Stocking the pantry.

My recent springtime chore of cleaning out the fridge and de-cluttering (and de-expired-food-ifying) the pantry prompted me to give some good thought to the essential ingredients that I tend to keep on hand, constantly. The kinds of ingredients that could come together in some combination to form a decent dinner. The things I pack when I’m provisioning for a road-trip vacation. The essentials I’d stockpile if I were a doomsday prepper. The items I’d recommend that most folks keep around as building blocks for good and healthy cooking. Here’s the list I came up with:

On the shelf

The basics: Extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white-wine vinegar, black peppercorns and three types of salt: coarse, table and extra-fine sea salt for finishing.

Pasta: if I were to choose just two shapes, I’d stock spaghetti and orecchiette. I love the ‘little ear’ shape of the latter, which is perfect for scooping up mouthfuls of sauce. We really like Cipriani brand extra-thin egg pastas and Rustichella d’Abruzzo shaped pastas (particularly orecchiette for pasta with cheese and arugula and fregola sarda, for pasta with zucchini and pine nuts). My go-to grocery brand of pasta is DeCecco.

Grains: We cook risotto regularly, so arborio or carnaroli are always on hand. I also keep basmati rice on the shelf. Quinoa is also a staple; I use it to make hearty lunchtime salads like this quinoa salad with zucchini.

Boxed chicken broth. I prefer Swanson’s Organic. If I need broth in a pinch, I’ll use Rapunzel herb and sea salt vegetable stock cubes.

Canned tomatoes. Whole, peeled, no salt. Go with whole tomatoes; they’re better quality than diced canned tomatoes; if your recipe calls for diced, simply tear whole tomatoes into chunks with your fingers. I like Trader Joe’s, Hunt’s or Red Gold.

Canned beans. Either chickpeas or white beans (or both). If I need a quick appetizer, I’ll whirl some canned white beans (drained) together with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning for a white-bean puree that’s perfect with pita chips.

In the fridge

Peanut butter: natural, fresh-ground and salt-free. Oh, and homemade jam.

A jar of homemade preserved lemons to give a bright, salty flavor to marinades and international dishes like Moroccan chicken.

Greek yogurt: I love Fage Total 0%. Rich, creamy, delicious, versatile. Use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, or try the perfect afternoon snack: homemade yogurt-fruit cups.

Eggs: from the farmers’ market, the freshest I can find. If I’m stumped for dinner, I’ll whip up an egg and vegetable frittata with whatever leftover veggies I have on hand.

Dijon mustard: An essential ingredient in my house favorite, super-simple vinaigrette dressing.

Limes and lemons: For cocktails, for squeezing over cooked vegetables, for flavoring a glass of sparkling water.

Parmesan cheese: We’ll buy a half-pound chunk at a time and grate it fresh as we need it. Lasts for weeks.

Sparkling water. La Croix raspberry-cranberry sparkling water, with no artificial flavors, no sugar and no calories, is my soda.

In the freezer

Homemade chicken stock: Here’s how to make your own.

Summer fruits: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries … to top my morning bowl of cereal all winter long. I also freeze whole summer tomatoes.

Pita bread: Brush a pita with olive oil, sprinkle it with seasoned salt and run under the broiler until toasty brown. Great with hummus or homemade tabbouleh for a wonderful snack or appetizer.

Ice cream: I really love Trader Joe’s vanilla ice cream. It’s smooth and natural-tasting.

Cooked chicken: Grilled, roasted or boiled and shredded. I keep leftover cooked chicken in zip-top freezer bags so I can quickly thaw some and add to a lunch-able salad like this fabulous wild rice salad with chicken.

So, what’s on your list of kitchen essentials? Share in the comments below!

5 thoughts on “Stocking the pantry.

  1. My pantry favorites:

    Hot Chili Oil (Great mixed with evoo and poured on air popped corn)

    Trader Joe’s Organic no sugar peanut butter

    King Oscar Sardines in olive oil

    Trader Joe’s White Tuna

    Green Mountain Gringo Salsa (hot). It’s the closest to homemade off the shelf.

    Roasted Aneheim Green Chili’s (frozen). The best ones come from Pueblo Colorado.


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  4. Without rolled oats and frozen blueberries, the Tiny Kitchen Assistant would have no breakfast. And I’ve been making my own yogurt, so assuming that I could have an endless supply of fresh milk (also essential for the TKA’s breakfast), I could have an endless supply of yogurt.

    Also, dried black beans, and some cheap beer to cook them with.

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