7 Dry Pantry Must Haves

By Global Master Chef Karl Guggenmos

My childhood home was very small. We had a kitchen, a living room and I shared a room with my brother and sister. In the living room, there was a coal fired heater and in the kitchen, we had a wood and coal fired flat top oven. We did NOT have a refrigerator until 1960 and at that, it was very, very small.

You may recall me sharing in previous kitchen tips that our family would buy fresh food every day. In fact, equipped with a list from my mother, it was my job to make the rounds first thing in the morning to the following shops down the block from our house.

  1. Milk
  2. Baker
  3. Butcher
  4. Vegetable 

Dry goods and other staples were a different matter. Once a week, my mother received a small delivery from the shop across from our house. And then there were Fridays.  This was the day that mom bought fresh meat for Sunday dinner –  mostly pork or beef roasts, but always soup bones for making incredible tasting soup. There was, more or less, only one exception to our fresh food routine though: potatoes. 

These we stored for a long time in the basement seller that remained cold all year.   On occasion, because it was so cold, we would also store certain perishable foods there for a day or so. For the most part, though, potatoes in the seller was as close as we ever got to having, or frankly, NEEDING a pantry. That’s the way it was back in the day.

How things have changed!

Today, we buy large quantities of various types of foods that are supposed to last for weeks. We store these purchases in huge pantries and maintain a certain sense of quiet, thinking that there’s always something to eat in the house and that if unexpected company drops by, there is always something to serve.

What we may want to reconsider, however, is in our choices of what to store. 

Here are, in my opinion, 7 MUST HAVE items to always keep in your dry pantry and some assorted thoughts on each.
  1. Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes keep for a long time and provide the opportunity to create quick, tasty and healthy carbs. 

  • Simply cut into strips or cubes, season with a little sea salt, black pepper, a little spanish paprika and maybe even a touch of turmeric. Then, toss them in olive oil and bake them in the oven.
  • They are also great to prepare a quick mashed potato or a hearty potato soup.
  1. Grains – Especially Ancient Grains 

Ancient grains, like bulgar wheat, brown rice and quinoa, have some of the longest shelf lives and are extremely healthy.

  • These grains are perfect just cooked in water or stock. 
  • They are also great cooked and then sautéed with onion in any healthy oil and seasoned with garlic and other herbs and spices. 
  • In the summer months, they can make a great quick salad if mixed with fruit or some vegetables and enhanced with a nice bottled dressing.
  1. Dried Pasta

One of the quickest meals is a great pasta such as Pappardelle, Linguini or Fettuccini. 

  • Cook in seasoned water or stock then toss in olive oil — maybe even add some chopped tomatoes and onions, herbs and garlic. Then top with parmesan cheese.  This makes one of the most delicious quick meals.
  1. Onions
  • Onions are a staple in any pantry because they are part of so many dishes. 
  • The unique flavor of onion provides the basic flavor profile for so many dishes.
  • Whether fresh or sautéed they are just so versatile.
  • Onions have a great shelf life.
  1. High Quality Whole Canned Tomatoes and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Just like onions, tomatoes are a must for so many dishes. They provide the acidity in stews and soups and their unique pleasant flavor improves the taste of so many dishes.

  • Look for low sodium and whole types. This way you can strain the liquid and use it for making sauce.
  • Cut the tomatoes to the size you like and add them in to whatever you are making  towards the end of the cooking time.
  • Sun dried tomatoes are very potent and provide a concentrated tomato flavor. They are excellent additions to fresh salads and pasta dishes.
  1. Canned Stock 

Canned stock is very important for the emergency cooking of stews, soups, cooking grains and pasta. 

  • Choose a low sodium, natural type to keep a flavorful, healthier profile. 
  • Seasoning can always be added later without sacrificing the wholesomeness.
  1. Coconut Milk/Cream

I love cooking with Coconut Milk or Cream. 

  • If you want to make a cream based dish like soup or sauce, coconut milk or cream are excellent substitutes.
  • If you don’t have milk or real cream in the refrigerator when unexpected guests come, mix the coconut milk or cream with stock (maybe 50/50) so the coconut flavor is not overpowering. Use a little cornstarch for additional thickening.

Final Thoughts:

Any pantry should also have an array of dried herbs, spices, seasonings and certainly either fresh or powdered garlic. Also flour and cornstarch is somewhat of an essential, as well as maybe canned asparagus, artichoke hearts and olives.

Be ready to cook and come what may!


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