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Your Winter Pantry: The Essentials Every Cook Needs

In the cold months, a cook relies on her pantry more than in the time of plentiful tomatoes and greens. Stock a cupboard with these staples and you'll always have the fixings for several good dinners on hand.

Senior Digital Food Editor
Photography by: Annie Schlechter

When the produce comes from faraway lands or is thin on the shelves (and the farmers' market looks sad and gray), these items will become your essentials for making delicious winter meals.

Shopping List

Make sure you have the basics. Use this list as a guideline and tailor it to suit your cooking with grains you use most, and the spices and condiments that you like best:

  • Dried and canned beans: Think cannellini, chickpeas, black, and pinto

  • Lentils: Red lentils cook fastest; they break down and are great for soup or dal; French green and brown lentils are classic for salads, patties, and more
  • Rice: Basmati and Arborio, or whatever varieties you prefer
  • Quinoa, barley, and other grains
  • Pasta
  • Polenta: Quick-cooking 
is fine
Photography by: Bryan Gardner
  • Canned tomatoes: When fresh tomatoes are not in season, make liberal use of canned
  • Tomato paste: Try it in a tube, not a can, for better quality and quantity control (most recipes call for just a tablespoon or two, not a can)
  • Canned fish: 
Oil-packed tuna, sardines, and anchovies
 are packed with omega-3s and add protein and depth of flavor to pasta, salads, marinades, and sauteed vegetables
Photography by: Bryan Gardner
  • Oils: Olive oil, a vegetable or other neutral oil (for cooking at high heat and for when you don’t want to taste the oil), and others such as toasted sesame oil and nut oils
  • Soy sauce
  • Sriracha -- or your hot sauce of choice
  • Miso: It lasts forever and can add savory flavor to practically everything -- roast chicken, pasta, dressings ...
Photography by: Jamie Chung
  • Capers: Salt-packed are best
  • Dried porcini mushrooms
: If you're cooking them in liquid, don't bother to reconstitute them, as with this recipe
  • Dried chiles and chile flakes
: An easy flavor enhancer for many dishes
  • Nuts: Puree with garlic, oil, and a little water for a sauce; use in pesto; add to braises; top your oatmeal -- and eat as snack
  • Nut butters: For sauces, marinades, sandwiches -- and eating from the jar! (Did you know how quick and easy it is to make your own almond butter?)

Remember those dried beans we mentioned first? Watch our "Kitchen Conundrums" video to see how best to cook them: