A good cook — and a great meal — is only as good as the ingredients that one has within reach. A well-stocked pantry gives us comfort in knowing we can create a cozy meal in minutes. But, the added bonus is that it saves us from endless runs to the grocery store when we’re in need of staple items such as a tin of San Marzano tomatoes for that killer bolognese or some beef stock for those fall-off-the-bone short ribs.
The burning question for many is: Where to begin?? With a dizzying array of spices, canned food, vinegars and condiments, how do we know the essentials WE NEED from the rest? We’re here to help with this handy guide of 10 pantry items to start with. Happy cooking!
1. Broth: Keep a selection of good quality broths or bouillon in your pantry at all times. Broth can be used for a number of dishes such as soups and stews and is also handy as a quick trick to poach frozen chicken or fish for a yummy meal. Consider preparing your own homemade broths and freezing them as ice cubes you can store in a freezer bag so they are ready when you need them. When purchasing broths go for low sodium chicken, beef and vegetable for a healthy variety that will not interfere with your seasoning.
2. Canned tomatoes: Another lifesaver, canned tomato is the perfect staple to create tons of last-minute dishes from Chicken Cacciatore to tomato-based stews and chilli to your favourite pasta dishes. We also always have tins or tubes of tomato paste on hand for thickening sauces and adding that intense (but necessary!) richness.
3. Wine: Always have a bottle of pleasant dry red and white wine on hand for cooking. Wine adds a depth of flavour to soups, stews and sauces. You can kick up your gravies using wine to deglaze your roasting pan as well as after searing meat.
4. Oil: Have olive oil available for the majority of the cooking and then vegetable oil such as canola for those rare occasions you might be deep-frying (for health reasons of course). We also love to have avocado oil and coconut oil on hand.
5. Vinegars: A selection of vinegars comes in handy for dressings as well as marinades. Balsamic, white, cider and red wine are some of the vinegars most commonly called for in recipes.
6. Onions and Garlic: Just about every dish calls for onions and garlic and it is not a bad idea to opt to keep both fresh and dried versions so you always have what you need.
7. Rice and Pasta: Although many people are going low carb and gluten-free, most families still depend on these two staples for sides and casseroles. Consider some newer items such as quinoa to replace these old favourites.
8. Cheese: Cheese can prove to be a lifesaver for any number of meals from last-minute omelettes to Mexican favourites and grilled sandwiches to mac and cheese.
9. Spice Mixes: There are many great spice mixes available at the market these days and the good news is, they’re not packed with salt and chemicals. Look for premixed spices in different flavours such as Greek, Italian, Mexican, Garlic and Herb and Cajun so all you have to do is grab the one that sounds good and sprinkle it onto meat, chicken or fish. This makes dinner easy and allows you to create something that is fast and delicious without too much thought or effort. You can whip something up stir fry style with the right mix of fresh or frozen veggies, protein and your spice mix of choice. Toss it on pasta or serve with rice and voila, dinner is served.
10. Honey and Maple Syrup: Honey can be used to create last-minute desserts, smoothies and hundreds of sauces and marinades. From the popular Honey Garlic and Teriyaki for Asian inspired meals to sweet and tangy barbecue sauces and something a little more Provencal such as honey Dijon chicken, honey adds a sweet touch of sticky goodness. It is also great for a number of salad dressings combined with your new selection of vinegars and olive oil. (And don’t forget it is perfect on toast or drizzled over berries or oatmeal for breakfast)
Part of being a good cook is learning to prepare a meal without having to run out for ingredients. This selection will keep your fridge and pantry stocked like a world-class chef.