Pantry Essentials for a Well-Stocked Kitchen

Stock up on these 18 staples and you’ll always be ready to make a quick, healthy meal.

  • These workhorse ingredients are your best friends when it comes to delicious, sensible eating.
    Photo By Loupe
  • Garbanzo beans can be added to soups and salads, slow-roasted with vegetables and tossed in stir-fry dishes.
    Photo By iStock

  • Photo By Loupe
  • The mild flavor of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese makes it a perennial favorite with kids.
    Photo By iStock

When we talk about culinary creations, it’s always fun to focus on seasonal veggies, fresh herbs, just-caught seafood, delicate cheeses or grass-fed meats. But conscientiously stocking your pantry with long-lasting, multipurpose essentials is just as important as fresh ingredients to creating healthy, quick meals. By stocking your pantry with the smart essentials listed here, you’ll be ready to create quick culinary masterpieces out of whatever fresh veggies, herbs and meats you haul from your garden, farmers market and local meat counter. These workhorse ingredients may not be as glamorous as wild scallops or heirloom tomatoes, but they are your best friends when it comes to delicious, sensible eating.

Pantry Essentials

Marinara sauce is a mainstay of Italian cooking—and while a jar on the shelf or a batch in the freezer can certainly help you whip up a fast pasta dish or top a pizza, its uses don’t end there. Marinara makes a great sauce for meatball sandwiches. You can layer it with oven-roasted slices of zucchini or eggplant and cheese for an Italian-inspired veggie sandwich. Try stuffing bell peppers or zucchini with a blend of sautéed veggies; chicken, ground beef or meaty vegetables (such as mushrooms); and breadcrumbs, croutons or brown rice—then throw them in the oven in a dish surrounded by marinara. You can add marinara sauce to soups, or use it as a base for homemade stew and chili. Make an Italian-style meatloaf by topping it with the zesty sauce, or add it to your favorite Sloppy Joe recipe. Freeze marinara sauce in food-safe containers and use within three months for best flavor.

Frozen chicken breast cutlets defrost more quickly than whole chicken breasts, so they can easily be thawed and sautéed in a little butter or olive oil for a quick entrée. Slice the cutlets in strips and sauté with frozen vegetables for a quick stir-fry, or use as a pizza topping with barbecue sauce and caramelized onions. After a quick turn on the grill, chicken cutlets can be sliced for fajitas and tacos, or chopped and combined with lettuce and tomato for an easy burrito filling. To freeze, layer each cutlet between sheets of parchment or freezer paper and wrap tightly with more paper. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or use the microwave “defrost” setting.

Organic chicken, beef or vegetable base is the gourmet equivalent of the bouillon cubes our moms relied upon for quick broth. It’s easier to store than stock or broth, and its concentrated form means a little goes a long way. Today’s soup base is made by slow cooking organic vegetables and meats, resulting in a top-quality, richly flavored product. Use reconstituted base for soups, gravies and sauces, and to flavor rice, quinoa and pilafs. Once opened, store the tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator until the “best when purchased by” date. You can also make your own base by reducing homemade broth or stock. Boil it in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat until the mixture is thick and syrupy; cool and freeze in an ice cube tray for easy-to-use portions.

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are rich in antioxidants and a good source of fiber and protein. Whether they’re dried or canned, the buttery beans can be added to soups and salads, slow-roasted with vegetables and tossed in stir-fry dishes. Whirl 2 cups of garbanzos in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1⁄2 cup of olive oil to make a simple hummus spread; season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with raw vegetables. To cook dried garbanzo beans, see “The Humble, Healthy Bean” at right.

Cream cheese has many uses, from thickening sauces and soups to creating creamy mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs. Mix some finely chopped vegetables, pesto or chopped sun-dried tomatoes into cream cheese for a quick appetizer spread to serve with crackers. Unopened cream cheese can be stored in the refrigerator at or slightly below 40 degrees for up to one month past the “best when purchased by” date. It can also be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to four months. Although it may be less creamy after it’s thawed, a quick whirl in a food processor or blender will restore its smooth texture.

10/7/2014 7:45:54 AM

Add to the no BPA processed tomatoes list: Tetrapaks, Jovial, Bionature, BioItalia, Hunt's plain tomatoes (but not its other ones) Any other ones out there?

4/10/2014 9:53:38 AM

Well to me this was pretty lame. Is this a well stocked pantry, kitchen, or a yuppie pantry? To me it should be things that last with a long shelf life. Not things a lot of people have never seen or heard of. They should be simple, able to mix with least effort, and still taste and be good for you. Things that don't cost a fortune and a web search to find. Things you can put up yourself not over processed buy a huge company. Or trendy to over charge. What if the power goes? A lot of that stuff is a waste. I do see this is not a survival pantry and the title doesn't say this either. Still it seemed a little like name dropping to me. Not the most practical.

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