We all have our superpowers. Mine, besides knowing what day something I’m expecting will show up in the mail and making ideal parking spots materialize, is being able to throw a meal together when there’s “nothing in the house,” even if guests show up unexpectedly.
It should come as no surprise that my favorite movies are either about food or France, and if they’re about food and France … heaven. For example, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”.
What especially inspired me was the scene where Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) rescues Hassan (Manish Dayal) and family, and treats them to a simple feast from the family larder. Home baked bread. Oil pressed from the olive trees in the garden. Cheese made with milk from the cows in the back yard. Fresh tomatoes the size of grapefruit. Oh. My. Gawd.
While you, like me, may not live where you can just pluck a few fresh eggs out from under a chicken’s ass or forage for mushrooms in the forest, still there are many amazing dishes you can prepare at a moments’ notice just by keeping a few basics in the house.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a list of a couple of dozen items that you can keep on hand and stocked in the house, so you’re ready to entertain at the drop of a hat, or at least throw together a decent meal so nobody starves? Well, what I’ve prepared for you today (sounds like a cooking show, right?) is just that – a list of items to make you an instant gourmet.
For some of the more perishable items, I’ve included how long these things will last – probably surprisingly longer than you might have thought. I got my info from a website called eatbydate.com, where you can find out the life expectancy of just about anything edible.
For the pantry
- Jarred sundried tomatoes
- Canned or jarred artichoke hearts
- Kalamata olives
- Cornichon (little French pickles – great addition for sandwiches and cheeseboards)
- San Marzano whole tomatoes
- Chicken broth
- Dried lentils
- Canned beans (garbanzos, pintos, black)
- Fruit spread (my favorites are Dalmatia fig spread and Bon Maman preserves)
- Dried spices (oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, basil, parsley, red chili flakes, and whatever else you like to throw in the pot)
- Salt and pepper
- Onions (last 1 month on the counter or 1-2 months in the fridge)
- Garlic (lasts 3-6 months on the counter)
- Dried pasta (linguini, capellini, bowtie, etc.)
- Olive oil (buy smaller bottles and store in the cabinet)
- Crackers or flatbread
- And because it’s me – escargot
For the fridge
- Eggs (last 3-5 weeks in the fridge)
- Butter (lasts about a month in the fridge, [but not at my house])
- Lemons (last in the fridge for 2-4 months)
- Assortment of cheeses (hard cheese lasts about 2-4 months, semi-hard cheeses last 1-2 months, soft cheeses last 1-2 weeks, so choose accordingly)
For the freezer
- Fish and seafood – thaws much faster than meat. Get raw shrimp, not cooked – you can’t cook cooked shrimp)
- Frozen fruits
- Puff pastry
Obviously you’ll be stocking your kitchen with the fresh meats, fruits and vegetables that you want to eat on a short-term basis, but with these things on hand, you’re ready to make innumerable pasta dishes, egg dishes, or just put together a lovely array of cheeses, crackers, olives and spreads. Grab a nice bottle of wine, and you’re good to go.
Trader Joe’s is a great place to go for stocking up the staples, and Amazon can be a good source for a lot of the specialty jams and escargot (plus quick delivery from Whole Foods on Prime Now).
Now that you’ve got your pantry stocked (I’m projecting into your future), here are a couple of my favorite, effortless, sure-to-impress meals to get you started – great for a small crowd, or for two with leftovers.
Serves 4 – 6 (or 2 with leftovers)
Time: about 15 minutes
This is an amazingly delicious go-to dish that looks fancy, but nothing could be easier. I know, when you think of pasta you think of Italy, but pasta is also a staple along the Mediterranean coast of France.
The proportions here are not rocket surgery – if you like more or less of an ingredient, go for it. You really can’t get this wrong.
- 1 lb. Farfalle (bowtie) pasta
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 lb. shrimp, scallops, or both, thawed and patted dry
- ¼ c Sliced sundried tomatoes in oil
- 1 can Artichoke hearts, drained well and quartered
- ½ c Kalamata olives
- Fresh chopped basil or dill if you have it, or dried dill in a pinch
- ½ c Feta, crumbled
- Salt and pepper to taste
Boil pasta in salted water to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, sweat the garlic in the olive oil over medium low heat, about 3 minutes. Raise heat to medium and add the shrimp. Stir and cook until it just starts to turn pink, about 2 minutes. Add the sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olives and cook until heated through – 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Add the pasta and toss to coat. You can add more olive oil, if needed, so the pasta is well coated. Toss in the crumbled feta and chopped basil or dill at the last minute, and salt and pepper to taste. Add red pepper flakes if desired, or serve on the side.
Any Day Frittata
Frittata is a great, simple main course for lunch, brunch or dinner, a great way to use leftovers, and you can whip it up in no time. Serve it with a little side salad and some crusty bread for a delicious “peasant’s feast”.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
- 6 – 8 eggs
- ¼ cup light or heavy cream
- 1 t sea salt
- ¼ t freshly ground pepper
- 1 T olive oil
- ½ small onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- About a cup of shredded cheese (Gruyere, Fontina, Parmesan) or crumbled Feta
- Anything you have on hand – bacon, ham, leftover chicken, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts (well drained), spinach, tomatoes, sliced potatoes, etc.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Whisk the eggs and cream, add salt and pepper, and set aside.
If you’re using bacon, cook it first in a cast iron or oven safe non-stick skillet. Remove from the pan and drain off all but about 2 teaspoons of the fat. If you’re not using bacon, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
Saute the onion, garlic, and any other extras you’ll be using until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Crumble the bacon, if using, and add it back in.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Tilt the pan or lightly use a rubber spatula to help distribute the eggs evenly over the vegetables, being careful to avoid scraping the bottom of the pan.
Add the cheese, again lightly using a rubber spatula if needed and not scraping the bottom. Cook over medium heat about 2 minutes, until eggs begin to set around the edges.
Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes until the eggs are set (insert a knife to check for doneness).
Frittata can be served warm, room temperature, or even cold depending on the ingredients.
Want more quick and easy recipes like this? Just let me know – I got a million of ‘em.
So, what’s for dinner?