We truly cannot overstate the importance of stocking your pantry. And no, not just because of all the coronavirus news you can't escape right now (though that has certainly driven it home). Any night you need a fast and easy dinner, you can turn to your well-stocked pantry for inspiration and whip up something delicious.
Make sure the larder is properly packed with both basic essentials (your canned beans and tomatoes, for instance) as well as high-impact flavor agents (capers, anchovies, etc.) and it won't even matter if you don't make it to the store all week (let alone the farmers' market). Because you can still make a fantastic homemade meal with pantry staples -- and it doesn't need to be dull. A few tricks, like using fresh citrus and spices, liven up even the simplest ingredients.
Here are some of our favorite easy pantry meals for any night:
1. Indian chickpea curry
With a few inventive uses of spice, you can easily transform pantry staples like chickpeas and canned tomatoes into a memorable meal. This curry relies on garlic, onion, cumin, paprika, ginger and coriander to add bold and bright flavors to the humble canned chickpea. Get Chowhound's Indian chickpea curry recipe.
2. Creamy tomato soup
Canned tomatoes are one of the most versatile ingredients in our kitchen. This recipe turns them into a fantastic soup with a little cream for richness (but if you don't have any dairy, make Chowhound's spicy tomato soup recipe instead). The fresh basil chiffonade is a great garnish, but if you're all out of herbs, sprinkle croutons or crackers over it for a finishing touch. Hard cheese like parmesan will keep forever in the fridge, so make sure you always have that, too (and don't throw away the rind when you've grated all you can; add it to the soup pot to infuse it with flavor). Get Chowhound's creamy tomato soup recipe.
3. Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Pasta is the saving grace of an unprepared cook. Even when you haven't gone to the grocery or planned a meal, you can still make an excellent dinner with things you have on hand. This classic Italian pasta is made hearty with the addition of salty pancetta, and best of all, it doesn't take too much from prep to plate. Get Chowhound's bucatini all'Amatriciana recipe. (No pork products? This rigatoni with butter, tomato and onion sauce is even simpler -- and inspired by Marcella Hazan.)
4. Braised white beans with chard
A filling and delicious meal made with simple pantry staples: Put this on your must-make list. Braising cannellini beans in broth with some aromatics gives them a deep, hearty flavor. A dash of white wine vinegar adds some complexity and brightens up the dish. Use Swiss chard to get your greens in, or swap the chard for any other sturdy leafy vegetable (including frozen spinach if that's what you have on hand). Get Chowhound's braised white beans with chard recipe.
5. Desperation spaghetti carbonara
You're hungry and craving something warm and comforting, but you forgot to shop. The fridge is empty and you're starting to panic. Enter spaghetti carbonara. This brilliant recipe uses nothing but dried pasta, cheese, garlic, eggs and butter. Every time we make it, we're surprised by how a few simple ingredients can yield such a sophisticated-tasting dish. Master it now and never go hungry again! Get Chowhound's desperation spaghetti carbonara recipe.
6. Basic scrambled eggs
For a meal that's easy, cheap and requires no fancy ingredients, scrambled eggs can't be matched. This is our go-to recipe for when the fridge feels empty and we don't have the energy to scrounge for more complicated food. If you want to dress it up a little, use whatever you have on hand, like cheese or bacon or mushrooms. Get Chowhound's basic scrambled eggs recipe.
7. Vegan scramble
If you don't eat eggs (or are just fresh out), you can also make a mean vegan scramble with chickpeas -- grinding some of them in a food processor is key to the texture. If you don't have leeks, swap in onions, shallots or even scallions for a slightly different taste in the same spirit -- and keep a jar of roasted red peppers in your pantry, as they can be used in many recipes that call for bell peppers that will be cooked until soft (like this one). If you miss that distinctly egg-y taste, consider making Indian black salt part of your spice stores. Get the vegan scramble recipe.
8. Green pea soup
A winner in any season, this pea soup relies on lemon juice to brighten up the otherwise simple roster of ingredients. When fresh peas are in season, use them to give the soup full-bodied flavor. In the winter (or when fresh produce is otherwise scarce), frozen peas work wonderfully. Get Chowhound's green pea soup recipe.
9. One-pan weeknight pantry chicken puttanesca
This one-pan dish is packed with flavor, thanks to shelf-stable stalwarts like olives, anchovies, capers, tomatoes and garlic. The rice soaks up the sauce (and yes, it really cooks in the same pan), but can be skipped if you prefer to serve with bread or pasta. Keep chicken thighs in the freezer and you'll be able to make this on very short notice. Get the one-pan weeknight pantry chicken puttanesca recipe. (Or keep it classic-ish, and make Chowhound's spaghetti puttanesca recipe with a nontraditional twist.)
10. Chorizo and olive flatbread
Cured meats last a surprisingly long time in the pantry (or the fridge), so stash Spanish chorizo somewhere in your house and you can make this easy pizza alternative any time. The base can be prepared pizza crust or flatbread of any kind, which you can keep in the freezer until you need it. Stonefire naan and Trader Joe's Middle Eastern flatbread are both worthy options. Oil-cured olives, diced tomatoes, harissa and lightly caramelized onions are the other power players. Get Chowhound's chorizo and olive flatbread recipe.
11. Baked potatoes
Keep potatoes in a cool, dark and dry place and they'll be good for a while -- and they're good for so much. One easy way to take advantage of the humble spud is to simply bake it and top with whatever combination of pantry staples you please. If you're a fan of a certain tinned fish, try tomato sauced sardines and sauteed onions. Find the recipe in Chowhound's round-up of things to do with canned sardines.