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What’s the most underrated pantry staple? Easy: the tin can. These invariably affordable cans—that aren’t set to expire until years away—are often stacked away in the pantry, collecting dust. But their untapped power should be forgotten no more, thanks to Jessica Elliott Dennison’s cookbook “Tin Can Magic.”

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Related Reading: 11 Easy Dinners You Can Make with Basic Pantry Staples

The food writer and stylist harnesses the magic of tinned goods in a book that lets these oft-forgotten ingredients emerge as bona fide stars. Each chapter highlights a different can—from tomatoes and coconut milk to anchovies and butter beans—complete with recipes that are often no more than five to 10 ingredients. Let the cans dictate what’s for dinner, like za’atar roasted chicken with whipped butter bean dip and Indian-style creamed corn, spiced with cumin and curry leaves. Even desserts play a role, where canned cherries make an appearance in dark chocolate mousse and condensed milk is key for chewy miso-salted caramel.

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It’s likely that at any given time, your pantry will have at least one can of tomatoes. So reach in, pull it out of the closet, and get to work making Jessica’s tomato-butter sugo (sugo means sauce in Italian and is typically made from tomatoes, olive oil, onions, and garlic) with fettuccine and feta cheese. The creamy tomato sauce is bulked up with chili flakes, onion, and butter, reduced, and simmered for 30 minutes. The fettuccine is swirled straight in and finished off with a shaving of feta.

Recipes excerpted with permission from Tin Can Magic by Jessica Elliott Dennison published by Hardie Grant Books February 2020, RRP $22.99 Flexibound.

Tomato Butter Sugo with Fettucine and Feta Recipe

This dish reminds me of Andrew McHarg, an inspiring young chef with a focus on simplicity, and the creative force responsible for transforming my little neighbourhood lunch cafe into Edinburgh’s fresh pasta spot by night. It’s the first sauce we teach together on our pasta workshop evenings, illustrating how even the simplest of storecupboard ingredients can be turned into something truly comforting and spectacular. Fettucine is my go-to pasta for this rich butter sugo, but by all means, just cook whatever pasta you’ve got to hand.

Tomato Butter Sugo wtith Fettuccine and Feta

Cook Time: 45 minutesServes: 2
  • 3 tablespoons rapeseed (canola), vegetable or light olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 x 400 g (14 oz) tin of chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli (hot pepper) flakes
  • ½ onion, peeled (not chopped)
  • 50 g (2 oz) butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes, plus extra to taste
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 150 g (5 oz) dried fettuccine
  • 50 g (2 oz) feta
  1. First, heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over a medium heat for 1–2 minutes until fragrant and beginning to golden (take care not to burn the garlic). Add the tomatoes, chilli flakes, onion half, butter and salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce over a low heat for 25–30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Splash in some water if it’s sticking or reducing too much. Remove and discard the onion, then taste the sugo for seasoning. You may want to add a pinch of sugar, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes.
  2. After 15 minutes of the sugo simmering, bring a large saucepan of water up to the boil and cook the fettuccine until al dente (around 9–10 minutes – check packet instructions for exact timing), reserving a mugful of the starchy cooking water. Using tongs, transfer the fettuccine into the tomato sauce, stirring in spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water until coated in the sauce. Taste again for seasoning (bear in mind the feta will add saltiness).
  3. Divide the pasta between two plates, then finely grate over the feta to finish.
  4. Feast Tip: Roasted or charred little gem lettuce (bibb lettuce) topped with finely grated (shredded) Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon makes a beautiful side dish to this fettuccine. Throw in some nice olives, a plate of burrata drizzled with the salsa verde (see the recipe below) plus a good bottle of red and you’ve got a full-on Italian-style feast.

Header image by Matt Russell.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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