10 Kitchen Staples for Quicker Weeknight Dinners

A quick dinner is often very dependent on how you stock your pantry. What do you stash away in your pantry for quick, easy meals? Here's a peek inside my own pantry and freezer with ten good staples for quick weeknight meals.

These are all foods that point to how I cook: a lot of Italian and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, without much meat, and always augmented by the herbs from my garden.

TOP ROW
1. Israeli Couscous - This is my favorite grain for a quick meal; it cooks in just a few minutes! Try tossing it with oil, lemon, and seasonal vegetables for a hearty, healthy dinner. Makes great leftovers, too; I like Israeli couscous hot and cold!

2. Pasta - Where would we all be without pasta? I always keep a few pounds of pasta around, for quick dinners of simple pasta tossed with olive oil or a scrambled egg. Also, it's the base for a favorite easy meal template: pasta with meat, greens, and cheese.

3. Polenta - Creamy polenta is a new favorite weeknight meal. It takes a little longer to cook, but a base of polenta topped with caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, or grilled vegetables, like in this Quick Weeknight Meals entry, is a real treat.

4. Onions and Garlic - Onions and garlic spice up any dish, and they're called for in nearly every meal I cook. But they can also shine on their own in quick meals, with caramelized onions tossed with pasta, or flecks of garlic mixed into couscous with herbs.

5. Canned Tomatoes - Canned tomatoes are another staple that I reach for constantly. Toss with pasta, or roast with garlic and sop up with bread. They can be a meal all on their own!

BOTTOM ROW
6. Anchovies - Anchovies are not well-loved by many people, but I really enjoy their salty, savory taste. You don't need a lot of them to spark up a dish; just chop in a couple to a dish of couscous with tomatoes and enjoy their savory kick. Mixed with toasted breadcrumbs they are also a great pasta topping.

7. Broth and Stock - If you keep broth around you can use it, thickened with cornstarch or flour, to create a quick creamy yet low-fat sauce for pasta. You can also just drink it straight, with a few herbs, as a hot cup of soup.

8. Eggs - Eggs! The ultimate quick food. How about a fried egg over polenta?

9. Frozen Spinach and Artichoke Hearts - There are a few sorts of frozen vegetables worth keeping around, and I feel that chopped spinach and artichoke hearts are two of those. I sauté them quickly into pasta with garlic and onion.

10. Prosciutto or Bacon - A little savory meat like prosciutto or bacon goes a long way with couscous and pasta. Cook slowly, then toss with your pasta and some garlic.

These are my own favorite basics, along with fresh vegetables and a little meat. What do you keep around for quick meals?

Related: How To Stock a Vegetarian (or Vegan) Pantry

Originally published September 18, 2009.

(Images: Faith Durand)

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