Contributed by Info Guru Lindsay Shugerman
It happens to almost all of us. A friend stops by or a get together runs long and all of a sudden, you need to pull together lunch or supper for everyone. And that leftover spaghetti you were planning on reheating for dinner just won’t do.
There’s no need to panic if your pantry is ready for the unexpected. With a few fresh ingredients and a good supply of these ten things, you can whip up a meal on a moment’s notice. Of course, what you select depends on your taste and lifestyle. But these your pantry basics for company meals.
10. Pasta and noodles
Pasta can become a base for serving meat or fish, a way to extend vegetables or the best way to eat a delicious Italian sauce. Keep a selection of classic Italian pastas, Asian noodles, and sealed no-fridge-needed packets of fancier pastas like gnocchi and tortellini. Add in a box or two of gluten-free and vegan pastas, too, in case visitors have special dietary needs.
9. Broths and broth mixes
A broth or stock can add a lot of flavor to a simple meal, so make sure you have a few in your pantry. Find your favorite broth mixes, canned or jarred ready-to-use broth and broth concentrates and keep a couple of each. You can use them in sauces, on rice or noodles, or to add flavor and moisture to meat or veggies.
Most meals include some kind of protein. Although many of these will need to live in the fridge or freezer, there are simple pantry choices, too. Canned beans, canned tuna, canned meats and shelf-packaged tofu are all good choices as protein-rich pantry basics. You can use them to make soups, casseroles, fish burgers, stir-fries and more for delicious, quick meals. Go simple with familiar favorites, or include some international options for more variety.
7. Sauces and marinades
A quick meal doesn’t mean a bland meal if you keep a shelf stocked with sauces in a variety of flavor profiles. Make sure you have tangy (German mustard), salty (soy sauce), smokey (barbeque sauce), sweet (Polynesian sweet dipping sauce), spicy (hot sauce) and sour (Key Lime) so you can create any flavor profile with a few shakes.
6. Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices bring flavor to plain pantry foods, so make sure your cabinet is well stocked. Start with the basics like salt and pepper, basil, oregano, cayenne, cinnamon, sage, thyme and rosemary. Then add some blends like chili powder, curry powder and five-spice. Just a small space on a shelf can add big flavor potential to everything you cook.
Rice, like pasta, works to build meals out of simple ingredients. Stock arborio for creamy risottos (rice, broth, seasonings and some cooked vegetables and you’re there!), brown rice for a hearty, nutty base or side dish and delicate Jasmine for Asian or Indian feasts. (Hint: if cereal bugs or grain moths are an issue in your area, store rice in air-tight glass jars.)
4. Canned and dried vegetables and fruits
Canned vegetables and fruits have gotten a bad rap and it’s all the fault of the 1950’s. Just look at an ad from 50’s, and you’ll see a homemaker open a can of already cooked carrots or peas and pour them into a pot to boil until all taste and nutrition was gone. And for dessert? Slippery canned peaches in extra-heavy syrup. Yuck! That image has stayed on, even though today’s canned vegetables and fruits are lower in sugar and salt, with a good number of organic options, too.
Canned veggies are great, healthy ingredient for sauces, quick soups, casseroles, dips, vegetable pates, and risottos. Canned fruit, with only fruit juice instead of that awful syrup works for desserts, marinades for meat, fish or roasted vegetables, smoothies and homemade ice creams.
Dried fruits and vegetables are another great way to add flavor and color without taking up a lot of shelf space. Dried fruit works great in curries and stews, too.
Oils are the flavor carriers in our food, so make sure you have a good selection in your pantry. The basics should include extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and walnut oil. A high heat oil like grapeseed is a good choice if you might want to fry something for a quick crunch. For baking, a light-tasting oil like canola works well without affecting the flavor.
2. Canned milk
I cannot count the number of times I have needed milk or cream for a recipe, only to find that the carton in the fridge was down to a few drops in the bottom. Or the cream has turned from sweet to, well, “quick-take-that-outside!” My solution? I always keep my pantry well stocked with canned and room temperature cartons of milk. A good selection of regular, evaporated, sweetened condensed, soy, coconut and almond milk means I’m covered for almost any recipe. You can can even whip up coconut milk for a quick stand-in for whipped cream — just add sugar and beat.
1. Sweets or baking mixes
You can elevate a simple meal with a delicious dessert if you keep the basics for desserts and baking on hand. Of course, you’ll need things like flour, baking powder and sugar. But also make sure to include some special touches like a gourmet toffee, some fine melting chocolate and some tinned imported puddings. Sprinkle toffee over ice creams for a finish that is elegant and understated. A plain cake can become a masterpiece with just a bit something unexpected and rich.
A well-stocked pantry doesn’t have to be fancy. With simple ingredients, you can be ready to make delicious quick company meals whenever someone stops by.