Last September, I shared my ideas about where to start when you're stocking a new pantry, especially if space is limited, as in a dorm or apartment. It's hard to believe a year has passed, but the U-Hauls are everywhere, so it must be September again. I hope this post from the archives helps you get started on your new pantry.
In Boston, everyone moves on September 1.
With the streets littered with orange U-Haul vans and trucks in all sizes, parked willy-nilly to the curb, maneuvering around town requires the skill of an obstacle course test driver.
Miraculously, by the end of the day, or by the end of the day before or after September 1, everyone has settled where they are supposed to be. And then every new apartment dweller heads for the nearest supermarket, to stock up.
If your cupboards are bare -- whether your pantry is a closet, a shelf, or a tiny space on the counter -- and your budget is limited, where do you start?
Start with kosher salt, and use it for everything. Not liberally, but don't be afraid to season your food. Kosher salt is inexpensive, usually less than $2 for a three-pound box.
Olive oil. If you have room for only one bottle of oil, skip the extra-virgin, and look for one that's a bit less fruity in flavor; you can tell by the color, which will be less green, and the label will say "virgin" or "regular", not extra-virgin. Don't buy light or lite oil. A less fruity oil can pass for a neutral oil like canola, in dishes with Spanish or Asian flavorings.
Balsamic vinegar, the best you can afford. It will probably be a condimento, not a pure balsamic, and that's perfectly fine. Use it for salad dressings and sauces, or drizzled over a piece of fruit or cheese for a quick dessert.
A few pantry items can, on their own, change the entire character of a dish. Cumin (seeds are best, so you can grind as you go, but good-quality ground cumin is fine), soy sauce, Dijon mustard, Tabasco or red pepper flakes. Buy one of each.
Canned whole tomatoes can be sliced, diced, pureed, or baked, turned into tomato sauce or tomato paste.
Pasta. Keep a couple of sizes and shapes on hand to stretch any meal, or toss it with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, to stand on its own.
What would you add to this list if you had limited space, a limited budget, and you just moved into an empty apartment? What would you have to have?
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