Published : Friday, 20 Jan 2012, 12:24 PM EST
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - With a well stocked pantry, creating delicious dishes isn't so overwhelming. Spartan Stores Chef Amy Sherman says the better quality ingredients you have, the better tasting your food will be. Here are some things that she suggests you always keep on hand so you can whip up something anytime without running out to the store. Amy's top ten list includes pasta, canned beans, extra virgin olive oil, rice wine vinegar, canned tomatoes, chicken broth/concentrated stock, frozen vegetables such as broccoli, corn, edamame and peas, frozen meat, bittersweet chocolate and parmesan cheese, plus one extra to add to the list, a box of wine. Here are some other must-haves from Amy's home to yours.
1. Kosher Salt. The easiest way to improve your cooking is to switch from iodized salt to kosher salt. It brings out the true flavor of the food
2. Fresh Pepper Berries. Pick whichever one you like; the important thing here is to get a pepper grinder and grind your own.
3. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is the oil that you reach for for salad dressings, to drizzle over hot greens, pasta or fish. Yes, this is more expensive oil, but you only use a little bit.
4. Vinegar. Amy keeps a variety of vinegars in her pantry. Balsamic, rice wine, red wine, white, and cider are all basic ones to keep on hand. They all have different uses and flavors and will keep your cooking exciting.
5. Asian Ingredients. These can always make a meal in a hurry, as stir fry is one of the fastest dishes around. Sesame oil is extremely flavorful, and a little goes a long way, so the cost is worth it. Fish Sauce sounds gross, and it doesn't smell all that great, but it creates a layer of flavor to so many Thai dishes. Speaking of Thai, Thai Kitchens is a great brand to keep on hand. Their sauces are all natural and taste great. Amy also loves Patak's Indian spice/sauce/curries. The Madras curry is really nice. These are wet spice pastes; fry them in oil to bring out their true flavors. Hoisin sauce, Chinese hot mustard, mirin wine are also good to keep in the kitchen.
6. Real Paramasean Cheese. Even though parmegiano reggiano is expensive, it is so worth it. One chunk (about 8oz) might run you $10 but it will last at least a month, and maybe more. Grate some on top of sauteed greens, shave it over salads, or toss hot pasta and tomatoes in it.
7. Mustard. Dijon mustard is always needed for homemade vinegrette; not only does it add flavor but it also helps create the emulsion that most dressings need. Whole grain mustard is also nice in dressings, especially over asparagus, leeks or potatoes. Chinese hot adds heat, and brown mustard is really good on Creswick Farms’ sausages.
8. Tahini. This Middle Eastern sesame seed paste is the crucial ingredient in hummous and baba ganoush; It's good for making salad dressings, too.
9. Miso. This fermented soy bean paste comes in several varieties, and adds a great flavor to dressings, stir fries, soups and marinades.
10. Other Basic. Fresh garlic and ginger are musts. Fresh lemons and limes add flavor without adding salt. Spices are best if used quickly, and toasting them really brings out the flavor. Fresh herbs are always great. I keep a steady supply of dried pasta, dried and canned beans as well as whole grains on hand at all times. Keep Whole grains I keep in the fridge to extend shelf life. My favorites are quinoa, wheat berries and bulgar.
Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Garlic
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped broccoli (not thawed)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
finely grated parmesan
fresh lemon juice
Cook garlic and red pepper flakes in oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add broccoli and salt and cook, breaking up frozen chunks and stirring occasionally, until broccoli is thawed and crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and cook until heated through. Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Add pasta and reserved cooking water to broccoli and chickpeas in skillet and cook over moderate heat, tossing, until combined well. Serve drizzled with additional olive oil, grated parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.
Chef Amy Sherman