Updated: Sep 14, 2020
I’ve had many questions from you fine followers about pantry staples and what I usually have on hand in the cocina. I get very excited about pantries and their contents- but truthfully, mine is somewhat of a black hole. It’s well-stocked but not so pretty! So excuse the lack of photography in this post... I organize my pantry about once a year and it stays nice and neat for about 2 weeks before the pasta boxes get mixed in with the canned goods and the nut butters start piling up with the jarred salsas. Ay yay yay- I try y’all, but I have always been an “organized mess,” it’s just how I operate. Here is what I almost always keep hidden in the depths of my cluttered food cave:
PASTA AND PASTA FIXINGS
I try to keep both a long shape and short shape of pasta on hand at all times- spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, and penne are tasty options that work in many pasta recipes. I love brown rice pasta in short shapes- great flavor and texture and so much easier to digest! For longer shapes, I stick to regular pasta because the brown rice brands can get sort of gummy. Don’t adore whole wheat pasta (texture is off for me), but if you love it, go for it! I also like to have “mini” shapes on hand for soups and side dishes! Like orzo, pearl couscous, or ditalini. My kids love these mini shapes as well! A box of plain couscous (don’t love those spice pack seasonings) makes a tasty, easy side dish as well, especially when tossed with roasted nuts, dried fruit and herbs. Optional: Asian style noodles like soba, ramen, or pad thai style rice noodles.
As far as pasta sauces go, Rao’s marinara is by far my favorite and I usually have a jar or two in the pantry at all times (I use it in many of my recipes). I also like to have jarred pesto sauce in the pantry: my boys love it and I frequently use a little to boost flavor in soups, marinades, and even in dips/condiments (like my white bean pesto dip).
GRAINS and BEANS
We eat a lot of whole grains in our family- my favorites include pearled farro, pearled barley, brown rice, quinoa, and wild rice (these usually aren’t all in the pantry at one time, but I always have at least 3 options). Microwaveable bowls of rice/quinoa are life savers on busy weeknights! I also keep white rices like jasmine rice and Arborio (aka risotto) on hand, but use them more sparingly. Polenta and grits are staples for me as well- they make a delicious “cushion” for saucy braises to rest atop. Also- brown rice cakes are great to have for easy breakfasts/snacks. I like Lundberg’s lightly salted ones with a little almond butter, thinly sliced apple, honey and flaky salt on top- yummy!
I normally keep one bag of dried beans (usually black or pinto) available for all day weekend bean brewing, and at least 3 other options in cans (cannellini, chickpeas, pinto, more black beans- etc.). I love lentils and prepare them often! My favorites are Lentilles du Puy (French green lentils-beautiful in salads) and red lentils (actually more orange, IMO), which are wonderful in dals and soups. Both types cook quickly and make for tasty, plant based meals!
I hoard all sorts of jarred goodies in the pantry besides pasta sauces (see above). The tuna fish I buy comes in a jar packed in oil (Tonnino brand), and I always have some for a quick lunch. I have a low key antipasti obsession so jarred olives (kalamata and castelvetrano), pepperoncini, sundried tomatoes, capers and sometimes roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts are usually in store. Pickled jalapeños are used with zeal in my kitchen, and I keep them in my pantry at all times. Jams and jellies also join the jar jamboree, strawberry or raspberry fruit spread (no added sugar) for the boys’ PBJs, fig preserves for cheese platters, and sometimes apricot jam to make glazes for grilled pork and chicken and also for fancy french pastries (which I make rarely, but a little jammy glaze makes a tart look SO pretty). Maple syrup and local honey round out the sweet jarred good category! No pantry is complete without a few jarred salsas- usually there are at least 2 jars open in the fridge, but I always have a red and/or a green jar as backup in the cupboard. I have been really enjoying Tio Pelon’s and Rick’s salsas- Texas made, minimal ingredients, picante y sabroso! I also like to keep a “dashing” hot sauce like Cholula or Tabasco handy, and Sriracha is a staple that I use in many Asian recipes! Other fun jarred things to keep include Harissa (a North African spice paste) and red, yellow, or green Thai Curry Paste (sometimes it will come in a tub or even a little squeeze bag). These ingredients pack a big punch and can be used in small amounts to majorly amp up flavor. Everyone should have soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos stocked for Asian cooking - I typically cook with tamari but they all serve the same purpose! Lastly, I love using anchovies in salad dressings, marinades, and pasta dishes. I usually buy the tube of paste (it’s already all minced up for you that way), but a jar of oil packed anchovies is something that I feel every serious home cook should stock! Worcestershire and Fish Sauce work similar magic and should be members of your pantry fam. Remember to keep these items in the fridge once opened!
CANS (that aren’t beans)
Tomatoes! Lots! I keep a 28 oz can of crushed or whole tomatoes stocked at all times for bolognese, chili, pot roasts, etc. I also always have tomato paste- how many times have you been making red sauce and checked in the fridge thinking you have it and don’t?! So frustrating. I really prefer the tube or jarred kind, but the cans are cheaper and easier to find. A can of diced tomatoes with green chilis (such as rotel) is a familiar face in my pantry- I use this ingredient in King Ranch Chicken and all sorts of Mexican soups and stews. Chipotle chilis en adobo are another canned item I use frequently to boost smoky flavor and amp up heat in Latin recipes. A small jar is in my pantry at all times. Tuna- although I prefer jarred (mentioned above)- is another canned item that you may want to consider adding to your array. Just look for tuna packed in oil- it’s less fishy and so much more moist. Coconut milk is also something I love cooking with- make sure to by full fat, unsweetened coconut milk for best results! You don’t want that curry tasting like a watery piña colada, YUCK.
Vegetable and chicken stock are the only stocks I typically use, and I really like Imagine brand with low sodium. I don’t use beef broth in my recipes because most beef broth is made with almost no beef at all and often contains a bunch of weird additives. Eww. You tend to get better flavor (and nutrition) by sticking to organic chicken broth, even in recipes where beef broth is listed.
I have almond butter, peanut butter (crunchy and plain), and Nutella in my pantry. I like the bulk type but butters you can find at places like Whole Foods and Natural Grocers- they are so much easier to spread than jarred.
Are my kids gourmands? Heck no. We survive on Annie’s Mac ’n Cheese at least a couple times a week. I like to jazz it up with soft steamed broccoli or thawed frozen peas. They also eat a lot of snacky things (they are kids after all) like veggie straws, goldfish, Bear Nibbles brand all fruit roll ups, Nature’s Bakery fruit bars, Annie’s granola bars, Pirate’s Booty, yogurt covered and plain pretzels, and apple sauce pouches. I keep a candy “reward” jar out of reach but visible on an open shelf in the kitchen- usually filled with Better Sweets brand M&Ms or gummy bears. This is a very effective bribery tool for things like potty training, cleaning up, and staying in bed all night long.