Keeping a stocked pantry is a deep love of mine; it must run in my blood. My mother also was obsessed with having backups of her favorite products in the basement — boxes of pasta, cans of beans, soup and tons of stuff in our second freezer.
Until recently we lived in an apartment, and my desire to keep a stocked pantry was limited by space. But now with more space in a house, along with a second fridge and freezer downstairs, I like to be ready for anything: impromptu guests, at-the-ready weeknight dinner or just extra reserves in case of zombie apocalypse.
But you don’t need a second freezer or walk-in pantry to keep dinner-perfect staples in your house. Just a few key products will help ensure there is always something to make for dinner.
Here are some of my favorite pantry staples, and dishes you can make with them.
1. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce
Having canned tomatoes (included diced ones) and tomato sauce on hand is essential, at least in my Italian-Jewish-American house. In fact, I cannot keep enough cans of tomato in my house.
Chickpeas are easy, cheap, high in fiber and a good source of vegetarian protein. My kids love to eat them plain, I love to roast them as snacks, and I also like to add them to pasta, stews and other dishes. Did I mention they are super cheap? I literally buy them by the caseload from Costco.
3. Matzah ball soup mix
Matzah ball soup, all day every day. I like pairing mine with some frozen kreplach, egg noodles and veggies for the ultimate comforting dinner.
Whether you are making soup, rice, pasta, stew or curry, having broths in your pantry is an absolute must. I tend to keep homemade chicken stock in the freezer and store-bought vegetable broth in my cabinet. You can also make a simple vegetable broth using leftover vegetable peelings — waste not, want not.
5. Israeli couscous
It’s not quite pasta (OK, technically it’s pasta), but it’s super fun to make as a side dish, main dish or even added to a can of store-bought tomato soup.
6. Pizza dough
Pizza dough is incredibly versatile, comes in many varieties (whole grain, plain, whole wheat, herb) and can be frozen to use at a later date. I love buying a few bags of the whole grain pizza dough from Whole Foods and pulling it out when I am in a pinch for dinner.
7. Puff pastry
Puff pastry can be used for sweet and savory dishes. You can store it in your freezer for flaky dinner deliciousness when you need it.
8. Coconut milk
Coconut milk will turn humdrum pureed soup into something creamy and luxurious, and it is a quintessential ingredient in many Indian- and Asian-inspired dishes.
Lentils, like chickpeas, are cheap, satisfying and delicious sources of protein you can keep on hand for easy cooking. I like to keep French lentils and red lentils around for soups, curry and mujaderra.
You may not think of eggs as a pantry staple, but if you have eggs in your refrigerator and a loaf of bread in your freezer, then you’ve got dinner. We loved having breakfast for dinner growing up — pancakes, scrambled eggs and some fruit is satisfying, easy comfort food at its best. But of course, you can make lots of other things with eggs, too.
Shannon Sarna is editor of The Nosher.