Too Many Cooks: Your Favorite Pantry Meal

January 17, 2014

You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more. 

Pasta e Ceci

Deep in the throes of winter, when the thought of summer fruit makes us laugh out loud and we're ready for bed by 5:30, we turn to our pantries for reassurance -- because even though it sometimes looks scrappy, it also holds the keys to a hot plate of polenta and Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce. So in honor of our pantries, and of the meals we eat half-awake standing over the kitchen sink, we've rounded up our team and asked: 

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What's your favorite pantry meal? 

And you, dear readers: What recipes do you turn to when your fridge is sparse? Tell us in the comments!

Brette: Marcella sauce. All day every day. Sometimes with white beans. 

Kenzi: Yes to Marcella sauce, but I almost always try to drown it, quick sand-style, in a pile of polenta.  If I don't have the things for that, I make a version of Amanda/Bittman's crispy lamb with lentils -- it's ridiculously adaptable. 

Crispy Lentils with Lamb on Food52 

Lauren M: Does granola count as a meal? I'm a nut fiend, so I always have at least three different kinds in my granola, plus some dried fruit, and peanut butter and honey to hold it all together. I love to eat it right out of the oven -- yum!

Rachel: Frozen chopped spinach, fried eggs, tomato sauce, and crusty bread! It's my favorite for dinner when there is nothing in the fridge.

Sarah: I love making vegetarian chili with canned tomatoes and beans and all of the vegetables at the back of the crisper drawer. All I need is a bread bowl to complete the meal (just kidding...kind of). 

Remy: Kenzi, it makes me so, so happy that you're able to throw together crispy lamb for dinner when you don't have the ingredients for Marcella sauce. This is excellent. My go-to: Fried eggs (the kind with crisp, lacy edges from hot olive oil) (more fried eggs than I care to admit) over whichever vegetable and herb odds and ends are in my fridge, dressed with a strong vinaigrette.

Marian: Eggs, yes, always. Matzoh Brei would be a good idea. Cacio e pepe. Or, honestly, an enormous pot of quinoa cooked with little more than salt and bay leaves. The health freaks have us forgetting how comforting this idea is.

Matzoh Brei on Food52

Bryce: I like a pasta (bucatini is my favorite for this one) with olive oil, Parmesan, toasted bread crumbs, garlic, and pepper flakes. Make pasta. Toast breadcrumbs in butter for a few minutes, then add Parm and garlic; mix. Add pasta to that pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper flakes, and lightly cook for a few more minutes. Delicious.  

Posie: Shakshuka, always. Also -- yogurt biscuits. No need for cutting in butter, and the timing goes like this: Walk in door, drop keys, mix batter while standing in coat and hat, bake while in shower, hot biscuits 15 minutes after you get home!

Joy: My 5-minute sardine spread: one can of good sardines, a generous squeeze of lemon, a dollop of mayo, some chopped scallions, parsley and capers- and a shot of hot sauce, mashed up and spread on some toasted baguette. 

Catherine: When the days turn short and the pickings turn slim, I turn to curry. A can of coconut milk (never low fat), curry paste, and whatever vegetables/meat I have lying around works wonders for the morale and the nasal passages. This is next on my list.

Lauren K: I almost always have sausage, rice, eggs, and some sort of vegetable on hand, so I often find myself making a healthier version of what would be a pretty standard Hawaiian fried rice (minus the spam). I also often have a lot of frozen corn on hand due to a friend's frozen food CSA: fresh corn salad drizzled with lemon juice and a little olive oil and whatever herbs I have around -- even in the winter. Why not?

Christina: Balsamic chickpeas -- I had these in Barcelona and they are my favorite lazy man's meal.

Maddy: Pasta with bacon, Parm, and whatever vegetables I have in the fridge, finely chopped. Also, Linguine with Sardines, Fennel, and Tomato (without fennel sometimes, sometimes with olive oil-packed tuna instead of sardines). And Portuguese kale soup, loosely based on this recipe from David Leite.

Lindsay-Jean: A frittata with whatever is languishing in the fridge or smashed chickpea salad sandwiches (a.k.a. faux tuna salad).

Lauren L: +1 frittata. Usually with goat cheese. 

Karl: Wow, this thread rocks! Is it against the rules to go out and buy some canned tomatoes so I can try out the Marcella sauce? Like many others, my go-to is eggs: a cheesy scramble with a side of lemon juice-braised kale or collards or spinach or whatever hardy green I have way too much of from our winter CSA.

Merrill: Marcella sauce (only I brown the onion and some sausage in the butter before adding the tomatoes) served over pasta, a baked sweet potato, or goat cheese grits. Ricotta toasts with olive oil, lemon zest, sea salt, and honey. Soft scrambled eggs with mascarpone and herbs.

Amanda: Lately, I've been making Genius Polenta with Marcella's bolognese sauce, which is not only a great pantry meal but reheats well, so I make a big batch. Also this Stuck-Pot Rice, which goes with any kind of meat or fish (+ add a salad!). And my husband, Tad, has us all addicted to Mario Batali's Penne all'Arrabbiata.

Kristen: Just like all of you: Fried eggs on toast, oatmeal, pasta with a ton of Parm, pepper, olive oil, butter, and, recently, peas. And, like Sarah J, I used to make a decent black bean soup with a can of black beans, a can of chopped tomatoes, onions, cumin, and spicy things (made up one night as part of Mexican night -- the rest of the night never to be repeated). Thank you for reminding me to start buying canned black beans and tomatoes in pairs again!

Julie: Variations on a theme: eggs on toast with lots of butter, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan, and pasta tossed with a heap of arugula, olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes.


Frittata on Food52

Bea: Waffles and pancakes are a favorite -- since I can’t get fresh berries, I’ll buy some frozen blueberries and add them to the batter with a dollop of ricotta cheese to add a bit of savoriness. I top them with some jam, or dipped in some homemade cajeta which was introduced to me over the holidays! 

I also make an Ethiopian Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry Stew that I learned from a good friend in college. She used to cook this stew all day in her slow cooker (which was totally not permitted in our dorms) near her window and it would make our entire suite smell like sweet delicious curry. 

Yam and Peanut Stew on Food52 

Stephanie: I'm the same as everyone else too. Always eggs and variations thereof. Lately it's been a lot of shakshuka, but frittatas also come up often in the rotation. Fried eggs on pasta. Fried eggs on roasted vegetables. Fried eggs on toast. Scrambled eggs. Man, I love eggs. 

So it looks like everybody here loves eggs. Tell us in the comments: What do you throw together when you cook from your pantry?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Heather
  • marymary
  • Brooke Hazael-Massieux
    Brooke Hazael-Massieux
  • jo
  • AntoniaJames
Writer, Fooder, Blogger. New Yorker turned Cape Coder.


Heather October 20, 2014
Though it may not seem meal-like, this is my favorite unplanned meal: About 1 cup mix of raw cashews/walnuts/almonds/sunflower seeds and large flake unsweetened coconut lightly toasted in a skillet with 2 tsp coconut oil. Add this to 1.5 c full fat plain yogurt and top with large amount of berries/fruit. I guess this sounds breakfast-y, but it seems to leave me happy any time of day. I make up the missed greens my next meal
marymary April 23, 2014
Lots of great ideas to try! Our usual go-to fare when pickin's are bare include...

Breakfast - polenta patties fried in butter and evoo, along with thinly sliced jalapenos, mushrooms, spinach and garlic, topped with a fried egg and whatever cheese is aging away in there.

Lunch - A can of tuna fish, hardboiled egg, either evoo/sesame oil or mayo/mustard, lemon juice, deli-style relish, jalapenos, celery salt, curry, sesame seed, salt and pepper.

Dinner - A can of tomato basil soup with a can of garbanzo beans and a couple handfuls of fresh spinach, topped with sour cream and croutons.
Brooke H. March 20, 2014
A family favorite is a can of corn & a can of hearts of palm. Drain both, slice the hearts of palm and dress with vinaigrette. If we have avocado, I add it. Sometimes I add a can of tuna. And red onion. Or a hard boiled egg. I might serve it with rice. And though it consists of canned items, it ends up feeling very fresh, bright and a little exotic.
jo February 23, 2014
bits of a leftover chicken(usually somewhere handy) pasta and a few veggies. maybe a boiled egg and mayo, or evoo. my dear daughters fav!
AntoniaJames January 27, 2014
Another pantry dinner we enjoy here is a kala jeera and cumin tadka scented tomato soup, which I've given a protein boost with red lentils. (I'm still trying to figure out why this and a related one I also posted are the only recipes on this site that use kala jeera.) ;o)
Katie M. January 22, 2014
I recently bought a tortilla press and Corn masa. I don't think I will ever buy tortillas again! So simple, cheap and delicious! My current favorite when my fridge is looking slim is homemade tortillas, whatever cheese I have on hand, quick pickled onions and jalapenos or crushed red pepper. If I have beans/meat/veggies, sure I will throw them in. But the simplicity of good corn masa, cheese and pickled onions is enough to satisfy me on any given night.
AntoniaJames January 20, 2014
This probably seems a bit odd to many of you, but my go-to pantry favorite consists of: a couple of just barely hard-cooked eggs, sliced while still warm and plopped on slices of toasted homemade artisan-style bread, topped with an on-the-fly tonnato sauce: olive-oil packed imported tuna, capers, anchovies, a touch of mayo, lemon juice, parsley and my tastiest olive oil, buzzed with an immersion blender. If the eggs seem like too much trouble, I put it directly on the toast. Sometimes I make this even when there's plenty of other stuff in the fridge I could use for dinner. It's not a family favorite, however, so I make it when I'm the only one here. ;o)
heatheradele January 19, 2014
Frozen peas, cream, lemon zest and parm is always a hit with me. So simple and tasty. I'm also on the curry wagon - I'm in the middle of making one with chickpeas, canned tomatoes and some frozen green beans which have been languishing in the freezer for far too long.
mlrichmond January 19, 2014
Poached eggs over veggies/greens with dressing made from shallots, red wine vinegar, olive oil and Dijon mustard; cubed sweet potatoes and shallots tossed with olive oil and roasted.
Tracy M. January 19, 2014
If I have a squash laying around I slice it in half, scoop out the seeds, rub it with olive oil, and roast it skin side down at 400F. While it's roasting I put together some kind of grain and vegetable mixture to stuff it with and top it with the best cheese I can find in the fridge. Pasta with olive oil and veggies. Olives and cheese with wine, when I'm really lazy!
miranda.mal January 19, 2014
Risotto, almost always. With frozen peas and Parmesan, and maybe dried mushrooms.
Pat E. January 18, 2014
Posie....can we get a recipe for those yogurt biscuits you mentioned? Thanks!
Lazyretirementgirl January 18, 2014
Farro risotto with shallots and sausage. Semi pearled farro, unlike rice, does not need to be stirred to make risotto. If you chop and sauté one sausage -- a Trader Joe's fully cooked one works well, deglaze the pan with red wine, then chop a shallot, sweat it in olive oil in a heavy saucepan, then add farro and coat in oil, add the red wine, the broth of your choice ( I prefer chicken) turn down the heat to a simmer, cover it and go relax. After 30 to 40 minutes, add the sausage bits, some grated parm and, if you have any, porcini powder (god's gift to the home cook). A virtuous whole grain dinner out of pantry staples that is delicious, easy and cheap. My trifecta.
nannydeb January 18, 2014
We make what we call Pasta Pomodoro: Drain a can of diced tomatoes, toss a couple in a food processor with olive oil, fresh basil, garlic and a little white wine. Toss with the rest of the tomatoes and hot cooked pasta and top with shredded parmesan.
Peter S. January 18, 2014
I almost always make spaghetti aglio e olio when I forgot to shop for dinner or when I'm home alone with my kid. My kid loves it and it only takes around 10 minutes to make, as you only need spaghetti, garlic, olive oil and parmesan to make the simplest (and yet extremely delicious) version.
Kathy January 18, 2014
Mushrooms sautéed in butter with polenta or a kind of huevos with fried eggs, fork mashed black beans with cumin, salsa, avocado if I have it and a dollop of yogurt.
luvcookbooks January 18, 2014
Spanish potato and onion tortilla (a frittata ish), potato and greens hash topped with poached eggs cooked on top of the hash, vegetable fried rice with fried eggs, soy sauce and sesame oil, frizzled shallots, pasta with gorgonzola (melt the gorgonazola in a metal bowl in the same pot that you cook the pasta in, along with some butter, peas, scallions, a little cream, what you will... , I'm surrised no one else has the humble tortilla with refried beans but I like it, with some salsa and cheese crumbled on top. Quick black bean chili, rice and beans, rice with pigeon peas, red beans and rice... I guess all my weekday cooking is pantry!
Katie Z. January 17, 2014
I'm on the eggs and pasta train- my go-to is a slightly bastardized pasta carbonara. I sautée onions in butter, bacon fat, or olive oil until they begin to caramelize, and boil pasta or whatever other grain I have on hand (quinoa and freekeh work surprisingly well; sometimes I even use leftover grains). While that's going on, I mix an egg per person with as much pecorino or Parmesan as it can hold and some freshly cracked black pepper, and add any leftover veggies to the onions. Once the pasta's done, I fish it out with a slotted spoon and add it to the onions with a little extra pasta water, turn off the stove and dump in my egg/parm mixture while mixing for my life to keep the eggs from scrambling :)
luvcookbooks January 18, 2014
yum, i am trying this
Sarah A. January 17, 2014
Pasta with tomatoes, beans, onions-and lots and lots of smoked paprika! Makes the dish feel hearty and savory.

Also: fried egg, hard cheese, sautéed greens (maybe a drop of red wine vinegar), stacked on a thick slice of toast. Or if it really comes down to it, whatever breakfast I had that morning.
Elana C. January 17, 2014
Joy, that sardine butter -- yes!