Friday, June 12, 2009

Mangiare Bene: Well-stocked and always ready to cook!

By Joanna P. DelBuono

After 20 some odd years of preparing meals for a family, I have come to learn a few simple rules of the trade.

The first rule: In cooking there are no rules. You can pretty much swap out one ingredient for another without destroying the recipe or the general feel of the meal with whatever appeals to your palate or theirs.

The second rule: It’s not how long it takes you to cook the meal, but how long it takes to savor the flavors and enjoy the experience with your loved ones.

And the third: Your best friends are a well-stocked pantry, fridge and spice rack.

So in order to keep those taste buds alive and kicking, I suggest that you keep the following on hand at all times:

Pasta in all shapes and sizes, from the thinnest spaghetti (angel hair) to the thickest (linguine) and every other macaroni shape in between. Pasta is great as a side dish, main course and, in my house, a cold snack the next day.

Canned tomatoes — crushed, whole or puree, great for sauces, or to add in soups or veggies. My family likes whole fire-roasted tomatoes with string beans with a little bit of garlic and oil -- but then again, what doesn’t taste good with a little garlic and oil?

Canned chick peas (garbanzos) — they make a great quick meal with pasta, and are also great drained and ground for a hummus dip for veggies.

Beans — red, white, black, small or large. No matter the color or size, beans are an excellent source of fiber and a great addition to soups or pasta, or cold in salads.

Canned beets — I like them fresh, but sometimes I just don’t want to deal with purple fingers, so I keep a can or two on hand for cold salads. In the winter I make a mean borscht topped with sour cream for a hearty supper.

Stock in a box — The box has replaced the can. There is always a selection of chicken, beef and vegetable in my pantry. A super easy way to make gravies for grilled chicken or grilled veggies. You can also add to sauces or make a quick soup with pasta. Along with a sandwich or salad it’s a fast lunch or dinner, and if there’s any left over, the box keeps nicely in the fridge.

A good quality extra virgin olive oil, regular olive oil and/or canola oil for salads, dressings or sautéing.

Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar. You can also have a bottle of balsamic vinegar to add to a bowl of strawberries or to kick up a caprese salad.

The big box of Bisquick — I’ve made an easy shepherd’s pie, dumplings or biscuits to go with grilled chicken and homemade chicken gravy. It’s also great for those nights when you want to make breakfast instead of dinner and dig into a big stack of pancakes.

For the spices, besides salt (kosher & fine) and pepper, keep a jar of basil, oregano (fresh is better, but in a pinch the dried work just as well; if you don’t tell, I won’t either), red pepper flakes, paprika, grilled seasoning, peppercorns and Coleman’s dried mustard (great for vinagrettes). Baking soda, baking powder, flour, sugar and corn starch round out the cabinet.

My fridge is always stocked with eggs, butter (unsalted — you can add your own salt to taste), onions, celery, carrots, garlic, lemons and tomato paste in a tube; you never know when you need a boost of tomato flavor. The tube might be a bit more pricey than a can, but it lasts longer with a lot less waste.

I promise, keeping your pantry stocked with a few main ingredients will keep your family in quick, easy, and tasty suppers for years to come and you can relax, kick back and enjoy those meals you prepare.

I’m always open to new dishes so drop me a line at

Mangiare Bene!


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