A full pantry is a cook’s best friend

My pantry is like an arsenal, but it isn’t ammunition I’m stocking – it’s food for my family.  On my shelves, you’ll find bags of dried beans, boxes of broth, raw honey bought in bulk, canned tomatoes, pasta in all shapes and sizes, jars of jelly, loads of rice and a wide variety of spices, among other things.  

Living out of town necessitates that I keep plenty of food on hand, but I think there are many good reasons to have a well-stocked pantry, no matter where you live.  My pantry helps me to prepare everyday kinds of food on the fly and gives me security in knowing that my family will have plenty to eat if we can’t get to the store.  It also helps me to be prepared for unexpected guests and keeps my food budget in check. 

Though so-called “extreme couponers” have entire rooms devoted to their pantries, mine is much more humble—just a standard tall kitchen cabinet outfitted with roll-out shelves.  Don’t let its small size fool you, though.  It’s deep and has plenty of room for all my kitchen staples. 

Thanks to the advances in packaging technology, it’s possible to buy things like organic, shelf-stable milk and high-quality pureed soups.  As a result, you can truly create a complete meal out of stored food, without so much as thinking about using anything that’s been made into a powder. 

A pan of warm, creamy risotto is a meal you can create in minutes. Add leftover meat, vegetables and cheese to make a hearty meal.

One of my family’s favorite pantry meals is basic risotto.  I sometimes serve it with whole wheat pumpkin muffins, also made from items stored in my pantry (except the eggs, which we always have from our three backyard hens).  Both the risotto and the muffins can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.

Though risotto may sound like fussy gourmet fare, it’s an incredibly simple dish to make.  It’s true that you have to stick close to the stove while it cooks, but it only takes about 20 minutes to prepare.  Plus, it’s highly adaptable, allowing you to add a wide variety of ingredients (or leftovers) that you already have on hand. 

Start with this basic risotto recipe (which I found on the back of a package of Arborio rice) and then branch out to try new versions of this classic food. 

Basic Risotto
Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 quart boxed chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion or shallot
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the stock to simmer in a saucepan; then lower the heat just to the point that the stock stays hot.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion or shallot and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice to the pot and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the wine and stir until all the liquid is fully absorbed.
  5. Add a ladle full of hot chicken stock, stirring until the liquid is absorbed
  6. Continue adding stock, a ladle full at a time, for 18-20 minutes, or until the grains are tender, but firm.  (If you run out of stock, you can continue with hot water, until you reach the desired tenderness.)
  7. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8.  If available, add ¼ cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins
Ingredients: 

  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup honey

 Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center, and put in eggs, pumpkin, oil and honey. Mix just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Spoon into muffin cups so they are about 2/3 full.
  3. Bake for 18 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in the pan before removing from cups.

Voila!  In about 20 minutes, you have a tasty pantry meal that you can make in a pinch.

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