Big Little Recipes

15 Big Little Recipes That Lean on the Pantry

April 14, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane.

Since I started Big Little Recipes two years ago (almost to the day!), every column has presented the same challenge: Make every ingredient count. These days, that idea resonates more than ever. In light of COVID-19, we grocery shop more infrequently, and often don’t find what we’re looking for. Which is why, this week, we’re looking back on the Big Little Recipes that hinge on pantry and fridge staples—and yes, we’ll chat about substitutions too. Here’s to making it work.

1. Pasta & Chickpea Soup With Miso & Chile Oil

If you’re like me, you always have pasta, canned beans, miso, and chile oil in your kitchen. But if the specifics don’t match up, who cares? Ditalini can be swapped out for elbows, chickpeas for cannellini, white miso for tomato paste , chile oil for red pepper flakes and a glug of good oil.

2. Extra-Cheesy Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Sure, this dip was designed as an appetizer for a crowd—but if you want to make a batch for yourself and call it dinner, who’s to stop you? The leftovers would be wonderful tucked into an omelet or broiled on toast.

3. Brown Butter Stuffing

It seems like just about everyone is baking bread right now—you too?—which means a lot of buttered toast, of course, but what about buttered stuffing? I love this Thanksgiving staple all year, especially when I’m in need of some comfort. Almost any woodier herb, like rosemary, thyme, or oregano, can stand in for the sage. (Softer herbs like basil and cilantro wouldn’t hold up as well.) And chicken stock can take place of the vegetable.

4. Salt & Vinegar Mashed Potatoes

Like onions, potatoes are sturdy as heck, so why not keep them on hand? (Psst: Here are some tips to store them properly.) Here, classic mashed potatoes get livened with a surprise ingredient: vinegar. Malt vinegar is my go-to, but white, apple cider, and rice work too.

5. Pasta With Broccoli-Cheddar Sauce

Whatever vegetable you have around would probably (definitely!) like to become pasta sauce. This Big Little Recipe relies on blanched broccoli, though you could most certainly off-road with broccoli rabe, spinach, kale, or cauliflower.

6. Garlic Butter Hummus

If you have a can of chickpeas, you also have hummus. This garlicky, ethereally creamy version is a happy companion to whatever vegetables are lingering in your crisper drawer. While some recipes rely on tahini (aka tehina) for richness, this one turns to melted butter, which, if you ask me, is exactly the coziness we need right now.

7. Busy Weeknight Bean Chili

Pantry superstars canned beans, canned tomatoes, and chili powder make up most of this laid-back chili. Yes, there are three cups of chopped vegetables—yellow onion and poblano if you’re following the recipe to a T, but odds are you aren’t. Try red onion, bell pepper, carrot, even fennel—whatever odds and ends you have in the crisper.

8. 3-Ingredient Pancakes

One banana, two eggs, and a third of a cup of almond flour: Got it? Got it. While the first two ingredients aren’t likely to budge, the last is happy to be substituted on your pantry’s whim. As Food52er Diana reported back, “I ended up using hazelnut flour instead since I was out of almond and it was tasty!” The same could be said for pecans or walnuts—just buzz up in a food processor until the texture of flour.

9. Snickerdoodle Shortbread

These are just like a snickerdoodle, but without the eggs, baking soda, and cream of tartar. True to shortbread, this ingredient list is petite—just flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla. And though it would make the recipe less snickerdoodle-esque, you could ditch the cinnamon for ground ginger or pumpkin pie spice or garam masala. And vanilla can be similarly replaced with bourbon or rum.

10. Rice-Milk Rice Pudding

Many rice puddings stew in something creamy—like milk or half-and-half—for creaminess. But starchy rice milk, it turns out, also does a stellar job, and makes the dish effortlessly vegan in the process. We’re not using rice milk you have to buy at the store, either. We’re making it ourselves (it’s easy, promise).

11. 3-Ingredient Oatmeal Cookies

The usual cookie suspects—think flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, baking powder—aren’t found here. Instead, rolled oats, brown sugar, and nutty tahini provide the batter with all the right crispy-chewy, buttery-sweet notes, yielding a minimalist cookie that’s just as happy to be served with ice cream as it is with coffee. (Everyone is eating cookies for breakfast while sheltering in place, right? Right.)

12. Flourless Pecan Cake

Do you have nuts? Eggs? Sugar? Amazing. You could have cake in a matter of hours. I learned this flourless template from cookbook author Emiko Davies’ Calabrian Walnut Cake. Give it a whirl with whatever nuts you have around—and, of course, report back when you do.

13. Peanut Butter–Chocolate Halvah

Instead of tahini, this halvah starts with unsweetened peanut butter, which, if you’re like me, you always have around. Melted chocolate comes in handy twice—first, to create a swirly marble pattern and, second, as a luxe finish on top.

14. Nutella Brownie Cookies

Is Nutella a pantry staple? I’m going to go with: yes. Don’t be deterred by these cookies’ brownie-loose batter—it’s what makes them extra-fudgy and extra-good. The sprinkle of flaky salt on top is key for balancing all the sweetness.

15. Chocolatey Tahini Cups

Like a peanut butter cup, but different. Tahini may seem too runny to fill a chocolate—and it is. The trick is to mix it with a splash of water, which magically thickens the tahini. (If you only have thicker nut butters, like peanut or almond, you can skip the water.) In lieu of milk chocolate, bittersweet or dark works, too.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.