Q. I am cleaning out my pantry. So many outdated items are in there! What should I have stocked all the time?
A. A pantry can become like your “junk drawer” under the phone. The things in the back sometimes date back to the dawn of time. It is good to clean it out and take inventory of what you have. There are a few necessities to keep in it at all times that cover the basics of most savory recipes. Kind of like a capsule wardrobe, but with food. After this, you can add your favorite spices and flavors to make your go-to dishes.
1. Olive oils: An extra virgin for salad dressing, etc.; a less expensive kind for cooking; and perhaps a finishing oil of the highest quality for special touches at the end of a dish.
2. Vinegars: A few kinds – red wine, champagne and a very good balsamic from a specialty store.
3. Monosaturate oil for cooking and baking
4. Salt: Regular table salt, Kosher and a great finishing salt. I'm crazy about these designer sea salts right now. The next time you are in a specialty store, pick one up; you'll love it. Plus, they make great gifts for foodies!
5. Pepper: Regular and peppercorns for your grinder if you have one. Yes, there are specialty peppers, too, but I am just a black-pepper gal. Maybe you'll like some of the others in your grinder.
6. Pasta: Your favorite kinds. If you haven't, try some whole-wheat pasta. It's good and better for you!
8. Chicken broth and chicken stock
9. Beef broth
10. Chicken and beef bullion
11. Tomato sauce, paste and soup: Basics for Italian and Mexican foods.
12. Mustard: I am a nut about mustard, too, after spending so much time in France. A nice, regular yellow is great for sandwiches and children like it. Then have a good Dijon but also try one of the awesome grainy mustards. Your mouth will thank you. They make the best salad dressing and sauces for meat. And potatoes. And chicken …
13. Mayonnaise: Hellmann's is the only one.
14. Bread crumbs. Here I want to say if you haven't tried panko crumbs, you'll discover a great breading. Panko crumbs are Japanese bread crumbs (some of the brands are made right here in the U.S.) and are bigger and very light. They lend a nice, delicate crunch to, say, eggplant or chicken Parmesan. You can get them in any grocery.
15. Beans: Black, garbanzo for hummus or any kind you like.
16. Worchester sauce
17. Soy sauce
19. Italian salad dressing for a quick marinade
21. Olives, both black and green.
Extras: Olives, green chilies, garlic, onions, all the things that you need to conjure up a dish at the drop of a hat. These are the items you tend to always need for your special dishes, but not something you use every week.
For example, I use oceans of Parmesan and Gruyere, because I cook a lot of Italian and French food.
I keep a bunch of it in the freezer so I can always have it.
What are some of the things you keep in your pantry that you use all the time? Let me know!
Here is a recipe I use all the time, which was given to me by my Italian friend, who is, of course, a fabulous cook. It is also my middle son's favorite salad dressing. I alternate between this and my rendition of Julia Child's Dijon Vinaigrette.
Simple salad mista
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Scant 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix the first 3 ingredients and slowly pour in the olive oil as you're whisking to incorporate. (This will not bond as there is no emulsifier, so be sure to whisk it again before you use it.)
Pour this over your favorite lettuces. Please don't use the stinky bagged lettuce. Throw in some Parmesan, feta and sliced green olives.
Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She answers questions in The News-Sentinel every other Tuesday. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.