Since we’re all staying at home much more than usual these days, and because we’re probably cooking much more than usual, I thought I’d put together some thoughts on how to cook from your pantry. These are my 30 best pantry recipes. You can make each one of them today and no shopping is needed.
I know it can be daunting to think about making three meals a day, every day, for the foreseeable future. I know some people just don’t enjoy cooking. Maybe cooking just isn’t a skill you’ve developed. There have been other priorities, right?
But maybe we take this opportunity to slow down and learn some new skills. Spend time with our families. Read a book. Play a game. Clean out that guest room closet you’ve been putting off for the last six years (oh wait, that’s just me).
Maybe you’ll start enjoying cooking a little more. Who knows, you might learn to like it. Just a little bit.
So What Does Cooking From Your Pantry Mean?
Well, I think it means simply using what you have on hand. For instance, I always, always, always have canned tomatoes in my pantry. And pasta, and onions, and garlic. And beans. Usually, there’s some tuna in there, too, along with flours and cornmeal, vinegar, oils, sugar, spices, and herbs.
Maybe your pantry looks different from mine and you don’t keep a lot of stuff on hand all the time. That’s okay (we don’t really need to clean out all the grocery store shelves, do we?).
Pantry items, in my opinion, also include stored frozen items and fresh things that I buy regularly. In other words, the basics of cooking.
How to Stock Your Pantry
If you’re trying to get your pantry up to speed, you’ll need to focus on just four main categories: proteins, carbs, veggies, and fats.
Pantry proteins as things like eggs, canned fish, beans, sausage, meat, and fish. The carbs category includes gains, pasta, oats, and longer lasting fruits like apples. As far as veggies go, you’ll want fresh things that last a while like onions and carrots plus very long storage items that are canned and frozen. And the fats are, of course, oils, nuts, and seeds.
About the Recipes
I’ve put together a list of 30 recipes from my blog that each use primarily pantry staples. Many of the ingredients you probably already have on hand and where anything out of the ordinary is called for, I’ve suggested ways you can substitute something else.
The majority of the recipes are pretty simple and require basic kitchen skills. In other words, I’m not trying to teach you how to catch your own wild yeast and make sourdough bread here. And the list gives you enough variety to keep you interested. I think. There’s even a sweet treat or two at the end.
Thanks to the Heroes
While the majority of us are at home right now with families close, there are millions of folks out there making sure that we can get the food we need. They’re the farmers, laborers, packagers, processors, warehouse workers, truck drivers, clerks, cashiers, and so many more that are working daily to make sure we all eat. Please take a minute to thank them for what they’re doing.
Also, a huge debt of gratitude goes to Every. Single. Person working in the healthcare field. Without them, well, we’d all be lost.
And last, but by no means least, kudos to all you sanitation workers. Oh my gosh, what unsung heroes you all are.
My 30 Best Pantry Recipes
Below each recipe, I’ve included notes about what ingredients, if any, you can substitute in case you don’t have access to all the ingredients called for.
Snacks and Side Dishes
Change up the sweet pickle relish for whatever pickle you may have on hand. Got some hot dog relish? That’ll work. And that jar of fancy French mustard that’s been in the back of your fridge for six months. Yeah, that one. Mix a little of that in as well. Delicious and comforting.
Wow, this is a really, really old recipe. It was one of my grandmother’s favorites. And it’s just as good today as it was years and years ago. It gives a fresh, bright note as a side dish with roasted meats and can stand on its own as a salad. And who doesn’t have a can of tomato soup on hand most of the time? Try drained, canned carrots in place of fresh if you don’t have them.
Biscuits are always delicious with breakfast. Cinnamon raisin spiced ones even more so! Try these in the morning or for an afternoon snack. No raisins? Sub in dried cranberries or chopped dates. Even dried cherries. And if you don’t want corn syrup in your glaze, just leave it out.
This is the best cornbread. Honestly. I make it often and we never get tired of it. However, you might not have the finely ground white cornmeal that I like to use, so just go ahead and substitute any cornmeal you happen to have. Also, if there’s no buttermilk on hand you can make your own by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of whole milk and let it stand for 5 minutes. You could even substitute plain yogurt in a pinch.
We’re all cooking a lot of soups these days and you always need something to dunk into them. Am I right? If you have some cornmeal on hand and a few scallions, you have just about everything you need to make these deliciously different fritters. Any type of cornmeal will work and you can always substitute plain old onions for the scallions.
You knew I had to include it somewhere in this list. That staple of every southern kitchen. This is my really basic, really authentic recipe for Pimiento Cheese. Three ingredients. Five minutes. Done.
If you want to try making your own homemade mayo while you’re at it, here’s the recipe: Homemade Mayonnaise
Soups and Salads
You can substitute any canned beans for the black beans. Pinto beans are really good. Also, if you plan a bit ahead, you can use dried beans instead of canned by soaking them overnight. Place the dried beans in a large bowl with enough water to cover by two inches. Cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge overnight. Drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the recipe.
For this one, use all regular canned tomatoes in place of the San Marzano and dried tarragon instead of fresh. If you don’t have tarragon at all, use any other herb in its place. Basil and oregano work really well.
Talk about fast. Twenty minutes from the time you get out a pan, you’re sitting down to dinner. Or lunch. Canned beans and canned tomatoes are the basis of this delicious soup. The beef stock gives it a rich flavor but can be omitted to make this suitable for vegetarians. Use either dried or fresh basil depending on what you have available.
Here’s an idea for a one-pot meal that you can throw together and leave to cook while you’re doing other things. Like overseeing kids doing online school work. Just chop up a few things, toss them in the slow cooker, et voila… dinner! Feel free to adapt the veggies to things your crew likes. I’ve made this with added green beans, butter beans, and even tossed in some spinach near the end for a nutrition boost. Serve with rolls or freshly baked bread. And plenty of butter. Always butter.
All stuff straight out of the pantry, including the peas. No fresh parsley? Use dried or just forget it. I just remembered that I made this one time when my mother-in-law was at our house and she nearly ate the whole bowl. It’s a good one!
This is my favorite tuna salad recipe. It has a slightly sweet bent due to the apple and sweet pickles I mix in. However, if you prefer a more savory tuna salad (which would probably be even easier based on the contents of most pantries), make yours with finely chopped dill pickles, finely chopped green onion, a tiny touch of mustard, and a bit of mayo to bind it all together.
You might wonder why I’ve included egg salad in this list. Well, simply because it’s one of my comfort foods. Not all egg salads, but this one specifically. Now I know fresh herbs might not be in your fridge right now, but maybe you have a bit of parsley? Any combination of fresh herbs would be great, or you can always substitute dried ones. You’re just looking to brighten up the flavors. And, of course, you don’t have any capers, do you? If not, use some finely chopped kosher dill pickle in your mixture. Serve it on any kind of bread that takes your fancy.
Sometimes you just want something that reminds you of your mama. Especially if you’re isolated in your house and she’s in hers. And it’s a four-hour drive away. That’s why I included this recipe. I don’t think we’ve ever had a family dinner where we didn’t have a congealed salad of some kind. And this is one of the best. If you don’t have cream cheese but if there’s cottage cheese, mascarpone, or ricotta available, use that instead.
Since you’re already cooking from scratch, why not make your own salad dressing? They’re cheaper than bottled, fresher, and you know exactly what’s in them. Hint: there’s no preservatives. Whip up a batch of ranch and keep it for up to a week in your fridge. If you’d like to try others, I also have recipes for Green Goddess Dressing, a Sweet Balsamic Dressing, Blue Cheese Dressing, Lemon Vinaigrette, and Classic Vinaigrette.
This is one of the easiest recipes to adapt and adjust of any pasta sauce. No white wine? Just add water. No passata? Puree canned tomatoes instead. For the fresh basil, of course substitute dried and add some oregano if you want. In place of the half and half, use regular old milk.
To make it from your pantry, substitute two 14.5 ounce cans of tomatoes for the fresh, a package of thawed and drained frozen spinach for the arugula, and 2 teaspoons of dried basil for the fresh.
In the meatballs, instead of ricotta cheese you can substitute cottage cheese, cream cheese, or goat’s cheese and you can use any bread for the bread crumbs. For sauce, use any canned tomatoes you have on hand (puree them or chop as finely as possible) and use dried instead of fresh basil.
Another basic recipe with really simple ingredients. The only substitutions you might need for this one are using regular canned tomatoes in place of the San Marzano and dried basil instead of fresh.
This is a basic recipe that can be adapted in many ways. If you don’t have chicken broth or stock on hand, use an equivalent amount of water and bouillon cubes. You can also substitute other proteins such as ground beef for the chicken. Add tomatoes for a totally different taste. Even substitute pasta (macaroni or other short cut pastas) instead of rice. Take this recipe and make it your own!
Pantry substitutions for this recipe: Use linguine or another wide ribbon pasta for the noodles; make an easy white sauce (bechamel) to sub for the mushroom soup along with a small can of sliced mushrooms if you have them; make the pimiento and green peas optional; and substitute crumbled potato chips for the cracker topping.
This one is pretty easy! Just substitute any kind of bread and cheese you may have on hand.
This classic, vintage recipe has always been budget-friendly and pantry ready. If you don’t happen to have the dill weed I specify, just leave it out. It’ll taste just as good. I promise.
Again, this one is so basic that every single ingredient is something most of you will have on hand. The only thing you might not have is poultry seasoning. You can either substitute about half the amount of dried sage or just leave it out. Yummy either way!
Don’t let the apparently long list of ingredients stop you from trying this recipe. It’s just a bit deceptive. The recipe is easy to make and is comfort food at its finest! Don’t feel like starting by cooking a whole chicken? That’s okay. Use leftovers and pick up the recipe at that point. No pimiento? Just leave it out. Substitute any milk for the half and half. I think you’ll love it once you give it a try.
The king of comfort foods. Very pantry oriented and budget-friendly. The recipe calls for a small chicken of about 3 1/2 pounds, but why not go ahead and cook a larger one, say 5 to 6 pounds, and save half for another recipe. A casserole maybe? Or chicken salad. Two meals in one is always a winner.
This is one of those breakfast, lunch, or dinner recipes. Heck, I could eat it for a snack, too. Again, if you don’t have the fresh herbs, use dried or leave them out. No bacon fat? Use butter. Or lard. Even better.
We serve it on New Year’s Day for good luck. Let’s extend that throughout the whole year! This one is already slam full of pantry ingredients, so you probably won’t even need to make any substitutions. And if you want to make it vegetarian, use water or vegetable stock instead of chicken.
A Little Something Sweet
Practically every ingredient in this recipe is straight out of the pantry. Except maybe the marshmallows. And you can always make them, you know. Here’s my recipe: Homemade Marshmallows
We’re all looking for a little comfort right now, and this pie brings it in multitudes. It already uses basic pantry ingredients, but if you don’t happen to have a frozen pie crust or don’t want to make one from scratch, just pour the filling into individual custard cups and bake. Top with a little dollop of whipped cream for an extra special treat!
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