What you need in your pantry and your freezer

These two places might well be the most important places in your house. Each is the reservoir of special things which can assist any ingredient on its path to heaven. These odds and ends don’t have to be expensive, just well thought through.

  1. A small jar of the best quality virgin olive oil, for special occasions, supported by a 5-litre tin of not-so-perfect-but-still-pretty-good virgin olive oil. This means you can turn anything new, old, or indifferent into something extra special, in a flash, in a swirl. Like this: toss a clove of garlic into the microwave, cook for a minute, peel, and squash on oiled, crisp toast, and you’re in heaven.
  2. A bottle of cheapish balsamic vinegar. Combine olive oil with balsamic vinegar, salt, black pepper and any salad green and you’re on the path to being a three-star chef. Remember: the oil is for holding the leaves, the vinegar is for a hint of flavour for the middle palate, a sharpener, a surprise. Treat it sparingly and make sure your greens are clean and dry. Balsamic vinegar is the classic vinegar from Modena, made with the same style and dutiful dedication as the best wine. Treat it wisely, gently, and well.
  3. Two frozen focaccias, the Italian flat bread, made for ripping apart at table, but perfect for quickly made, extra super duper pizzas. Make sure you have two, so you’ll always have one, if you know what I mean.
  4. Several tins of tomatoes, making sure they have no added sugar or salt. These are the only tinned products I heartily endorse: they are just like the tomatoes you bottle yourself, without the agony of the labour. To open one in winter is to recall the heights of summer. You don’t use them for anything but sauces or flavour enhancers or thickeners for stocks and soups and stews: add to an iffy stew and you’ve got style; put into the microwave with some chilli and salt and you’ve got a pasta meal in a flash; or cook down with some carrots and co., and you’re on the way to a special soup.
  5. Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano; never start the day without checking to see you have some.
  6. Pears are always cheap, and, because of the cool-store, always available. Naturally they are best when fresh and tender, but when they are hard and tough they still make for brilliant quick desserts, all year around.
  7. Two tins of chick peas, pre-soaked. Add to a dodgy soup and you’ve got a surprise, whizz them with tahini and garlic and cumin and lemon juice, and you’ve got hummus.
  8. A packet of cones for that dreadful moment when all inter-familial negotiation fails and the only way you can restore sanity is through bribery – i.e. ice cream.
  9. Rice from all over the world: Arborio rice for risotto, Basmati for a taste of India, and Thai fragrant for a fling at the Far East.
  10. Twirls of dried pasta, for fun and games with the kids’ meals, perfect for the quick tomato sauce above.
  11. A couple of jars of tahini – for hummus and baba ghanoush, and as a surprise lifter for a thin soup.
  12. A secret cache of black peppercorns, which nobody else but you knows about. I die when we run out of pepper. Only vanilla ice cream can save me. Make sure you have invested in a quality pepper grinder, which really works, and gives you the grind of pepper you want. If your grinder doesn’t work efficiently, it can be as infuriating as a car that keeps stalling. Invest a bit, and be content.
  13. As many vanilla beans as you can afford. If you buy them in bulk they are usually much fresher and sweeter, tight packaging keeping all of them moist. They are expensive, but no dessert I know is not improved by the addition of vanilla beans. Once they have been used they should be wiped clean, chopped into little pieces and put in a jar of sugar. The leftover bean(s) will flavour the sugar. Make sure, when you buy, that they are moist and supple.
  14. A vat of gluten-enriched flour and plenty of dried yeast. There is nothing in the world like home-made bread, and no cook is a cook unless he/she makes his/her own as often as time permits.
  15. Brown sugar, caster sugar, plain flour, baking powder, and all such things required to make muffins, scones and cakes; and whenever you go to an oriental grocer, be sure to come away with a packet of a different spice, always in seeds, never ground. You never know when you’ll need one or t’other.

3 Responses to “What you need in your pantry and your freezer”

  1. Ivan says:

    Hi Geoff,

    Any news on the combined book? I’m still waiting to order three copies (me, my mother and my sister).

    In the meantime, could you answer another question for me? I occasionally have the means to buy Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano in several kilo lots but I always hesitate and subsequently waste my money elsewhere. I can’t eat a kilo in a day or even a month so how do I preserve this stuff once I’ve bought it?

    Kind regards,


  2. Ivan says:

    Many thanks. Freezing was a too obvious solution for this bear of very little brain!

    Having said that, I should have phrased my question differently. My question, which you answered, is should I grate and freeze or freeze, thaw and grate.

    So grate and freeze it is!

    Geoff, you’re just too good for words!

    Many thanks.