At 500 square feet, my house has a smaller kitchen and less food-storage space than most. Yet at any given moment, I can conjure a dozen of meals for a dozen people—I just need to find places for them to sit.
The secret to a well-stocked pantry is to keep small quantities of a large number of basic ingredients. Instead of buying prepackaged meals, sauces, and mixes, you can store fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, proteins, and flavorings individually and mix them in endless variations. I dedicate at least half my pantry and most of my freezer and fridge space to such items. I fill the rest with homemade items that let me shortcut regularly used recipes, from stocks to pestos to condiments.
The advantages go beyond versatility. Stocking your pantry in this manner means your ingredients stay fresh, you can spend your money on quality items instead of large quantities that go stale before you finish them, and you’ll always open the fridge or cupboard and find something you want to eat.
To maximize space, my house features open shelves, and the pantry is in plain sight. When people visit for the first time, their eyes are immediately drawn to the home-canned goods, boxes and coolers of stored vegetables, and jars of dried beans and grains. The space took years to develop, and it’s constantly evolving as we find what works and what can be improved.
I recommend giving yourself the same time. These lists are intended to spark ideas, not send you to the store to check off every item. As you gradually shift from prepackaged foods to basic ingredients, you’ll discover what you use most, what you forget about, and what you can skip or buy only as needed.
The Basic Pantry
You’ll always find these essential items in my kitchen and in regular use. If you keep a bit of each on hand, you’ll be ready to make many Twice as Tasty and other recipes without a special trip to the store.
- Grains. Flour (white and whole wheat), rice (basmati, sushi, and Arborio), rolled oats, quinoa, couscous, dried wheat and rice pastas of various shapes
- Dairy. Butter, milk, half-and-half, cheese (sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan)
- Proteins. Dried and canned beans (black, garbanzo, and cannellini), nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, and sesame), peanuts, eggs, fish and shrimp
- Herbs, spices, and other aromatics. Dried herbs (basil, cilantro, coriander seed, and oregano), whole and ground spices (cinnamon, cumin, mustard seed, smoked paprika, salt, horseradish or wasabi, and whole peppercorns), dried chilies, fresh garlic and ginger
- Fruits. Frozen whole fruits (berries, cherries, and rhubarb), frozen and refrigerated juices (lemon, lime, and sweet), home-canned jars (jams and applesauce)
- Vegetables. Frozen vegetables (broccoli, cherry tomatoes, corn, and grated zucchini), stocks, home-canned jars (pasta sauces, salsas, and pickles), dry-stored potatoes and onions
- Oils. Extra-virgin olive and sunflower
- Sweeteners. Sugar (granulated, brown, and turbinado), honey, maple syrup
- Other flavorings and condiments. Soy sauce, fish sauce, chili paste, mustard, vinegars (apple cider, balsamic, and rice)
The Twice as Tasty Pantry
Ready for the next level? My pantry also contains the following items, but I store them in smaller quantities and don’t use them as frequently. Don’t worry if you’re not yet growing and preserving your own food: most of these items can be purchased in their most basic form, often from a bulk source that lets you buy a pint or quart at a time.
- Grains. I keep a lot of other individual grains on hand in quantities of 1–2 pounds, such as pearled barley, corn ground course (polenta) and fine (cornmeal), and Panko or other bread crumbs. Additional rice varieties, such as brown, wild, and sticky, give more variation and nutrients in your meals. By storing separate flours like rye, semolina, and chickpea, rather than bread, pancake, or other dough mixes, I can bake up the latest craving. But I always keep a jar of granola and one of preblended cereal grains in reach, ready to scoop from for a quick breakfast or to add dimension to a recipe that calls for rolled oats.
- Dairy. Because I’m making many of my own dairy products, my refrigerator usually holds a gallon of whole milk and a quart of half-and-half to use as is and turn into yogurt, sour cream, and various fresh cheeses. I rarely buy ice cream, but when I do I choose a basic vanilla bean that I can dress up with a homemade fruit syrup or jam in winter and fresh fruit in summer.
- Proteins. My go-to proteins are beans, nuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. All get stored independently, in quantities of no more than a pound, and turned over often. I use a range of dried legumes, from red lentils to mung beans to black-eyed peas, and buy in cans only those I use for last-minute meals. I keep a few basic nuts in regular rotation but buy others as needed from bulk bins to keep them fresh. Even if I make a mix, such as Sweet and Spicy Nuts, we tend to eat it quickly.
- Herbs, spices, and other aromatics. Although not a food group, herbs and spices dominate my kitchen. My basics list is somewhat misleading: I keep more than 50 whole or ground spices and herbs within easy reach, many in quantities of an ounce or so to ensure freshness. My backup supply, hiding in hard-to-reach corners, holds a year’s worth of herbs I grow and dehydrate at home and those I use in large quantities, such as seeds for homemade mustards. I also freeze many flavor bases in ice-cube trays as pestos, purees, and butters.
- Fruits. I tend to store fruits separately, whether dehydrated, frozen, or dry stored. That way, I can add handfuls to a smoothie, granola, dessert, or sweet bread and create a different dish every time. I blend more fruits (often with herbs) in canned goods, such as jams and syrups, and in refrigerated creations like drinking shrubs. These are then easy to serve with a simple base—yogurt, waffles, black beans, soda water—while still creating unique meals.
- Vegetables. My vegetable storage resembles the way I handle fruits: canned and refrigerated salsas, pickles, and savory spreads blend flavors, whereas dried, frozen, and dry-stored vegetables are compartmentalized. I also make and freeze sauces when I only need a few tablespoons for various recipes and large batches of stocks.
- Items I must buy. Oils, sweeteners, and other flavorings aren’t easily made at home but are essential to many dishes. I’m clearly a vinegar fan and make space for many types on my shelves, including red and white wine and malt. A few other items that fail to fit most categories but are essential in most kitchens, or at least in mine, include baking powder, baking soda, coconut milk, molasses, seaweed, and of course sourdough starter.
Ready-to-eat foods still have a place in my house. But over the years, as I’ve become accustomed to filling my kitchen with basic ingredients and making favorite foods at home, my guilty pleasures have become simpler. This makes it easier to keep them in my pantry for days that are too busy, too stressful, or too lazy to bother with scratch-made meals.
- Foods I can’t grow. Artichoke hearts, coffee, olives, black tea
- Items I haven’t yet learned to make. Tortillas, hard and stinky cheeses, water crackers, fresh pasta
- Guilty pleasures. Dark chocolate, popcorn, peanut butter pretzels, malt vinegar potato chips, alcohol
Twice as Tasty
This month, I challenge you to review your pantry, start transitioning to more basic ingredients, and begin using them to prepare more meals from scratch. The blog already holds plenty of recipes to get you started, but this month I’m setting myself the challenge of giving you more recipes you can make straight from a well-stocked pantry. Find out what I’ve come up with starting next week.
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