As a member of a CSA program, you have the wonderful opportunity to eat fresh vegetables, straight from a local farm. When cooking from your farm haul, try to let the vegetables themselves guide the meals. Having a well stocked pantry will help you cook and eat organically, easily incorporating seasonal produce into your plates- making fully composed meals with things you already have on hand. I am a pretty good cook, but most of the food I make for me and my fiancé is deceptively simple. It just tastes good because I’m using fresh vegetables, picked and delivered within days of harvest, paired with everyday shelf-staples. On the days when I’m not interested in pouring over a new recipe or experimenting in the kitchen, the combo of vegetables + pantry serves the simple purpose to delight and nourish us without much fuss.
I usually go to the grocery store about once every other week, and unless I’ve devoted some serious energy into meal planning, I rarely go with more than one ‘recipe’ in mind. Instead, I fill my cart with a seemingly boring, and rarely wavering, list of staples. Bread, tortillas, Greek yogurt, potatoes, onions, garlic, celery, sparkling waters, a chip or cracker, milk, coffee, fruit, grains/pasta/rice, and replacements for whatever canned goods I’ve used up. A well stocked pantry, like a library full of books, is a gateway to delicious meals, and a catalog of canned goods is a vital part of this equation. A well stocked larder brings me a lot of joy, and I have so many thoughts on what a good pantry looks like. We’ll save boxes, bags, and freezer staples for another post, but today we’re talking about those goods that are preserved and packed in steel cans, which, in case you were wondering, are ribbed as a way to strengthen the metal, prevent denting, and allow for slight expansion/contraction.
My favorite cans.
Tomatoes: Diced, whole, and paste.
Tomato season, especially in Texas, is short, but rich and acidic tomatoes are useful for easy dishes, year round. I like to keep a few cans of whole San Marzanos around, which I’ll use for tomato sauce- whether I’m making spaghetti and meatballs, Bolognese, or something in between. Whole or diced tomatoes are perfect for soups, stews, curries, and all those moments when I want my Cajun dishes to lean more Creole, instead. And tomato paste - a perfectly concentrated tomato-umami bomb, is perfect for adding a deep tomatoey flavor to just about anything. Need some clues on how you should be using tomato paste? Checkout this article which elaborates on a tomato-paste must: cook it down a bit before piling on other ingredients. Need more convincing on why you should stock up on canned tomatoes? Here are 43 things to do with tomatoes in a can.
I love keeping whole-fat cans of coconut milk and coconut cream on hand. Of course, these are essential to making many Southeast Asian soups, curries (see below), and stir fries, but they’re also my preferred “dairy” to use anytime I’m making a cream-of-whatever-vegetables-needs-using soup. Sauté aromatics, add diced Vrdnt veg, broth, and simmer. Stir in coconut milk, puree, and enjoy. Bisques, chowders, and creamy soups can come together at a moment’s notice by simply subbing coconut milk for perishable milk or cream. An important coconut aside unrelated to Vrdnt veg: Thanks to a tour of bachelorette parties I gleefully went on this past summer, I learned that the best piña coladas are made with a can of coconut milk, frozen crushed pineapples, and rum (that’s it.).
Protip: swing by one of Austin’s many Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch or MT Mart to find a wider selection of coconut milk brands. I’ve been known to buy a case at a time.
Thai Curry Paste
Maesri is my favorite brand of Thai Curry paste. Ironically, Becky turned me onto these tiny cans years ago when we were teaching a Club Home Made curry class. Making your own curry paste is great, and yes, the flavor may be slightly superior to these cans, but having a few of these on-hand turns a soulful pot of curry into a weeknight reality. The best part about Thai-style curries is that they’re easily adaptable to just about ANY Vrdnt veggie you bring home. Admitably, I’m no expert in the nuances of different types of Thai curries; there are many. My favorite cans to have on hand are Panag, Green, Red, and Masaman.
Canned beans, of all flavors, are the most commonly used canned goods in my house. Black beans get thrown into Southwestern and Mexican style stews, salsas, and tacos. I love creamy black eyed peas, perfect for folding into a wrap or making a salad. Often, I will rinse and strain black eyed peas, then simply dress them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice and store in the fridge. A scoop here, a spoonful there - beans or peas stored this way are easy to add to any plate throughout the week. Hearty chickpeas, either straight from the can or roasted till crisp, are a wonderful addition to soups, salads, and grain bowls. White beans are perfect for a Tuscan-style kale soup, white-chicken chili, or, with the addition of whatever Vrdnt herbs and greens are available, to make a hummus-like dip which you can serve with even more crunchy Vrdnt veg. After living with my fiancé for a while, I also began to keep canned refried pinto beans around; tostada/chips/or a tortilla plus refried beans plus ANY vegetable, makes a meal. Melted cheese on top is merely a bonus.
I ate a lot of canned corn growing up. It was a usual addition to the rice and gravy my dad cooked, and inevitably the corn and rice would get mixed together for a comforting Cajun confetti. I used to deny my love of canned corn, somehow embarrassed at its humble ubiquity. But now? I love to celebrate canned corn; the texture and taste is, to me, closer to the fresh thing than any other canned vegetable . I love to add canned corn to soups and stews and salads - a sugary pop to make the perfect bite. Together with eggs and veggies, corn can liven up a quiche or frittata. Shredded veg + canned corn (+ flour and a binder) makes a delicious fritter. No longer am I ashamed of my love for canned corn, and I hope you’ll join me in this corny liberation.
I love to have a can of artichokes in the pantry. Pat them dry and roast them in a hot oven or in a cast iron skillet and add them to salad, a pan of roasted chicken, or a creamy pasta sauce thick with Vrdnt greens. Or, when your Vrdnt haul has run out, simply dress canned artichokes with some hefty glugs of olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and freshly chopped herbs for a quick vegetable side.
There often comes a time when I feel my body asking for protein, and if I haven’t pulled something from the freezer or recently gone to the store, canned tuna scratches this itch. I love to make a huge salad or slaw, sometimes with pasta, and simply plop a can of oil-packed tuna on top. If you’ve been paying attention to recent food trends then you’ll know that tinned fish like sardines and mackerel (and oysters and octopus) are all the rage. There are some seriously high-quality products out there that can easily be added to a medley of blanched veggies, for example, to nudge the plate from snack to meal.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
So many of the tiny tips and tricks that color my cooking come from watching friends and family make food. While preparing tacos for a large family gathering, my sister mixed sour cream with diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Since then, I’ve always kept a tiny can of these on hand, and have found the utility of these smoky and rich peppers to go beyond just a sour cream addition. Need some direction on how to use these peppers? Here ya go.
Canned green chilis are usually one of several varieties of pepper including jalapenos, poblanos, hatch, Anaheim, or Pasilla. Often, these peppers are roasted before they’re canned. Roasted or not, a can of green chilis (which are usually mild - not too hot, but not devoid of any heat), are a wonderful substitution for fresh peppers in… well, anything you would add fresh peppers to: a pot of chili, tortilla soup, beef stew, or even jambalaya. Whereas fresh onions and garlic have a pretty long shelf life, raw peppers usually won’t last longer than a week or so. Stocking your pantry with a can of diced chilis, plus the onions + garlic, is a wonderful way to make sure you always have a flavor base for just about any pot.
A Fruity Thing
I’m not much of a baker, and so when the urge to make something sweet washes over me, I’ve gotta get to baking asap before the desire fades. For this reason, I always try to have at least 1 can of something-fruity on hand that could serve as an inspiration for a spontaneous-baked good. Canned pumpkin becomes pumpkin bread, canned peaches (in water, not syrup), a crumble/pie/or galette. I keep buying canned pineapple rings to make a pineapple upside down cake, but admittedly these have all gotten blended into the aforementioned piña coladas instead.
Pretty much every good cookbook has a section that totes a list of recommended pantry staples, and we hope this list of my favorite cans helps you fill your cupboard, and cook your veg. Usually, it's the procuring the fresh produce - the life force of the meal - that is complicated... but if you’re reading this, we know you’ve got that bit covered. Now, to stock the pantry.
Is there a canned good that you love to have around? Let us know!