A chef tells us how to stock our pantry (and whip up dinner in a flash)
A new year, a new masterfully stocked pantry. That's my first goal for 2017. And Joanne Weir is going to get me there.
After months of talking about it (let's be honest, years), I'm finally throwing out those aspirational spring roll wrappers, half-eaten boxes of whole wheat penne, and my collection of bland hot sauces from the artisan fair that my friend insisted we buy. Instead, I want to fill my limited, narrow pantry space with only the essentials and flavor-boosting staples that will make it possible to whip up a tasty weeknight dinner in a pinch or a satisfying snack in an emergency (read: hangry) situation.
To find out how to reboot, I turned to Joanne Weir, the award-winning chef, cookbook author, teacher and television host that you might recognize from her show on PBS. A savant of Mediterranean food, Joanne has mastered the essentials of simple, seasonal cooking with loads of flavor. She also has been known to cook up a delicious, wholesome dinner on the fly without ever even going to the grocery store. In her own words: “I can seriously make dinner from now until eternity from what I have in my house.”
On a recent visit to her San Francisco kitchen, where she shoots episodes of her show and teaches weekend cooking classes (check those out here), Joanne let me peek inside her pantry. She gave me some great ideas for dishes to make with everything in it, such as a Moroccan Tagine she was cooking that night with olives and preserved lemons from her pantry, a couple of fresh herbs picked from pots on her patio and frozen chicken thighs pulled from the freezer.
"I didn't have to go to the store once!" she said. Then she whipped up a preserved lemon hummus with a few things she pulled out. (You can get that recipe here).
Starting with the obvious — salt, pepper and an array of spices — Joanne’s pantry includes a few surprising items that she “always, always, always” must have on hand to make her regular recipe repertoire. Here’s the list:
Kosher salt: No explanation needed for this one. Along with it, she also has a collection of other salts for things like finishing salads or meat dishes, including pink himalayan salt and flakey sea salt.
Pepper: Freshly ground is superior to the ground stuff because it keeps its flavor and spice so much longer.
Olive oils: You need an everyday one for cooking (Joanne likes California Olive Ranch) and a couple of high-quality ones for finishing.
Vinegars: Apple cider vinegar is the workhorse, while white wine vinegar brightens up salads and anything raw. Balsamic is a classic. But a California white balsamic is Joanne’s absolute favorite.
Canned tomatoes: Because fresh tomatoes should only ever been in season. Joanne makes pasta sauce, soups and the base for a number of flavorful Tagines with these bad boys.
Canned beans: With a splash of olive oil, salt and some herbs you could have dinner, instant protein for a salad, or a number of delicious dips.
Mayonnaise: "It can save the day in a pinch," Joanne said.
Anchovies: These are a must. They add umami and saltiness to a number of things, like pasta sauces and vinaigrettes. Whether packed in oil or salt, Joanne said she always soaks anchovies in water for 10 minutes before using them to cut the strong flavor that turns so many people off.
Preserved lemons: Another must. They bring a unique punch to any dish. Check out a recipe for preserved lemon hummus here.
Maple syrup and honey: Need balance in a vinaigrette? Look no further.
Quinoa: Packed with protein and ready in under 15 minutes, Joanne makes a big batch during the week, keeps it in the refrigerator and eats it with with sliced vegetables and herbs for any meal.
Mustard: Many good salads are incomplete without it. Or slather it on meat and bread for an instantly flavorful meal.
Dried mushrooms: Flavor, flavor and more flavor.
Onions: They’re foundational. You always need onions.
Garlic: It makes everything taste better. No arguments here.
Dried lentils: They cook fast and when paired with a grain can make an instant, wholesome dinner.
Pasta: Pair it with those canned tomatoes and olive oil, and you’ve got dinner, hun.
Nut butter: Key for sandwiches, sauces and many tasty marinades.
Nuts: Insta-protein, texture and flavor to otherwise simple dishes.