The 12 essential cupboard ingredients that will let you cook (almost) anything

Lesley Geddes-Brown provides her list of kitchen essentials – keep all these to hand and you’ll be able to cook anything. Well, almost anything.

Cookery books should give more space to ingredients and less to lengthy recipes. I rarely find one I want to use in full, largely because I don’t have in my cupboards the foods it demands. I prefer suggestions, which is why I decided to list my 12 favourite The 12 essential cupboard ingredients in the hope it might inspire others.

Aleppo chillies

These are medium-hot chilli flakes – hot enough to notice, but won’t make you splutter. Scatter in cheese or tomato sauce, with mushroom risotto or in many soups; they’re good in cheesy potatoes, too.


My new discovery. These almond biscuits from Italy should be crumbled and scattered over cooked fruit or used as a garnish on Eton Mess.

Brown shrimps

Buy them ready peeled or you’ll go mad. Ideal for potting in butter with ground mace and a touch of cayenne and excellent with pasta or rice. Add to avocados or make quasi-salade niçoise with shrimps instead of tuna.


Use raw in a salad with vinaigrette dressing, adding yellow raisins and chopped pistachio nuts, wrapped in cooked ham and topped with cheese sauce or just roasted with a pat of butter.

Garlic jam

An invention from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, this is so sweet you could use it as a jam, but I like it as a chutney with cold beef or pork or with ked-geree instead of mango chutney.

Gorgonzola dolce cheese

It’s gooier than Stilton and stronger than Roquefort. Have it, as you’d expect, with crackers and butter, with olive-oil-doused focaccia or with a slice or two of salami or parma ham as part of an antipasto. Add a small spoonful of Italian mountain honey – a trick I learned in Florence.

Juniper berries

A staple of much European cookery. I use them in a Swedish recipe to cure salmon, which demands a small handful of the berries, coriander seeds, sugar and sea salt all smashed up together, then smeared on a good piece of salmon, which should be covered with clingfilm and kept in the fridge for three days. It’s a good alternative to smoked salmon.

Maple syrup

Imported from Canada, it’s delicious poured into the stone hollows in nectarines and baked in the oven with maple sugar added. Drizzle it onto ice cream or use it instead of honey in some salad dressings, plus with all sorts of fruit (try it with apples) and to glaze ham. I’ve taken to using it almost daily.


Better than bacon and it cooks in about five minutes in a medium oven. Wind it thinly sliced around chicken breasts or tiny new potatoes, chop it up for soups (especially chowders) and use with tomato sauce.

Ribeye steak

It’s the best because it’s less bland than fillet and finer than rump. Add crushed garlic to the flesh an hour or so beforehand, flash fry in oil and serve with chips.

San Daniele ham

A milder, tastier version of Parma ham. Use as you would any thinly sliced raw ham. I like it with fresh figs or mango slices instead of melon. Try an Italian trick and serve it and the fruit straight from the fridge – it’s somehow tastier than at room temperature.

Smoked sea salt

Several British producers smoke the flakes, usually in oak (I like Maldon). I grind it with smoked paprika and the dry leaves of lapsang souchong tea for a really smoky dressing.