Stocking Your Pantry - the Art of Good Eating
by Eliza Ward
First a quick note: This is meant to be a "living" article -- which means that I will add and change what products are listed here, along with their descriptions, from time to time. So, if a product listed below strikes your fancy, but I haven't written anything about it yet, check back in a while. Or better yet, let me know by emailing me (elizaw at chefshop.com), and I will get out my virtual pen, and ink something asap. Thanks! Eliza
Ode to Culinary Intelligence
In his book, Culinary Intelligence (Knopf, 2012), Peter Kaminsky talks about what ingredients he always has in his pantry at home in order to maximize what he calls his FPC, or “Flavor Per Calorie,” Index. Having his pantry well stocked is his favorite way to help ensure he’s able, at any time of the day or night, to cook just about anything and have it come out at least good, if not excellent – and worthwhile eating is his main goal. You see, Peter had a theory: If you focus on excellent flavor, not only will you eat less, because it will cost you more and therefore you will purchase less, but you will be more satisfied with your eating or dining experience in the end.
ELIZA’S ESSENTIAL PANTRY
I could not agree with Peter more. While Peter’s list has a mix of fresh and shelf-stable items, it got me thinking about what’s in my essential pantry, and why. So, I decided to compile a list of my own, and share it with all of you. I call it Eliza’s Essential Pantry. It includes all the “basic” ingredients, mostly shelf stable, which I have in my pantry all the time, and also which I find I can no longer live (or cook) without. It’s not that I use all these ingredients in all my dishes all the time, but I do find that having them around makes cooking well much easier – especially those spontaneous meals that have to be pulled together at the very last minute. Also, with these ingredients in my pantry (or anyone else’s pantry, for that matter) I’m ready to rock’n roll at any time of the day or night - just like Peter.
By the way, an abbreviated version of this list (see asterisks (*)) is usually sent ahead whenever we travel, provided we are staying in a house or an apartment and plan to cook. And, whatever we don’t use becomes a nice “Thank You” gift for our hosts when we depart - and a nice way for our presents to nicely linger after we depart. The nice thing is that this list translates to just about any cuisine in any geographical location. All of these ingredients were selected, just as Peter’s were, for their ability to maximize FPC. It all goes along with my basic philosophy that when it come to cooking and eating: I would rather eat a little bit of something exceptional, than a lot of something mediocre. Although quality, fresh, local ingredients picked and purchased at the height of their season are key to putting out a quality meal, so is a well-stocked pantry filled with quality, non-fresh ingredients, like those listed below. Bon appetit!
Anchovies are one of the secret ingredients of good Italian cooking; there is nothing like a little anchovy to put your cooking over the top. Filled with glutamic acid (that “umami” compound), anchovies act like a natural flavor enhancer. Most people cringe at the thought of eating anchovies, but what most people do not realize is that many dishes, especially in Italy, are traditionally made with anchovies – from pasta sauces to salad dressings – and you just don’t know it. See my article, “The Almighty Anchovy” for more information about the history and uses of anchovies in Italian cooking. But keep in mind, as the Italians learned decades ago, one anchovy goes a long way. Start with a small jar of anchovy filets in olive oil, and then, once you get the hang of it, move onto the large tin of salted anchovies. You can store salted anchovies in the back of the fridge for 6-9 months in a glass container. That way, you will always have anchovies on hand, and you can better control the salt content because you can soak salted anchovies in water or milk before you use them – because soaking an anchovy is more difficult once the fish has been fileted, and the filet has been placed in olive oil.
CHICKEN STOCK* or BEEF BONE STOCK
Real stock is one of the best ways to add flavor to just about any sauce or meat dish. In an ideal world, everyone would save their spent chicken carcass, boil them down for hours, and make a nice, collagen-rich liquid with hearty, meaty flavor. But who has time to do that these days? It’s more convenient and often better as well, just to have a tub of More Than Gourmet chicken stock or beef stock on hand. So much more flavorful and flavor-enhansing than those cartons of "stock" you get at the grocery store; usually made of water, salt and a little meat. (I would call what you get at the grocery store "broth" not stock, BTW.) A big tub is shelf stable, but will last about 6 months in the back of your fridge once opened – and believe me, these guys know how to make stock – after all, they do it for a living! Try it - you might never go back to boiling down those chicken carcasses again - or buying that watery salty stuff from the grocery store.
BERKSHIRE or MANGALITSA BACON
Good bacon is surprisingly hard to find. Most of the time I find bacon to be either too strongly smoked or too salty or both. Rick, at A&J Meats here in Seattle, makes wonderful Applewood-smoked Berkshire bacon, which is just right. This heritage breed of pig creates nice, meaty bacon with limited amounts of fat. However, if you're looking for a higher fat-to-meat ratio, you can seek out some Mangalitsa Bacon. The problem is that Mangalitsa is very hard to find, and only ChefShop.com makes the Applewood smoked variety. You can sometimes find Hickory Smoked, and it’s very good, but I wouldn’t consider it “cooking” bacon; the Hickory flavor is just too strong to add to a Carbonara sauce, for example. But, feel free ask us about Mangalitsa Applewood-smoked bacon – ‘cus you never know when we might have it back in stock.....
SALT PACKED CAPERS*
A preserved caper flower bud, salt-packed capers are hard to find in the US. So, if you do find some, stock up. Salt-packed is what you will find in Italy, and it’s definitely the way to go. Salt preserves the genuine caper flavor much better than brine or vinegar – which will make the caper soft and vinegary tasting over time. (I would call brine or vinegar packed capers "pickled capers". More commonly found in France, you would never find vinegar or brine packed capers in Italy, where the most famous capers are grown.) So, once you rinse your salt-packed capers of their excess salt, all you’ll taste is … well … caper. Imagine that! The most flavorful type of capers are the non-pareil. But, if you want them to add asthetic appeal as well as flavor, you can try some of the larger ones. I love them deep fried and added to salads, or atop of salmon.
Don’t be fooled; look for genuine, DOP Parmigiano-Reggiano. The real deal is 100% regulated by the Italian government, from what breed of cows the milk comes from, to what they eat, to how they are milked, to how the milk is blended, to how the cheese is made, aged and cut. Everything is strictly defined and adhered to. And, more importantly, it makes a big difference in flavor and texture of the final product. ChefShop.com sells and ships Parmigiano-Reggiano three times a year by the season: Winter, Spring, and Summer. They are all good – and all different from one another. The wheels we sell are all aged least 3 years – and they come from a mountain farm, which means the cows graze freely – a fact which adds tremendous flavors to the milk and, ergo, the cheese. Supplies of each season are limited, so when you see us announce the next season of Parmigiano in our newsletter, act quickly, ‘cus we sell out, every time!
ESTATE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL*
Know who grew and pressed your olive oil and when it was harvested. And, if you want genuine, first cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, then be prepared to spend a little money. Oh, and did I mention? Make sure you buy it from someone you trust. There is nothing like the real deal, and there is a lot of fake, old and adulterated olive oil out there. When it comes to the real deal, the flavor is exquisite, and the health benefits abound – as it's a great source of GOOD fats, meaning unsaturated fats, the kind of fat your body needs to function well in so many ways. But, whatever you do, don’t cook with olive oil! Because, all those things you want and like about good olive oil are destroyed when you heat it up over a marginal 240-320 degrees. Use olive oil mostly for raw applications – like salads and dipping; and use Rice Bran Oil for cooking, searing and deep frying. Also, everyone’s palate is different, and it takes some tasting to figure out what you like best. Personally, I like to have at least two olive oils on hand; one robust, green, grassy one – usually from southern Italy – and one fruitier one – usually from Morocco, France or Spain. If you live in Seattle, come on down to our store some time, and taste some olive oils to see what you like.
TRADITIONAL and FLAKE SEA SALT*
There are three main types of salt: Traditional Sea Salt, Flake Salt and Mined Salt. French salts – Fleur d’Sel and Gray Salt – are variants of traditional sea salt. (Some people - including almost everyone who lives in France - put Fleur d’Sel and Gray salt in their own category, but I think of them as traditional sea salts with a major twist.) Although the flavors vary slightly from salt to salt, I mostly select salts based on their texture and health qualities. French gray salt has the highest non-sodium mineral content. And flake salts are easy to crush with just your hands, so it makes for a great table salt. But you should taste and feel for yourself, and decide based on what you like and need. Either way, stay away from Mortons, which is a mined salt, and has aluminum-based additives to help prevent it from clumping, or Kosher salt, which is pure sodium chloride and manufactured for the chemical industry by a large chemical company in the mid-west. Sea salts are not only healthier and taste better, but purchasing true, natural sea salt helps support small salt-producing communities all over the globe – many of which have been suffering since Morton’s marketing department kicked into high gear in the 1950’s.
BEANS, LENTILS & CHICKPEAS
The Pacific Northwest grows more legumes than just about any region in the world. Although much of the crop is sent overseas, we have relationships with a few growers and co-ops, which means we get regular shipments of fresh-crop dried legumes. And, as it turns out, freshness does count. Which also means that we have some varieties not available elsewhere. So take a look, and find out why beans and lentils are not only easy to make, and delicious and healthy to eat, but a great way, when mixed with grains, to create a protein rich and balanced meal for not that much money. Here is a Master Bean recipe from our website; it will tell you the trick to successfully cooking dried beans. However, in a pinch, the Rega Rega canned cannellini beans and Rega Rega canned ceci beans are fabulous, and a great way to go if you forgot to think last night about what you wanted to eat for dinner tonight.<br/ >
FARRO (or EMMER) and BLACK NILE BARLEY
Lucky for us, Renee Featherstone, renaissance man and grain historian, lives near to us. Renee has been a pioneer in bringing Emmer (also known as Farro) to the US, along with a few other ancient grains, like Black Nile Barley, Spelt, Camelina, and Einkorn. Renee is also a pioneer in the art and science of “inter-cropping”. A fairly common practice in Germany. Renee brought the technique of planting two crops simultaneously in one field – in this case, Spelt and Camelina – back to the US as a way to increase crop yield for the famers, and decrease The need for natural pesticides and fertilizers. Camelina and Spelt are then harvested together, and separated after harvest. (See below for more information about Camelina Oil.) Farro is my favorite go-to whole grain, especially in the summer time. Farro Summer Salad Recipe is so easy to make, and when mixed with garbanzo beans, is a healthy alternative to potato salad at your next pot luck. Or, make the same recipe but use Black Nile Barley instead, and get the added purple polyphenols – the same health-enhancing compound as you will find in purple cabbage. And for pancakes, the Black Nile Barley Flour is killer. One of the best ways to get whole grain into your kids; they will absolutely love it!
Pasta is a staple pantry item in most households. Long a favorite childhood food, few of us don’t have fond memories of their favorite pasta dishes, usually centered around spaghetti or a “hot dish”, like Mac n’ Cheese or noodle casserole. It turns out there is a big difference between commercially-produced pasta and artisan-produced pasta made with Italian grown wheat (or Kamut). The commercial product is made mostly with soft, GMO wheat, extruded at a high rate of speed through Teflon dies, and baked dry. In contrast, artisan Italian-made pasta uses hard durum, non-GMO wheat, is extruded slowly using traditional bronze dies - so the surface of the pasta is rough, instead of perfectly smooth, so your sauce can actually stick to your pasta - and it's slow dried to help retain its natural wheat flavor. The end result is flavorful pasta which marries easily with whatever sauce you put on top and which has a lower glycemic index because hard durum wheat is more slowly broken down in our bodies. So, if you are going to treat yourself to pasta, make it artisan-made pasta – your tummy and your brain will be happy you did!
MISSION FIGS and MADJOOL DATES
I consider both Black Mission Figs and Madjool Dates to be gifts from the food gods. My husband, Tim, and I are opposites in so many ways; this fact does not surprise anyone who knows us well. And, one of the key ways we differ is which of these two fruits we like the most; I like figs, and he likes dates. So, what’s our solution? Get them both! Both make great fodder for a quick appetizer: Try Figs Stuffed with Chevre and Drizzled with Balsamic, OR Marcona Almond (see below) Stuffed Deviled Dates.
RICE BRAN OIL*
One of the most amazing cooking oils ever made, period! Instead of boring you with a long list of what makes Rice Bran Oil so great, you should just buy a jug, based on the fact that I love it so much, and see for yourself. Besides, a half a gallon is not that expensive, and it just might change your life. This is the oil to use for any application that requires any heat above what I would consider low (220-250 degrees) – sautéing, frying, deep frying or baking. (And, whatever you do, don’t use olive oil for any of the cooking techniques mentioned above. Olive oil is very delicate oil. See above for more information about NOT cooking with olive oil.) Click here for more information about Rice Bran Oil.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR* and AGRO DI MOSTO*
Besides being unbelievably yummy, did you know that Balsamic is a good source of Resveratrol? It stands to reason. Resveratrol is the polyphenol found in red wine. Since Balsamic is made from red wine grapes, and since balsamic is highly concentrated, it also stands to reason that about 1 tablespoon of 12-year balsamic has about the same amount of Resveratrol as a six ounce glass of red wine, but without the alcohol. I guess one could argue about whether the lack of alcohol is a good thing or a bad thing… But, honestly, I don’t use Balsamic or Agro di Mosto (Balsamic’s adolescent cousin) for its health benefits – I use it for its flavor. Rich, sweet, caramel-ly – it’s a flavor that is hard to match and hard to beat. Drizzle it over roasted veggies, atop a grilled steak, in a Balsamic Vinaigrette, or poured over freshly chunked Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Bon Appetito!
GRAVENSTEIN APPLE CIDER VINEGAR*
After Balsamic, Albert Katz’ Granvenstein Apple Cider Vinegar is my next most favorite vinegar. If you are an apple cider vinegar fan, you will love this version of it. Made the traditional way, the flavor difference between commercial brands, or even specialty brands, and this one is extraordinary. You see, commercial brands not only DO NOT use gravenstein apples (which are amazing), but they will usually over-ferment their vinegar to 10-12% acidity, and then dilute the final product in order to get back to the required 5-6% acidity - the official definition of vinegar. Making wine vinegar that way is cheaper, but means you are also diluting the flavor. This apple cider vinegar is one of those products you have to try to really understand the difference between good and great. But be careful, once you try it, there’s no going back. It’s a key part of my winter-time go-to elixir – tablespoon of vinegar with a 1-1/2 teaspoons of leatherwood honey in warm water fixes everything that ails me during the cold and rainy depths of winter here in Seattle. Not only healthy – but delicious when you use the best ingredients. Try it – you’ll love it!
TASMANIAN LEATHERWOOD HONEY*
If you only want one honey in your pantry, make it this one. Famous the world over, Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey is hard to describe. Its sweet and slightly savory flavor is unique – and it grows on you over time. So, before you know it, you cannot live without the stuff. Produced by the Tasmanian Honey Company, Julian, the founder, has spent years not only producing this amazing, raw honey, but fighting big logging interests bent on felling the rainforests of Tasmania – all to keep his Leatherwood Honey production alive, and to protext the livelihoods of honey producers throughout the state - not to mention the environment and global warming..... If you measure his efforts based on taste alone, it has definitely been a fight worth fighting.
One of the world’s most amazingly healthy oils. It's better tasting than Flax Seed Oil, and just as good for you – or maybe even better. It contains almost the same balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, but because it's high in Vitamin E, Camelina Oil is very shelf stable – though I still store it in the fridge. It has a nice, nutty flavor that works well in salad dressings. Or, you can do what I do, add a tablespoon to your morning smoothie or yogurt. It's not flavorless, but so much more pleasant than flax, and shelf stable to boot. Also, Camelina Oil grown using a farming technique called, “Inter-Cropping”. So, it’s not only grown organically, but more sustainably as well. Chug-a-Lug!
You can tell a hard-neck garlic when you see one – because the head will have a hard stock down the middle that you can feel when you push on it with your finger. Most garlic grown commercially both in the US and in Asia is softneck garlic – because softnecks are easier to grow and store. Although hard to come by, if you see hard-neck garlic, you should go for it. The flavor difference is significant -- although hard to describe. Plus, if dried properly, a head of hard-neck garlic will last 6-9 months -- if stored properly. The cloves will dehidrate over time, but the flavor is still all there.
WILD ITALIAN FENNEL POLLEN*
Another one of those secret Italian ingredients, even less known than anchovies, but just as transforming. Wild Fennel Pollen is like a culinary drug; once you start using it the possibilities are endless. It adds a mild licorice aroma that is distinct and lovely – but hard to pinpoint. Although Fennel Pollen Chicken is the standard at our house, you can add it to white fish, roasted chicken, Mac n’Cheese, even salads. The perfect foodie gift – delicious, unique and still a big secret.
CHEFSHOP COCOA POWDER*
DARK MUSCOVADO SUGAR* and COCONUT PALM SUGAR
SUPER FINE SUGAR
SAN MARZANO TOMOTOES*
ORGANIC DARK A MAPLE SYRUP
OATMEAL OF ALFORD PINHEAD OATS*
MANGALITSA PIG LARD
KISHIBORI TRADITIONAL SHOYU
RED PEPPER FLAKES
DRIED AGEN PRUNES
(c) ChefShop.com, 2013
Keywords: Eliza's, Essential, Pantry, anchovy, anchovies, tuna, ortiz, capers, pernigotti cocoa, oatmeal of alford, reed avocados, wild italian fennel pollen, camelina oil, hard neck garlic, balsamic, vinegar, rice bran oil, olive oil, balck nile barley, emmer, farro, parmigiano-reggiano,