Everybody knows the phenomenon of walking into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, looking through your pantry, opening the refrigerator – again, and wondering, “What the hell am I going to make for dinner?” Those are the kind of nights that drive us to ordering pizza or making a run to In-N-Out. Now there’s nothing wrong with ordering pizza from time-to-time and sometimes a girl just needs a grilled cheese, fries, and a milkshake. But, personally, I want to really crave something like pizza or fast food in order to eat it, not just succumb to random pantry syndrome.
Last week I read this article interviewing chef Tamar Adler in which she discussed the essentials of her pantry and how she uses up what’s in her fridge. When asked what her top five pantry essentials are Chef Adler replied: olive oil, salt, red wine vinegar, eggs and a loaf of good bread. And she added in garlic as a sixth key ingredient. I had to agree with the olive oil, salt, eggs, and garlic. I would probably substitute a lemon for the red wine vinegar (that way you get the acid of the juice and the flavor of the lemon and the zest). But I have to rather stridently disagree with the choice of bread. Bread? I just don’t think of bread as an ingredient. Instead of bread I would have chosen flour. I think that her choice of bread was telling. American food culture glamorizes well-known chefs and the intricate food that they create at the same time that record numbers of Americans rely on food stamps. I realize that simple, delicious breads are not exciting to most chefs nor to most home cooks – there’s a reason that isn’t a “Baguette Wars” on television. Yet bread is a staple of the American diet. If we want all Americans to be able to cook and eat simple, delicious, and affordable meals; we all need to know how to make a loaf of bread (and bread’s fast and easy cousin, quick breads).
I did enjoy Chef Adler’s descriptions of how she uses up what’s in her fridge in ubiquitous frittatas. At our house we have some sort of frittata/quiche/strata about once a week. I just wish Chef Adler had chosen some flour for her pantry. Because while a simple loaf of bread is great, the ingredients and skills to make baguettes, boules, focaccia, muffins are so much better.
What are your pantry essentials?