Pantry food stores like beans, rice, and pasta are always good to have on hand, but it’s also nice to add some elevated items to the mix if you can. Below, some of the best gourmet pantry items to stock alongside the usual suspects.
People are cooking at home a lot right now, whether that’s out of necessity or otherwise. For many of us, even if we’re used to making meals at home, it’s much more than usual. Whatever the case may be, a lack of ingredients or skill sets could lead to repetition, monotony, or blandness at the dinner table. And nobody wants that.
Related Reading: How to Stay Motivated to Cook During Quarantine
Luckily, there are plenty of gourmet food products that can be a secret weapon to add to your repertoire, keeping home-cooked meals exciting and delicious. You just have to know where to find them. Enter: specialty boutiques bringing artisanal domestic and imported foods straight to your home.
Oliviers and Co., Stonewall Kitchen, and Despaña Brand Foods. Despaña began when founder Marcos Intriago bought a chorizo factory in Queens in the late ‘90s which over the years expanded primarily to wholesale restaurant and specialty grocery distribution, with a retail storefront in SoHo for food-savvy consumers that opened in 2006.Some of these include
Besides their signature Spanish chorizo, Despaña offers authentic flavors of Spain in the form of imported olive oils, jamon, cheeses, vinegars, vegetable and fish preserves, and much more. “All those specialties are what we’re seeing people gravitate towards in order to cook their meals at home in a way that doesn’t require a lot of sophisticated cooking practices but they’re healthy and delicious,” says Angelica Intriago, wife of Marcos and co-owner of Despaña.
During a time when pantry staples rule the kitchen, take your weekday cooking to the next level with these items to upgrade your arsenal.
Bottled: Oil & Vinegar
Do not underestimate the power of high quality extra virgin olive oil. It can take a dish from fine to fancy with the tip of a bottle. “A lot of people see it as just a cooking product. For us, in Spain, extra virgin olive oil is an additional ingredient, a finishing olive oil that elevates your cuisine,” says Intriago.
Cal Saboi Arbequina Olive Oil, $24 from Despana
Smooth and light, this is great for finishing dishes and dipping bread.
Vinegars have a similar impact as olive oil for enhancing a meal, from apple cider vinegar to balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegar, and sherry vinegar (made in the same method as sherry wine in oak casks with complex aromas). Use these on salads, in soups and sauces, for marinades, or as a finishing drizzle on top of a dish.
Global Gardens Fruit Infused Balsamic Vinegars, $30 from Food52
These California balsamic vinegars are infused with blood orange, mango, berries, figs, and other fruit.
Tinned Fish (Besides Tuna)
Imported sardines are another excellent addition to your pantry. Sardines are great on their own as a snack, in sauces, or for a quick meal just by serving over rice or potatoes with minimal cooking required. Other than their oily, umami, salty qualities, sardines are naturally high in protein, antioxidants, and healthy omega 3s.
There are many domestic and international brands for top quality sardines in olive oil, but some of the best come from Portugal, France, and Spain. Some notable brands to try are Bela, Rodel, and Cabo de Peñas.
Bela Portuguese Sardines in Olive Oil, 12 tins for $29 from Food52
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Related Reading: 15 Canned Sardine Snacks That Will Make You Love Tinned Fish
Squid, octopus, and anchovies from specialty food purveyors are other canned or jarred seafood to pull out of your pantry for an effortlessly impressive spread. You can also add canned salmon, mussels, and mackerel to your stores.
Mussels Variety Pack, $20 from Patagonia Provisions
One of each flavor is included.
Mackerel Variety Pack, $20 from Patagonia Provisions
Three cans, three flavors.
(And when it comes to tuna, these tuna salad recipe upgrades will make it taste new again.)
When you’re not able to go to the grocery store or farmers market for fresh produce, the pantry is your trusty back-up plan. The makings for an incredible salad, pizza, pasta, sandwich, cheese plate, or crostini are available in shelf-stable jars and cans.
Matiz Piquillo Peppers, $15.50 from Sur La Table
Perfect on pizza, crackers, salads, and more.
Go beyond the basics and think premium with vegetable preserves like sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts packed in oil, pickled white asparagus, hearts of palm, Greek olives, kimchi, and pickled or roasted peppers.
Olympia Provisions Pickled Vegetable Sampler, 4 for $54 from Food52
This pickled parade stars celery, beets, onion, and zucchini.
Sauces (Beyond Plain Tomato)
While it’s hard to imagine that pre-made sauce could be better than homemade, there are exceptions that come very close or are—dare we say—just as good.
If you love Asian curries, you’re in luck, because there are top-notch Indian, Thai, and Japanese curries you can buy at the store or online that rival those in restaurants.
Maesri Thai Red Curry Paste, 4 for $9.65 from Amazon
A go-to for quick Thai curry.
Masala Mama All-Natural Indian Curry Sauce, 3 for $24 from Food52
Choose from Vindaloo, Tikka Masala, or Coconut, or try all three in a variety pack.
Related Reading: The Best Slow Cooker Sauces You Can Buy Online
Japanese curry rice is the ultimate Japanese comfort food. It is extremely satisfying and delicious, typically made with potatoes, onions, and carrots cooked with chicken legs or beef in a curry roux sauce over rice. Some of the best brands to emulate that mouth watering, authentic flavor and texture are Kokumaro and Java Curry, sold in blocks.
House Kokumaro Curry Sauce, $10.89 from Amazon
Sweet and spicy, and simple to make.
Don’t forget condiments like harissa and your favorite hot sauce too.
Even pre-made meal starters and other mixes have a place in the pantry. But we don’t just mean pancake mix; look for less expected options, like Despaña’s DANTZA Spanish Tortilla Mix. Unlike the Mexican flatbread of the same name, a Spanish tortilla is made with oil-poached potatoes and is more like a frittata or thick omelette. All you have to do is add beaten eggs to the mix and cook with chorizo, vegetables, or the filling of your choice.
Dantza Spanish Omelette Mix, $7 from Despana
Just add eggs.
“It’s something that’s very close to the heart to Spaniards. Every Spaniard in any community will know that tortilla is a staple in a dish and their mom’s is the best. So this is a tortilla that you can make in 10 minutes,” says Intriaga.
As functional as they are indulgent, carbs are essential for any pantry. Whether they’re a daily part of your diet or enjoyed in moderation, pastas, crackers, breads, and beans are standard pantry foods for good reason. They’re substantial, have a (mostly) long shelf life, and are simply some of the best foods to eat.
The difference between lackluster grocery store pasta and the real deal in dried form is how long it’s dried before packaging. Pasta dried quickly at high temperatures lacks the flavor and texture of slow dried pasta at lower temperatures. Slow dried pasta come by al dente much better than quick dried as well. Up your pantry pasta game with brands like Martelli and De Cecco. For a few dollars more than the cheap stuff, it will taste as if you made the pasta with your very own hands.
Sfoglini Artisanal Pasta, 2 boxes for $20-$24 from Food52
You can shop for other small-batch brands online too.
Dried beans are also having something of a rebirth in the commercial market with the popularity of heirloom beans in the past few years. Brands like Rancho Gordo are bringing small production, sustainably made, more obscure bean varietals to the forefront which result in colorful beans with distinct flavors and textures that set them apart from standard bulk beans.
Related Reading: The Easy Secret Ingredient for the Best Beans You’ll Ever Eat
Stock a variety and use them to scoop up chicken salad, tuna salad, hummus, or dips. Or add some cheese, cured meats (or tinned fish), and/or any of your preserved veggies and you have the easiest meal ever—that’s also one of the best tasting. And you didn’t even have to go to the store.
Header image courtesy of Alexandra Grablewski / Stone / Getty Images