Pump Up Your Pantry: 10 Non-Perishable Foods To Keep On Hand For Meals In Minutes
We’ve all been there. You really did mean to go grocery shopping this week—you even made a list. But then, it just didn’t happen. So there you are, staring at a near-empty fridge, debating picking up the phone and ordering take-out.
DON’T DO IT!
Instead, have a wander over to your pantry, and you’ll discover that therein lays a world of culinary opportunities. All you need is a little creativity and some super-basic techniques, and you’ll be chowing down on some really good (and-much-cheaper-than-takeout) grub. Here’s what to have on hand:
Canned or Dry Beans: Protein-packed, fiber-rich beans need only a little chopped garlic, salt and a spice or two to be the star of your dinner. Sauté giant butter beans in olive oil with garlic and chopped parsley and serve on toast for a weeknight riff on an Italian classic, or cook black beans with cumin, chili powder, minced garlic and a sprinkle of salt and pepper for a fabulous vegetarian taco filling.
Canned or Jarred Tomatoes: Ideally the “Fire-Roasted” Variety Canned tomatoes are the center of many of my meals. Since the tomatoes are canned at the peak of ripeness, they retain a wonderful, “summer tomato” flavor. I especially love the fire-roasted kind from Muir Glen (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods also make them under their generic store brand). I love to make a quick, fresh tomato sauce with the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper to serve over pasta, meatballs, poached eggs or grilled fish. These tomatoes are also fantastic as the base of a quick chili or tomato soup.
Dry Pasta and Noodles: Pasta often goes on sale in bulk form, i.e.: “buy two, get one free”. When your local store runs sales like this, stock up, and get a variety of pasta types. Long strand noodles, like spaghetti, fettuccine, bucatini and cappellini are great with meatballs or rich sauces they can be dragged through, while smaller cuts of pasta like penne, ziti, orrechiette and macaroni are ideal for baked pasta dishes like mac and cheese or baked ziti. Dry rice noodles are also great with Asian stir-fries, curries, salads and soups.
Dry Grains: Think quinoa, long/short-grained rice (black, white or brown), Arborio rice, farro, spelt, bulgur and so many more wonderful grains can be a healthful base of a quick dinner. Make your own homemade version of Chipotle’s “burrito bowl” by topping cooked quinoa, rice or bulgur with black or pinto beans and your favorite burrito fixings, like guacamole, sour cream and salsa. Or slowly stir chicken or vegetable broth into lightly toasted Arborio rice and finish with grated Parmesan, salt and pepper for quick homemade risotto.
Peanut Butter: Of course, this trusty pantry stand-by has always provided high-quality protein in a pinch, when slapped between two pieces of bread, but I love to whisk it with soy sauce, honey or brown sugar, a little Sriracha and water to thin it out to make a quick peanut sauce. I toss it with rice noodles (though spaghetti will work in a pinch) and top it with grilled chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu and whatever vegetables I have in my crisper. It’s also a great thickener for traditional mole sauce.
Canned, Pureed Pumpkin: This super-healthy product isn’t just for Thanksgiving anymore! Add canned, pureed pumpkin (make sure you don’t buy “Pumpkin Pie Filling”—you want pure pumpkin without sweetener or spices) to pasta sauces, soups— even pizza for a rich-tasting but super-healthy kick. You can also make a quick pumpkin soup by whisking it with enough chicken or vegetable broth to make it soup consistency, then adding salt, pepper and a dash or nutmeg. Just cook until heated through, then serve, topped with a drizzle of olive oil.
Nuts: Borrow a tactic from traditional Indian and Chinese cooking, and add nuts to your stir-fries, chilies and stews. Protein-packed nuts are full of heart-healthy oils, and add a lovely crunch and richness to dishes. I tend to buy them raw and toast them as needed to bring out their flavor.
Olive Oil-Packed Tuna: This isn’t the water-packed stuff most of us are used to. Good olive oil-packed tuna (readily available at Trader Joe’s for about $2 per can) is high quality fish packed in extra virgin olive oil, which keeps it from taking on the flavor of the tin it comes in. Flake it over a salad or toss it with capers, minced onion, fresh parsley and halved cherry tomatoes for a classic Italian tuna salad.
Dried Mushrooms: Not only is this a super-convenient way to always have mushrooms on hand, but boy do these guys make a wonderful soup base. Just cook with a little minced garlic, salt and as much water as you need for soup for about 30 minutes, and let the umami juices flow.
Olives: A quick tapenade can take your pasta, chicken, fish or regular old bread from “blah” to “Yeah!” Simply pulse in a food processor: 1 cup pitted olives, 2 cloves garlic, a handful of whatever herbs you have on hand, and a good glug of olive oil. I also love adding whole, pitted olives to roasting chicken, Moroccan tagines, pasta dishes and rice.
Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Most recently, she developed “Young and Hungry”, an ABC Family sitcom based on her life and writing. It premiers this summer (2014).