I’ve been working on a presentation entitled “The Well-Stocked Pantry”, which I’m giving to the current class of Master Food Preservers on Monday. I thought perhaps I’d share some of it with you.
It’s been said that the secret to good cooking, or to making a good dish, is a well-stocked pantry. That’s not to say should keep your cupboards filled with exotic, gourmet ingredients. But what they should contain is a good assortment of basic ingredients, from foundation items such as rice to the not-strictly-necessary herbs and other flavoring components.
Having the staples on hand makes meal preparation less stressful and more spontaneous. It eliminates multiple trips to the grocer’s for one or two items each time. And the pantry comes in particularly handy if you are growing your own vegetables.
With the right staples on hand, you can create a meal from what you happen to pick (or pick up at a farmers’ market) that day. Whatever your garden offers, your pantry should have enough raw ingredients to turn that produce into breakfast, lunch or dinner.
This list is rather minimalist, as I’ve just listed some of the basics. You would probably include a number of other items, and more items in each group than I have suggested.
For those of you whose cupboards are bare however, or who are stocking their first kitchen, it can be a good starting point. In the end though, what you keep in your pantry will depend entirely on your likes and dislikes, your cooking style and dietary needs.
The Essential Pantry
Rice – I recommend at least two kinds -
Long Grain (best for a side dish)
Medium or short grain (stickier, quicker cooking than long. Good for Asian dishes,
Optional other grains
Examples: barley, wheat, millet, quinoa
Pasta – at least two varieties
Strands (e.g. spaghetti or linguine) – best for simple sauces such as marinara or
olive oil and garlic, or cream sauces
Tubular or other shape – best for meat or other chunky sauces, good for baked dishes
Dried Beans (will take a long time to cook, requires planning)
Corn starch or flour (for thickening sauces and gravies)
tomatoes and tomato products ( If you only wish to keep one type of tomato product,
whole plum tomatoes are the best)
Beans – two or more varieties
Broth (vegetable or chicken are the most versatile)
Tuna (the most versatile of the canned fish. It can be made into salads, sandwich
filling, casseroles or even a sauce.
Mustard – used for flavor but also essential as an emulsifier in vinaigrette
Whole grain or Dijon-style
Vinegars – at least two, e.g.:
One savory, such as white wine
One sweet, such as apple cider
Any unflavored vegetable
Extra-virgin olive oil or plain olive oil
Of course you will also need some things in the refrigerator (eggs, butter and so on) and in the freezer (your meats, etc), but I’m not going into those items here. And I’m not including baking supplies, which I consider a whole different subject.
Keep in mind that there may also be undesirable results from keeping your pantry well supplied. You may have a harder time claiming “There’s nothing in the house for dinner, dear. We’ll have to go out for dinner”!