There are pieces of food writing I skim and scan, and pieces I cherish. Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients falls in the latter category. In it, she captures eight lives as they convene and connect around food. And though her novel is about intangible ingredients, it got me thinking about the actual ingredients I consider essential.
What’s always in my pantry? What can I not cook without?
I’ve had a sticky-note-list on my desktop for the past several months, and each time I thought of a new grocery, I added it to the list. Yep, this post has been a long-time coming.
Which is why I’m too, too excited to share it with you. I hope you’ll like it dear readers. I think you will. Especially if you’re trying to make cooking at home a regular part of your life, and are sick of having to go to the grocery store to stockpile more ingredients each time you pick a recipe. That was me in the beginning.
Take your time scrolling through the list, and stay tuned in the coming weeks for some essential dishes–ones you’ll be able to pull together with these foods as your building blocks.
First, my top three:
1. Lemon – My best and brightest. I doubt the humble lemon would shoot to #1 on anyone else’s list, but it’s first on mine. So many recipes call for lemon as an afterthought, or a garnish, that I used to see it as optional. Until the fateful day I finally purchased lemons and kept them on hand. Now they’re indispensable. I buy them by the bagful and store them in the fridge. Though they make for beautiful decorations, they last longer when they’re tucked away.
2. Shallots (pictured, left) – Full disclosure: I keep onions, red onions and shallots on hand most of the time. Sometimes I add scallions (another type of onion) to the mix as well. But if you’re starting out in the kitchen, regular onions seem like a big commitment. Shallots are smaller, and impart a more delicate flavor. You can substitute them for onions in most anything to equally satisfying results. They last a surprisingly long time. If you start to notice green sprouts coming out of their tops, however, it’s time to kiss them goodbye.
3. Garlic (pictured, right) – It’s cheap, it packs a punch, and it’s called for in almost every savory recipe I make. See that note above about green sprouts growing out of the top? Time to pitch the garlic.
And the rest?
4. Spinach leaves
5. Dried pasta, both short and long cuts
6. Fresh and canned whole tomatoes (for canned, I like Muir Glen and Hunts, always go as low-sodium as you can)
7. Parmigiano Reggiano, no exceptions and no green plastic cans
8. Vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey or McCormick)
9. All purpose flour
10. Granulated sugar
11. Fresh basil (mine has been severely hacked at due to a recent pesto adventure)
12. Chocolate chips
13. Good tomato sauce (Rao’s only)
15. Unsalted butter
16. Cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better; in brick, and in shredded form)
17. Olive oil for cooking
18. Canola, vegetable, or other flavorless oil for baking
19. Sour cream or yogurt (Greek, or anything that is not non-fat)
20. Kosher salt
22. Sourdough bread (but I would understand if your bread of choice was different)
Did I miss anything on your list?