I recently moved house, which for most people means restocking the pantry. If any former roommate or ex or parent of mine can tell you, that means my food collection comes along… but even for me this is a good time to do a pantry restock. Your pantry should be your go-to for dry items enough to produce an entire meal (I extend this to a few frozen items that I always keep on hand as well). Don’t get me wrong, I try to always use fresh items when possible— but having key items ensures that even at the very last minute you can prepare a meal for an unexpected guest or for when you are too lazy to go out but are really sick of take out.
1. Tomatoes: Tomatoes are really an amazing and versatile fruit that turn out beautifully canned. I always keep crushed 28 oz cans of tomatoes (or whole peeled) on hand to add to soups, create sauce bases or even make the base of a salsa in the winter (trust me, the taste of a canned tomato beats the pale pinkish supermarket cousin you’ll in mid-January in New York). In addition to crushed/or whole I keep diced and tomato paste on hand as well for various uses.
2. Pasta and Rice: These items are great “meals” that can be made within a half hour and despite the fact that they are simply carbs (buy whole grain if it makes you feel better)… they are great, inexpensive items to have on hand for when you are hungry and don’t have time to make other stuff. I NEVER buy pasta sauce though… those canned tomatoes can be mixed with garlic (which I also keep on hand and could consider a “pantry” item since it does last a while) and olive oil to make a simple tomato sauce, but you can run wild with the millions of pastabilities out there. I typically keep farfalle, spaghetti, and penne on hand but there are definitely others that are suitable to keep like cavatelli and gemelli. I usually keep brown short grain (Japanese), brown Basmati and white Jasmine rice on hand too as I cook a lot of Asian dishes… you can skip the short grain Japanese if you want— but for me it is my favourite.
3. Canned/dried “proteins”: Dried or canned beans (cannellini, black, and chick peas), tofu in tetra packs and tuna either in pouches or in a can are all key to preparing last minute meals with what”s “on hand”. I typically like to keep dried beans as they take up the least amount of space in my cramped kitchen… but I understand that not everyone wants to go through the efforts to soak and boil their beans for a pasta fagioli. Back beans make a great soup base, side dish, salad addition and vegetarian taco filling… I like to make my own hummus (meaning I also keep tahini at home… and garlic) making use of those chick peas. I know that both tuna and tofu are not the favourite of everyone out there— but they can both be very versatile (tetra pack tofu is usually silken, so mostly good for soup… but can also be made into a vegan ‘scramble’)… I like to use Ventresca tuna (a bit pricey, but definitely worth it) simply placed on pieces of butter lettuce for an appetiser, but also have made my fair share of canned tuna and pasta with mayo dishes (lovely with tarragon).
4. Oil and vinegar: Never buy salad dressing again: making your own dressing is easy, inexpensive and better for you (no preservatives, etc…). Always having a variety of oils and vinegars makes you ready to marinate a steak, fry up a fish or dress a pasta or salad. You need it!