Food brings comfort, which is much needed in these unsettling days.
So how about turning to the pantry to find that comfort in the staple canned, bottled, boxed and bagged items that you might already have or that you stocked up on when the COVID-19 news broke.
As long as your cool and dry cupboard has a decent variety, you will be able to whip up family favorites and even prepare a surprise or two while you are all hunkered down at home.
In the event you don’t have something called for in a recipe, don’t rush out to the store to get it. Social distancing and substitution should be your mantra. Be creative and make do with what you have. Use water for stock, combine flours if you run short of one, replace one spice with another of your liking and don’t get hung up over the type of rice or fret over the shape of pasta as they matter only to some degree.
Here are some essential pantry items, with a good shelf life, which can be used in a range of recipes that provide comfort.
Canned tomatoes: They are a popular panty staple because they’re super inexpensive and come in many different varieties — whole peeled, chopped, fire-roasted, pureed. They’re also versatile, adding a bright, zesty flavor to meat vegetarian and vegan dishes. And leftovers freeze well if you don’t need to use the whole can. They’re perfect for Italian sauces, Indian curries, Mexican salsas and all sorts of soups and chilis.
Canned vegetables: Even those living in a cave know by now that the beloved green bean casserole swears by three items — green beans, mushroom soup and fried onions — and they are all from cans. Sweet peas, carrots and corn are key players in casseroles like potpies, and can be tossed with salads and pastas, tucked into tacos and used for bulking up soups. The dinner-savers also are relatively inexpensive.
Lentils and beans: Variety is boundless when it comes to the size and color of lentils and beans. Grab a pot, some stock and add lentils to make a soup or combine them with roasted vegetables or meats. Or smash canned beans or cooked dry beans to make a burger patty. Then there are the rice and bean combos, bean dips, and lentil and bean salads. The results are not only tasty but packed with protein, fiber and nutrition.
All-purpose flour: It’s the rare cook who doesn’t have a bag of all-purpose flour at the ready. It’s an essential ingredient in baking products, from cakes to cookies to pies to biscuits, and a cornerstone for bread from every part of the world. Flour also is what gives fried foods a crispy crust. Remove it from its paper bag and store it an airtight container to protect it from humidity.
Rice: It often gets a bad rap, especially from ketonians and Atkin-heads, for being carb heavy. But think of how versatile rice is and how handy it comes in for making a quick pilaf, risotto or simply mixing with tomatoes, lemon juice or yogurt. Whether it is long-grain, short-grain, black, brown, red or nutty, it can be served as a meal in itself, as a side and even dessert. When cooking rice, typically the ratio of water to rice is two is to one.
Pasta: Everyone has at least one box of dried noodles in their pantry, right? From elbow macaroni and egg noodles to dried spaghetti, penne, rigatoni and mini or jumbo shells, pasta is the ultimate comfort food. Even better, it has a super-long shelf life and is inexpensive. All you need is a pot of boiling water and a simple sauce — or maybe even just butter and grated cheese — and voila, dinner is ready.
Canned tuna: Canned tuna isn’t as popular as it was in the 1950s, when it was America’s most popular fish. But it’s still a relatively inexpensive source of protein that can transform a pot of cooked noodles into a quick and easy casserole. Tuna also can pitch-hit for crab meat in a patty and add substance to a bed of greens.
Cereal: There’s nothing like an all-day-breakfast fare, especially when it comes to cereal. Whether it is alt-grain, loaded with dried fruits and nuts, riff on a cookie, frosted with sugar, flavored with chocolate or cinnamon or “burst” with yogurt, it is unfussy and satisfying. Cereal can go well beyond a bowl with milk, and be used as a base for cookies, crunchy pie crusts and cheese crisps. Just think outside the box.
Chips: Crunchy munchies of any kind is the definition of comfort for some of us. There is something about the fried snack that eases the mind. In fact, there is even scientific research to prove it. The Journal of Neuroscience published a study 10 years ago that found that “elevated levels of salt in the body lowered stress hormones.” In addition to simply munching on chips, reduce your calorie guilt by building a salad with them. Nacho salad, anyone?
Canned fruits: Fresh fruit lasts only so long on your kitchen counter, and is often limited to a certain season. Canned pineapple, for instance, brings a taste of the tropics any time of year, and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Look for one that has no added sugar or is canned in fruit juice instead of sugar syrup.