We've talked in the past about a few ingredient staples that help us get dinner on the table faster. Here are a few more great pantry staples (no fridge, no freezer stuff here) that will help you throw meals together at a moment's notice. The list below includes several of the basics from our own kitchen pantry, with a few notable omissions. We'd like to think that most people will have the following on hand: kosher salt, black pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, flour and sugar. Without these items, many dishes are doomed from the start, so if you're just starting to build a pantry, make sure you always have these items as well.
Here are a few more of our must-have ingredients that have bailed us out of "we don't have anything to eat, let's just go out" more than once:
1. Pasta: Although it's easy to get pasta-ed out when you're saving your pennies, having a bag or box in the back of your pantry is always helpful. There isn't a meat or vegetable that can't be combined with pasta to make a meal. It's literally as simple as that.
2. Canned Tomatoes: Though we prefer canned tomatoes from the summer harvest, canned tomatoes are a staple for many a chili or sauce. They're easy to toss into soups, stews and sauces. We love whole tomatoes as they always seem to have a little extra flavor that you don't get with pre-diced or chopped.
3. Coconut Milk: A can or two of this creamy deliciousness can make any meat into a curry in a snap, plus it's also great at thickening or in desserts. If it still feels a little odd to call a basic, check out these recipes which will make you a convert.
4. Beans: Although we stock dry beans, canned is just fine. They can be tossed into soups, salads, ground into hummus or added to ragu style dishes. They're shelf stable protein and that... that we love. If you're new to working with dry beans, here's how (and it doesn't even require an overnight soak!).
5. Rice: Choose whatever rice you eat most often and always have an extra bag on hand. Rice on its own with a little butter and salt isn't a bad way to end a day, but it can be dressed up with leftovers or whatever bit of meat and veg you have lurking in the back of your fridge.
6. Peanut Butter: Even though we grind our own peanut butter at the local grocery store, that doesn't mean we don't have a jar of the storebought stuff lurking in the back of the pantry. Sandwiches are always an option, but peanut butter can also be added to sauces, dips, desserts and more to give a rich flavor that doesn't taste like you just "threw something together at the last minute."
7. Stock or Broth: Although we make our own, the supply does dwindle from time to time. Look for no salt or low salt and organic options at the store to ensure you're getting only what you want from it — a rich taste to add depth to your cooking.
8. Pouch Albacore Tuna: Yes tuna in a can is less expensive, but it really lacks when it comes to taste (and other health and safety concerns). Look for water-packed tuna in a pouch and add it to a salad, patty it up, make a sandwich, or add it to a casserole.
9. Raisins: These small sweet snacks can be a little bit of brightness in the back of your pantry and although you might not get the hankering for them every day, they can make a bare pantry truly shine. Add them to salads, tuna or chicken salad sandwiches, eat them as they are or toss them into baked goods. We prefer golden, but many prefer the traditional dark variety.
10. Boxed Cereal: Even though this isn't traditionally considered an ingredient it can be a meal all in itself. Cereal is an acceptable dish for any time of day though it can be ground up and used as coating for fish, chicken or shrimp, or tossed in meatloaf for a little body, or even sprinkled on top of your next mystery casserole for a little crunch.
Do you have a pantry staple we didn't cover? Mushrooms? Olives? Artichoke hearts? Let us know below!
(Images: Faith Durand 1, 2, 3, Food Agencies, Emily Ho, Emma Christensen, Michele Humes for Serious Eats, Guidestobuy, Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, Flickr member wsilver licensed for use by Creative Commons)