When we talk about cooking at home (when Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and the like talk about cooking at home,) one of the most important elements discussed is the upkeep of a plentiful pantry. If you have a few tools to work with in your pantry, you can always make a home-cooked meal for a few people. In my opinion, here are some of the must-haves:
- canned tomatoes
- canned fish
- cooking oils (olive, veg)
- onions, garlic, shallots
- hard cheeses (parmesan, grana padano)
- a few herbs – dried, frozen, or outside (parsley, thyme, oregano)
- grains (quinoa, rice, bulghur)
- bouillon cubes or broth
I could keep going but I’ll stop there, because I am learning the hard way that there is such a thing as pantry saturation.
My pantry is a sweet little cupboard called a “garde-manger” in French (literal translation: “keep-to eat.”) It’s tucked along the wall in my kitchen, adjacent to the outside wall of my building. There is a little vent in the back letting in the cool, damp air from the outside.
The other day, while frosting Christmas bread (recipe coming soon, photos here), I began hunting for the slivered almonds to top the bread. Among the various bags and jars in the pantry I dug, dove, slid. I creaked my neck in and peered in the back. They were nowhere to be found. I was nearly certain I hadn’t finished them (I’ve developed this cook’s six-sense, always knowing when a key ingredient has been used up, and whether or not it’s been restocked…) In despair I topped the bread a different way – adding the end of a jar of marmalade to the icing. It wasn’t bad but not perfect, either.
Later that day I pulled something else out of the pantry and hiding behind, tada! There were my slivered almonds. Drats.
I come to you today asking for help. How do you organize your pantry? Big, open shelves with identical storage boxes, cleverly marked with a label maker? Alphabetically classified ziplock bags? Or better yet – an excel spreadsheet inventory printed out and taped on the pantry door? I’m leaning towards option number three, but so far I’ve been too lazy to spend a whole day compiling the list.
As an annex to this post, I give you a list of some of the contents of my over-stocked pantry, and invite recipe suggestions to use some of this stuff (especially the sunflower seeds!)
- Sunflower seeds I’ve made pesto with for the last two summers
- Polenta, which wouldn’t all fit in the empty peanut butter jar, so there’s a paper bag, too
- panko breadcrumbs wound up and sealed with an untrustworthy rubber band
- Lemon-flavoured penne pasta I carried back from Italy, August 2013. Seemed like a good (necessary) idea at the time.
- Urud dal I carried back from India, March 2013. Didn’t realize I could, indeed, buy this at one of the many Indian grocers around Place de la Chapelle.
- “Masala” flavoured instant oatmeal packets, carried back from India, which I definitely can’t find in Paris but haven’t had the guts to try yet.
- the nuts: slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, hazlenuts, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds
- the pasta: orzo, udon noodles, green soba noodles, fusilli, spaghetti
- the rice: Arborio, superfino, white, wild
- the grains/legumes: quinoa, bulghur, steel-cut oats, green lentils, black beans, canned chick peas, canned white beans
- for baking: the cream of tartar, baking powder, baker’s yeast, baking soda
- the gluten-free flour alternatives: almond powder, coconut flour, rice flour, oatmeal flour
- the Asian sauce elements: fish sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger chili sauce, ravioli dipping sauce
- the preserves: homemade Mirabelle jam (three jars left), homemade fig jam (four jars left), fig jam from Strasbourg (a gift), fig jam from the Cevennes, candied kumquats from Greece, cactus jelly from Arizona, a gift
- the sweetners: basic honey, upgrade honey, white sugar, brown sugar