*This article has been updated in July, 2020 for accuracy.
Always have good ingredients on hand.
Sometimes I need a meal at the last minute – in case of a surprise visitor or unpleasant weather when you don’t want to go out. I like to have some staples in my pantry that allow me to whip up a simple, delicious meal on the spur of the moment. I am assuming we all have various oils and seasonings on hand, as well as some chicken breasts, beef, and pork chops or tenderloin in your freezer so I am not including those in this recommended list.
Almond or cashew butter – This makes a great snack on crackers or spread on sliced apples. You can also whisk with tahini and water (equal parts) and drizzle over roasted vegetables.
Almond or rice flour – So many people are gluten-free that I’ve gotten used to using alternative flours to dredge chicken or fish before I sauté or roast.
Canned fish like tuna, salmon or anchovies – Easy to mash with a fork and make into a quick pate to serve on crackers or sliced cucumber. They can also turn into a pasta sauce with butter and lemon juice added.
Dried pasta – Pasta is always a crowd pleaser. Cipriani Pappardelle, Tagliolini and Rigatoni egg pastas get high marks.
Sun-dried tomatoes can be added to many things including pasta and chicken dishes. They can also be mixed with goat cheese for dips.
San Marzano Tomatoes have a fresh tomato taste. Cook them with chicken, or add broth and cream to make tomato soup
Dijon mustard is great whisked into a vinaigrette or as a marinade or sauce for fish or chicken or pork tenderloins.
Pesto sauce – Buitoni Pesto Sauce With Basil is great with chicken and pasta. $9.99.
Good chicken broth – Always a useful staple to have on hand. I like Swanson Organic Free Range Chicken Broth.
Olives – Great for an hors d’oeuvres or as an ingredient in many delicious dishes. Roland Kalamata olives are my pick. 4 lbs 6 oz. for $19.00.
Good roasted nuts – add to salads, chicken dishes or eat plain.
Artichoke hearts add a special flair to salads and chicken dishes. Cook’s Illustrated suggests that we avoid the marinated choices and add our own seasoning. Other disqualifiers are tough outer leaves or water-logged hearts. Their favorites are packed in brine with a lemony flavor. Pastene Baby Artichokes, $4.89 for a ten ounce jar.
Capers add a tangy flavor burst to pasta, chicken, fish and meat. They are actually very small pickles made from unopened flower buds. Premium capers come packed in salt, not brine. My go-to is Il Mongetto Salted Capers.
White beans (Cannellini beans) have a creamy texture which goes well in soups, salads, casseroles and pasta dishes. They provide protein and are handy when serving a surprise vegetarian. They can be mashed and seasoned for dips. Goya Cannellini Beans, 15.5 oz. can, $7.71
- Note: Don’t do what I do and let staples linger in your pantry. Here are some guidelines for keeping items fresh:
- Get rid of items you will never use.
- Get rid of items whose ‘best by’ date is long gone.
- Nuts & seeds are fresh for 3 months. Freeze them if you won’t use them up by that time.
- Get rid of oils after 3 months or if they smell rancid or taste bitter. Nut and seed oils spoil faster than others so maybe store them in the fridge.
- Herbs & spices are at their peak of taste for 6 months, after that they lose flavor and color.
- Whole grain flours & grains are good for 6 months, white flours are good for a year.
Here are some recipes with the above ingredients:
Keep your pantry staples fresh with these containers;