Our Food Editors Share Their Favorite Pantry Staples
Looking for ways to become a more confident cook at home? Our food editors are here to help. Each week, we're shining a spotlight on the exciting things happening in the Martha Stewart test kitchen. Our editors will share their best cooking tips, favorite products, new ideas, and more in our weekly series, Out of the Kitchen.
Need advice on cooking a quick, delicious dinner? Take a note from our food editors' playbook and invest in pantry staples that get you halfway to your next meal. Working in a test kitchen, we are constantly trying new products. The ones we have on repeat are the ones we know and love. Here, we're sharing our pantry recommendations and some go-to recipes, which are fast, easy, and full of flavor—would you expect us to eat anything less at home?
If there is one thing all the food editors agree on, there is one and only one jarred pasta sauce worth taking up space in our pantries, and it's Rao's. "Rao's marinara sauce ($6.24, walmart.com) is such a great shortcut, especially when you are juggling work, kids, and life. It can add a lot of depth to many dishes," says Senior Editor Lauryn Tyrell. "Pasta aside, I love to make Greg Loft's Sausage-and-Pepper Ragu Over Polenta with a little bit of Rao's in lieu of the tomato paste and chicken stock." She also uses it for a riff on something her mom made for her when she was a kid that she now makes for her children: "Fry sliced garlic in a little olive oil, then toss with cooked brown rice (or another whole grain), a little bit of Rao's, fresh lemon juice, and Parmesan. Throw in a whole bunch of chopped spinach to wilt. It's like a healthy take on Rice a Roni."
Another pantry essential for the team is canned whole peeled tomatoes. Muir Glen San Marzano ($2.89, target.com) is our preferred brand. We love using canned tomatoes for this quick all-purpose sauce for pasta, eggplant parmesan, and basically anything you'd want marinara on. Canned tomatoes are also the highlight of many recipes, soups, stews, and curries.
We also make sure to always have a tube of Mutti tomato paste ($2.99, instacart.com) in the pantry or fridge. Tubes last so much longer than canned tomato paste. "Tomato paste adds depth to soups and stews. It's also the main ingredient in my 1970s-style tacos and my chili recipes," says Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food.
Whether you are looking to add coconut flavor to savory or sweet dishes or for a dairy substitute, coconut milk is an extremely versatile ingredient. Arroy D Coconut Milk ($4, walmart.com) is the food editors' picks. "I like to use canned coconut milk in my chia pudding, baked oatmeal, and to make a creamy lentil soup with it. And this smoothie parfait is a go-to in my household," says Editor at Large Shira Bocar.
Canned Tuna and Other Fish
"Canned tuna is a versatile shelf-stable source of protein that's relatively inexpensive. My go-to brand is Wild Planet albacore ($4.99, target.com)," says Lauryn. One of her family's favorite meals is quick tuna handrolls. "They're a light and healthy pantry meal option that even my picky six-year old loves," she says. "I also like to flake tuna up and add it to a simple pasta with tomatoes, capers or olives, and red pepper flakes à la puttanesca. Tuna melts with chopped jalapeño on sourdough are a real treat, too." Sarah agrees about always having tuna on hand—try it in her tuna casserole recipe.
Tinned anchovies and sardines are other great pantry choices that we all love. Try Bela Sardines or splurge on Ortiz brand to make these quick toasts or try Shira's caramelized fennel, celery, and sardine pasta. Anchovies add irresistible flavors to many dishes without fishiness, like in the dressing for our Perfect Caesar salad.
Stock is the backbone flavor in so many recipes, so it's key to have a good flavored stock. Of course, we love homemade, but often we reach for store bought, too—it's a pantry staple we turn to as a time saver. In the test kitchen we stock up on Swanson's Low-Sodium Chicken Broth ($3.59, target.com). At home Shira suggests, "Buy Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base ($4.89, target.com) and you will always have stock on hand. It means you are never throwing away half-used boxes or cans and you can customize the level of savoriness by altering the amount of water."
Test Kitchen Tip: Always buy low-sodium or no sodium boxed stock. It's better to add salt on your own than let the ingredient dictate it.
"Keep beans of all kinds on hand," advises Sarah. "I use canned and dry beans depending on how far ahead I plan. Chickpeas and black beans are my go-tos. Add any bean into soups and stews. I'll use chickpeas for Chana Masala and of course, hummus and black beans are my families favorite for refried beans."