Whether you are furnishing your college-aged son’s kitchen for the upcoming school week, your elderly father’s pantry for a holiday weekend or filling up your own kitchen cupboards for the lock-down due to the corona-virus, you need a strategy. There is no sense in stockpiling loads of random items, especially fresh produce that will perish quickly. So, if you only get to food shop once a week or less frequently, what are the basic ingredients that should not go missing in your pantry and what’s the best way to organise your pantry? CrunchyTales has got you covered.
But first…find a place for everything
Just like in a professional kitchen, it’s important to have a clear place for all products. Start with cleaning out the space you want to use for your kitchen pantry, whether it’s a stand-alone closet or a smaller kitchen pantry cabinet. The same goes for your fridge and freezer. Throw outdated items and anything you know you’ll never use again and when you add new staples, make sure to place them behind or below the old ones. As you take stock of what you have, organise ingredients in a way that feels intuitive to you. Usually, a storage space with more shelving is the most efficient configuration for ingredients. Drawers or slide-out shelves also help tremendously with visibility. You can even take a quick inventory of what you already have before you head to the store, which prevents overbuying and food waste.
Knowing that you can always have a simple, healthy, delicious meal at your fingertips will revolutionise the way you cook and shop – she says-. By combining larder staples like flours and grains, pulses, pasta and spices, as well as dried fruits, nuts and seeds for instant dessert or breakfast solutions, with a little fresh produce, you can enhance your dinner or just make a storecupboard supper from scratch.
A well-stocked pantry
For Filomena Moccia, chef at Antica Mola Restaurant in Castelnuovo di Porto (Rome), “you can’t go wrong with staples like flour, beans and lentils, rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, tuna, olive oil, garlic and dry yeast. These goods tend to have expiration dates that do not require immediate preparation and can last several months in your pantry”.
Beans, rice, whole grains and lentils can be added to several dishes for instant protein and filling fibre. They are perfect with soups, stews and salads, and might be enhanced by a variety of nuts, such as pistachios, pecans, walnuts, peanuts and almonds. Canned fish also play an important role in a well-stocked pantry. Tuna is an obvious choice but also look into canned salmon, sardines, and anchovies, which can add taste to pasta and rice dishes.
Gennaro Oliviero, chef at Toca Restaurant in Helsinki, who also suggests staples like dried pasta and canned tomatoes, rice and eggs, doesn’t underestimate the importance of condiments. “Oils, vinegar, dried herbs, garlic are the backbone of many recipes – he says-. They’re necessary for quick marinades, salad dressings, and more”.
Don’t forget to add to your list some hard cheeses, like Cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano: they can add an instant boost to any meal and last more than two weeks (as long as you make sure to store them properly). Eggs have a solid shelf life, too. They are one of the most versatile foods you can have at the ready: they’re a convenient way to get a protein fix and they pair well with fresh or frozen veggies. Store eggs in their carton on a fridge shelf (where they’ll last for about three weeks).
Last, but not least, make sure to add to your list fruits and veggies. It’s always a good idea to keep both your freezer and pantry loaded up with fresh foods. When stored properly, potatoes, onions, garlic, lemons, carrots and apples can last weeks or even months (as long as they are kept in a cool, dry, dark place). Frozen vegetables are the next best thing to fresh because they don’t have any extra salt or preservatives added. Peas, spinach, broccoli are always there ready and waiting to be tossed into a soup, casserole, pasta dish.
Be creative with what you have
You don’t need to spend a lot of money filling out your kitchen pantry during one trip to the grocery store. Start with what you have and expand your pantry as you expand your cooking skill set. Over time, you’ll find it easier to make meals from scratch using what you have on hand.
Because of the nature of my job I constantly acquire more indiscriminate ingredients than any one single person can ever reasonably cope with – chef Valentina Harris explains-, but I simply can’t throw anything away and I do my best to use things up as much as I can. As a result, my pantry, but also any random drawer, shelf, under-bed space or cupboard, always bulge with opened, part-used packets of weird and wonderful things like asafoetida, about 1,000 star-anise and endless other spices, bizarre pulses, at least 30 different kinds of chilli sauce, strange bottles of booze and several items I can’t readily identify alongside more the obvious, regular ingredients. So in this period of enforced solitude and cancelled work – she says-, I am starting to work my way through all the jars, boxes and packets, and experimenting in ways to use those still in date usefully. It’s my personal challenge, but out of this gallimaufry of culinary riches, I am slowly creating a whole new range of recipe ideas. I’m sure many other people also have strange things in their pantry that they have never really used and this just could be the time to be brave, to step out of your comfort zone and plunge into a world of new flavours.
Beyond that, just buy what looks best and what’s seasonal. Then rely on your pantry for the rest of your daily inspiration.