Budget-beating basics

You can produce fantastic home-cooked meals without spending a fortune – and cheaper ingredients doesn’t always mean compromising on taste. We’ve put together a list of some of the must-have stand-by products that are always worth having in the store cupboard and they won’t break the bank.
 
Garden peas

This is one of those basics that pretty much everyone has stashed away in their freezer, and while they’re a great instant side veg they’re also perfect as the star in lots of other dishes. Add to creamy risottos towards the end of cooking along with fresh herbs and a good sprinkling of Parmesan. Add to light stocks flavoured with softened leeks and then whizz to a vibrant soup, adding crème fraiche to finish for a velvety texture. Very lightly steam and whizz with Parmesan, pine nuts, basil and garlic for a delicious pea pesto – great spooned over hot pasta and potatoes.
 
Mackerel

With its firm meaty texture and lovely rich flavour, is still relatively cheap to buy. But as its an oily fish it’s really important to only use the freshest fish you can, as the oils are quite quick to spoil. Try marinating fillets in Teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds, then grill until cooked through and lightly seared. Delicious with a crisp green salad dressed with a fiery wasabi dressing of oil, soy, sugar and a tiny bit of wasabi paste.
 
Chicken thighs

Pound for pound, chicken thighs are almost half the price of chicken breasts or fillets – and the flavour is worth far more. Fantastically moist and flavoursome, chicken thighs are almost impossible to dry out by overcooking. They readily take on flavours when marinated and are great skewered and grilled, sliced and stir-fried or used with the bone in for a classic coq au vin or gutsy slow-cook casserole.
 
Bulgar wheat

This wholewheat grain has a wonderful nutty flavour and texture, can be enjoyed hot or cold and can be used instead of couscous, rice or quinoa. Simply soak in boiling water for 15 minutes before draining well and piling on the flavour. Try it with olive oil, lemon juice and plenty of seasoning to accompany roast chicken or fish. Or why not stir in your favourite roast veggies, lots of fresh herbs and griddled halloumi?
 
Pork ribs

These are always great value and delicious barbecued. Simmer in a pan with plenty of apple juice and water for an hour or so before marinating – it makes the meat wonderfully tender and it’s cooked through before barbecuing. Once simmered, drain and marinate in a mixture of soy, marmalade, crushed garlic and fresh ginger. Chill until needed, then grill on both sides until sticky and charred.
 
Sausages

Loved by adults and adored by children, sausages have got to be one of the handiest things to have on standby. Always go for the best quality you can and look out for the Red Tractor logo for quality control and welfare assurance. Enjoy complete or squeeze from their casings and mix with cumin, chili and coriander for an instant spicy sausage patty or use chopped sausage meat as the basis of a wonderfully rich tomatoey ragu.
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