Staple starches are good building blocks for a great meal.

Having potatoes or pasta in the pantry is a great base for a meal. In these recipes a few pantry and fridge staples, plus some fresh herbs, get dinner on the table in no time.

In the case of the pasta, I had a packet of beautiful Kalamata olives I'd been given in Australia recently. We visited the Mt Buffalo olive grove, in regional Victoria's High Country, and although I love simply throwing them on a platter, making them the star of a simple tomato-based pasta seemed like a much better idea. You'd be welcome to chop the flesh off them removing the stones, but I don't mind having them whole.

The caper pesto salad came as a result of having a bag of baby potatoes on my bench, capers in the fridge, and a piece of smoked salmon that need to be used. Sabato had sent me some of their caper pesto, which is delicious (and which you could use if you couldn't be bothered getting the food processor out) but it inspired me to make my own. As usual, taste and adjust to your preference - I'm always tasting and changing quantities and you should too.

Potato salad with smoked salmon, caper pesto and herbs

Serves 4-6


This is a simple assembly of ingredients but with the added satisfaction of making your own pesto. Capers add great punch to a dish.

For the salad:
1kg baby new potatoes
1 cup (approx) caper pesto
200g fillet smoked salmon
1 small-medium bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and lightly fried until crisp

Cook the potatoes in plenty of salted boiling water until cooked through but not mushy. Drain well.

To serve, place the potatoes in a bowl and crush some of them gently.

Add the pesto and gently combine. Place on serving dish.

Break the salmon into flakes and scatter across the potatoes. Add the herbs and the capers.

Caper pesto:
4 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp lemon zest
3 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup parsley
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Blitz all ingredients except the oil in a food processor. Slowly add the oil as you keep blending. Taste and adjust as necessary - you may need more salt and pepper or more lemon.


Spaghetti with capsicum and kalamata olives

Spaghetti with capsicum and olives. Photo / Dean Purcell
Spaghetti with capsicum and olives. Photo / Dean Purcell

Serves 4-6

This is a really simple pasta, and it's great for a quick vegetarian dinner alongside a green salad. If you want to add meat, some chopped chorizo when you cook the capsicum would go well.

450g spaghetti, cooked according to packet instructions
1 tsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum
2 x 330g tins chopped tomatoes
Splash red wine (optional)
Salt and pepper
200g marinated Kalamata olives
Handful fresh herbs, chopped, to serve (I use flat leaf parsley)
Parmesan, to serve
Drizzle olive oil, to serve

Cook spaghetti according to packet instructions.

In a large frying pan, gently heat the oil and add the onion, garlic and capsicum. Saute until starting to go soft, 5-7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and increase the heat. Add the red wine, and season well. Add the olives. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer and keep warm until spaghetti is cooked and you're ready to serve.

To serve, stir the sauce through the spaghetti and garnish with herbs, parmesan, olive oil, and salt and pepper.


Fresh herbs provide that extra bit of flair to so many dishes and they are often the difference between a good meal and a great one. If you have a roaring vegetable garden with plenty of herbs, then I'm jealous, but if you don't have a garden, or space outside to grow herbs, just a windowsill can do the trick.

It is very easy to grow herbs from seed and cheap too. Growing from seed, you need some seed raising mix (or just potting mix), and some pots. Egg cartons work well for the beginning phase of growth, but herbs are pretty hardy: I've grown basil from seed into a hugely successful plant in a baby formula tin painted pink. Simply prick some holes in the bottom of the tin and sit on a dish or saucer (you could make that a fun crafternoon if you're that way inclined as a bonus). My friend used a polystyrene bin for his mobile herb garden - it's amazing what you can recycle for herb garden glory.

It's most important to keep them moist while the beginning phase of growth starts, and you want them somewhere with a bit of sun.

Once they've poked through and got a bit of size, you can transfer them to a larger pot (if you're using egg cartons) or, you can leave them where they are (if you've gone with the bigger pot option).

They are ready to harvest and use pretty much as soon as there are decent-sized leaves on them.

Go forth and grow!