5 Favorite Pantry-Staples Recipes

Can't go shopping right now? Make the most of what's already in your fridge, freezer and kitchen cabinets with these great weeknight meal ideas

5 Favorite Pantry-Staples Recipes
A savory Sangiovese cuts through the richness of the cheese in this simple cacio e pepe. (Julie Harans)
Mar 24, 2020

If you're like us right now, you’re actually at home to cook for a change, but you’re trying to stretch out the fresh foods you bought, and everything you could pack into the freezer, with all those non-perishables you stocked up on. But that doesn't have to mean boring, bland meals or weeks of heating up packaged foods. You can make a great meal from scratch just by being a little creative with your pantry staples. Add in a good, value-priced bottle of wine, and you've got a proper feast for your family, or one for yourself, with leftovers.

Our 8 & $20 recipe feature regularly provides easy, weeknight meals that rely heavily on pantry staples, and up to 8 fresh ingredients. We've picked 5 reader favorites, below, that are quick and easy to adapt if you don't have every ingredient at hand, and you can find even more when you're done trying these out!

8 & $20: Cacio e Pepe with Chianti

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most delicious. A shining example is cacio e pepe, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” and those—plus butter—are pretty much the only ingredients you’ll need to dress this pasta. In just a couple minutes more than it takes to make spaghetti with store-bought sauce, you can prepare this enticingly creamy and rich dish, which has a lingering kick from plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. (Bonus tip: Both parmesan and Pecorino last months and can even be frozen, grated and in chunks, if you want to stock up on large quantities.) A savory Chianti, or other Sangiovese-based wine, offers enough acidity and tannic structure to counterbalance the butter and cheese, refreshing your palate for another forkful. Try it out!

A bowl of chicken soup with carrots and parsley
Give classic chicken soup a fresh, time-saving twist. (Julie Harans)

Weeknight Chicken Soup with Ginger, Turmeric and Lemon

Few things say comfort more than a bowl of chicken soup. This riffable, weeknight-friendly version features boneless chicken thighs to shorten the cooking time and starts by lightly searing them to both jump-start the process and intensify the chicken flavor. To keep things quick, use a pre-made stock from the grocery store, but if you have a homemade version in your freezer, that's even better. Turmeric—a spice believed to have a broad range of health benefits, among them anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties— gives the soup a vibrant golden hue and warming, earthy flavors.

Don't worry if you're are missing any of the fresh ingredients; if you can't get fresh ginger, try adding some sliced onions or peeled and smashed garlic cloves to the broth to add flavor, then remove them before serving. No carrots or parsley? Pick any other complementary vegetable and/or herb you enjoy. While a white wine might seem a natural pairing for this soup, the red fruit flavors and minerality of an entry-level Pinot Noir from France’s Burgundy region also serve as pleasing foils to the deep savoriness of the chicken. Create your own riff.

A plate with 3 pieces of chicken parmesan—pan-fried breasts topped with tomato sauce and cheese—next to a glass of deep-pink rosé wine
A Grenache-based rosé wine had both the weight and the freshness to complement the pan-fried chicken breasts and tomato sauce. (Julie Harans)

Easy Chicken Parmesan

This Italian staple belongs in your weeknight-dinner repertoire, not just for its always-appealing ooey-gooey factor, but also because of how quickly it comes together. This version, with thicker pieces of chicken breast than you might find at a restaurant, provides a filling, protein-rich meal that's pan-fried with only a modest amount of oil, so you don't have to feel guilty about the indulgence. If you have canned tomatoes and tomato paste on hand, this simple sauce is a good way to put them to use, but of course, you can also serve this with a store-bought jarred tomato sauce. If you make your own sauce, you can do that up to three days in advance and also store it in your freezer for several months.

If you don't have fresh basil available (now is a great time to start growing your own in a pot!), you can skip it or swap in dried basil, oregano or an Italian seasoning mix. And packaged, shredded mozzarella will do in a pinch in lieu of a fresh ball of cheese. For a wine pairing, a deep-colored, Grenache-based rosé from France’s Southern Rhône Valley does the trick, substantial enough to hold up to the meal without overwhelming it; its fresh acidity and bright red fruit flavors should hold up well alongside the tomato sauce and fried chicken exterior. Get started!

Bowls of fried rice studded with beef chunks, peas and carrots
You don't have to stick to the script with this fried rice recipe; it will work with a variety of ingredient substitutions or omissions. (Julie Harans)

8 & $20: Beef Fried Rice

This flavorful and balanced one-pan meal is a great vehicle for using up extra produce in your fridge. This version uses peas and carrots, but most vegetables will work here: Just dice them small and be mindful of the order in which you add them to the skillet. The sauce is a simple combination of pantry staples, enhanced by some juices from the flank steak, and you can add a squirt of Sriracha for added heat. When it comes to the rice, leftovers are actually recommended, as a day-old batch will crisp up better than rice that’s fresh, fluffy and moist. The meaty depth of this dish calls for a fruit-forward Syrah-Grenache blend with berry and cherry flavors backed by a streak of acidity for a refreshing match with the umami-rich dish. Stir things up tonight.

Pan-cooked chicken breast with a side of greens and roasted potatoes
Serve the chicken with whatever simple sides you have on hand; greens and roasted potatoes would be ideal. (Evi Abeler)

Alice Waters' Extra Crispy Chicken

Alice Waters likes the simplicity of this dish, which appears in her classic cookbook The Art of Simple Food and has been a regular offering at the Café at Chez Panisse. The chicken is cooked underneath the dish's namesake mattone (Italian for "brick"), or a heavy pan, to achieve an exceptionally crispy skin. The recipe requires only 5 ingredients and is simple enough that it doesn't require measurements. To drink alongside, Waters would serve a light red, such as Beaujolais. Take a weight off with this easy weeknight meal.

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