I Stock My Pantry Like My Mother

published Mar 22, 2017
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I have my mom to thank for my habit of blanketing the bottom shelf of my pantry with a row of canned tomatoes. She never directly advised this purchase, never outwardly sung the praises of the incredible versatility that lies inside a 14-ounce can, and never declared them the key to all the dinners she made from them. But that might be what I like best about all of this. She didn’t have to tell me; her actions made this lesson clear.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

There Is Nothing They Can’t Do

Canned tomatoes live among the ranks of my most called-upon pantry staples like olive oil, vinegar, chicken stock, and canned beans. Open the pantry at any time and you’ll find a whole mess of them, stacked two high and reaching back to the depths of the shelf. As my mom made so clear, diced tomatoes are the real gems, but whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato purée, and tomato paste have their moments (and thus a home) in my kitchen.

Seeing them at work in my childhood kitchen imprinted on me. My mom leaned on them in pretty conventional ways; one day it was soup, perhaps the next it was stew, chili, or a saucy chicken dinner. And of course, there was always the big simmering pot of her special homemade marinara. There was even the occasional mac and cheese mixed with stewed tomatoes — always a hit!

I certainly follow in my mom’s footsteps, leaning on canned tomatoes as a pantry staple, but I’ve also discovered smart ways to push their versatility to new levels. They’re the ingredient I use in place to stock to give basic risotto a fun twist, the trick to liven up braised greens, and a way to give morning muffins a savory spin. And come the weekend, canned tomatoes are also my secret weapon for an impromptu Bloody Mary. How many things in your pantry can go from dinner one night to a breakfast cocktail the next?

I Buy Them No Matter What’s in My Meal Plan

Regardless of what’s in my meal plan for the week, you’ll find canned tomatoes on my shopping list and in my grocery cart. Without doing it intentionally, I’m following my mom’s lead. I might not need them this Tuesday night, but they’re cheap and I will use them at some point in the near future. When the time comes, I know the answer to a comforting marinara like the one she’d make — or a saucy salmon skillet I like to make for my family — is just an arm’s length away.

Our Favorite Recipes with Canned Tomatoes

What are the pantry staples you keep on hand? Any inspired by your childhood?