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A smart store of goods means your cupboard is always at the ready for last-minute memorable meals.
One of the keys to putting together a quick-and-easy meal – or any meal, for that matter – that's stress-free and delicious is to have a well-stocked pantry. Here are a few of the staples I always have in mine, and a favorite dish – White Bean Dip with Pita Chips – that you can make when you're in a hurry and there's no time to grocery shop. After all, it's fresh from the pantry.
1. Extra-virgin olive oil
2. Fresh garlic
3. Red pepper flakes: If they've been in your pantry for more than six months or their color isn't a vibrant red, throw them away and buy a new supply. They've lost their heat.
4. An assortment of dried pasta shapes: I like to have long strands such as spaghetti and linguine, short tubes like penne and rigatoni, and other shapes like shells, orecchiette ("little ears"), and farfalle (bow ties).
5. Canned cannellini beans: These are the Italian beans, also known as Tuscan white beans.
6. Canned Italian tuna: Choose meat-packed in olive oil – it has more flavor.
7. Marinara Sauce: I like to make my own and store it in the freezer, but you could buy your favorite jarred brand for the pantry.
8. Dried herbs: I always have at least oregano, rosemary, thyme, and herbes de Provence.
9. Vinegars: A good balsamic vinegar for salads, and both red- and white- wine vinegars.
10. Onions: Red, Spanish, and a sweet variety such as Vidalia, as well as shallots.
11. Capers: They add a zing to salads, sauces, meats, and fish. Available in brine or salted; I prefer the salted. The ones in brine are easier to find, though you should make sure to rinse them before using.