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Preparing and stocking up food in ancillary capacity was a necessity in times of post-war restoration and pure common sense. No supermarket down the street for last minute grocery shopping. Produce was generally always home grown, consumed according to season, and had to be pickled, canned and bottled in order to last the entire year.
This meant the dispensa, or pantry, had shelves upon shelves of oil preserved sausage, pickled vegetables from the garden, syrup soaked fruits, whole legs of prosciutto and foot long salami hanging from the beams. Sacks of dried beans, chick peas and lentils. Demijohns of home made pommarola tomato preserve, bunches of dried herbs hung on wire racks, salted meats, dry goods of all sorts like flour, polenta, semolina. Barrels of grains and cereal. And gallons of wine, emanating alcoholic fumes that permeated the shadowy secret rooms.
Heaven, essentially, in a half dozen square foot enclosure.
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This however is the Third Millennium, so pantries and alimentary storerooms have succumbed to walk in closets. Slingback Manolos have dethroned Salame Milano. Mason jars are used more as decorating accessories than for storing. Canning and pickling are obviously more labor intensive than just driving down to the supermarket.
But frugality in times like these has become a necessary way of life. A well-stocked storeroom or kitchen pantry actually helps you cook faster, allows you to waste fewer ingredients, offset your carbon footprint, and save money.
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I've decided to adopt my family's ancient pantry tradition by clearing out a broom closet. It's my project for this fall. I will stock my newly inaugurated pantry with jams and preserves made this summer with fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the garden; I'll shop weekly and in season. I'll buy in bulk, and keep crucial supplies constantly topped up.
I'll be a little ant.
If you have any small storage space at your disposal, you too could easily convert it into a pantry. OK if it’s filled with old toys, clothes or broken utensils. All you need to do is a little feng shui clutter clearing and be motivated by this persuasive Aesopic logic: prepare and stock up.
The items listed below, I feel, should never be missing from the kitchen. They are, in my glutton opinion, the bare necessities.
Frozen free range chicken breasts, individually wrapped
Frozen white fish fillets, individually wrapped
Frozen puff pastry sheets (you can find frozen puff pastry sheets in any supermarket freezer case. I’ve produced lots of puff pastry made from scratch, but it’s an arduous process requiring two days of rolling, pounding, letting the dough cool and rest, then rolling and letting rest again, and then freezing it in batches. Keeping the frozen variety on tap for when I need it in a hurry is easier)
Mixed salumi (prosciutto, salami, bacon, mortadella etc.)
Cheese (at least 2 types, eg. Fontina and Gorgonzola, plus steadfast grated Parmigiano)
Milk (whole or skimmed; nonfat is not milk)
Eggs (at least 6)
Lettuce, arugula, mesclun, etc. (entry may include pre-washed salad)
Lemons (unwaxed organic)
Fresh basil by the ton
Onions (at least 3 types, white onions, red and scallions)
Potatoes (if you store them along with an apple, they won't bud)
Celery (copious amounts)
Salt (rock, Kosher, Himalayan, black, sea salt: the more the merrier)
Black pepper (best bought whole, and then freshly ground in a pepper mill)
Peperoncino (Italian hot chili peppers, in flakes or whole)
Extra-virgin olive oil (the best quality you can find)
Dried mushrooms (porcini are a good investment)
All purpose flour
Cornmeal (coarse ground polenta)
Farro (barley is a good substitute)
Dried beans (2 types)
Pommarola tomato preserve
Chicken broth (best if homemade from scratch: stock freezes beautifully in quart containers, ice cube trays or in ziploc© storage bags. Otherwise, you can opt for low-sodium chicken stock cubes or granulated formula; those labeled "organic" contain no MSG)
Pasta (a minimum of 2 types, eg. spaghetti and penne), at least 500 gr each
Arborio rice, at least 500 gr
Bread (a good quality loaf plus some sliced sandwich bread, stale bread can be recycled or ground into crumb)
Oil packed tuna
Anchovies (the best-quality are those packed in salt; they need to be be rinsed very well before using, and may need deboning. If salt-packed are not available, look for oil-packed anchovies in little glass jars)
White wine for cooking (a minimum of 2 bottles)
Red wine for emotional rescue (minimum 4 bottles)