and mercifully pre-peeled, tinned beets are highly nutritious and can be easily substituted for their fresh counterparts without much sacrifice of flavour. Beyond blitzing them into smoothies or a classic bortsch, they’re also a great source of richness and moisture, as in Yotam Ottolenghi’s beetroot, caraway and goat’s cheese bread which “has a cakey texture, and is best eaten spread with lots of salted butter”.

Or you can turn them into a very treaty brunch by making Eve O’Sullivan’s chocolate and beetroot pancakes. She promises they are “a doddle to make”.

Chickpeas

Much like beetroot, chickpeas can be a secret weapon in sweet dishes such as a “delicious, fudgy” chocolate and chickpea torte with rum cream by Justine Pattison. You can even save the aquafaba (the viscous liquid in the tin) for Felicity Cloake’s vegan chocolate mousse.

For something a bit more trad, whip up an easy to make at home hummus, or a fancier version with Ottolenghi’s hummus recipes. If you feel like something hearty and warming, Anna Jones’ quick chickpea and turmeric stew (pictured above), which is brightened with whole lemons, should hit the spot.

Butter beans

While tinned butter beans’ softer texture doesn’t always stand up to hours of braising, it does make them a great addition to salads, such as Jones’ Greek-inspired warm salad with tomatoes and olives. They also crisp up well in a skillet, as in this one-pot dinner with kale, parmesan and lemon (pictured). It also makes them perfect for whipping with cream cheese for a more-ish dip; or turning into a “herby, garlicy” mash.

Canned fish

Moving on from the obvious tuna nicoise or tuna melt toastie (though Kelis’ version does hit the spot), preserved fish can pack a huge amount of flavour. Yes, that makes it divisive, but if you’re a fan of intensity, Jack Monroe’s smoked mackerel fishcakes deliver, and she writes, you can swap the mackerel for sardines to make the dish more affordable.

Jane Baxter’s Sicilian sardine pasta ups the oceanic taste even further with slices of anchovy, then offsets it with some sweetness from sultanas.

If you’d rather have something less fishy, try Ottolenghi’s harissa-spiced tuna picnic cake for a taste of alfresco dining at home.

Corn

Canned corn has a less-than-stellar reputation, but there few Australian pantries without a tin of it lurking somewhere. If you’re missing cafe brunches, Meera Sodha’s American-style barbecue beans and corn fritters (pictured) should ease the ache. For dinner, Nigel Slater’s smoked haddock and sweetcorn puree is chowder-adjacent and works well with the tinned stuff. But let’s be real. The reason we keep corn is to bake breakfast muffins – like these bacon muffins made extra corny by using a combination of flour and polenta.

Coconut milk

Not so much second fiddle to the fresh stuff as a pantry essential, cooking with coconut milk can give bring a bit of tropical joy into your house. Use it as a milk replacement in porridge or blend it into a smoothie. But for something seasonal and more ambitious, try Annabel Crabb’s Sri Lankan butternut and cashew curry recipe. She says “this modest recreation of a sambol is pretty to look at and is the perfect foil for a rich, spicy butternut and cashew curry”.

For something sweet, Ottolenghi’s coconut pudding with brazil nuts and lime syrup (pictured) is an exercise in contrasts: the pudding is similar “to panna cotta or set yoghurt. The flavours are very delicate, and the smooth texture works beautifully with the crisp coconut and nuts.”

Tinned tomato

Where would we be without this pantry staple? Assuming everyone has their favourite passata or all’arrabiata and are familiar with canned tomatoes in chicken cacciatore, bring it to breakfast instead with Josh Katz’s recipe for shakshuka – which includes dollops of tahini for extra earthiness. Or go retro with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s bread and tomato gratin. He says it’s “a wonderful way to turn some stale bread and a couple of tins of tomatoes into a warming supper”.