Cooking with Pantry Staples – 6 Quick & Easy Ideas

You can have it all – a quick and easy home made dinner, full of flavor, without planning or a special trip to the grocery store. Here are 6 ideas I’ve developed using pantry staples, and tips on how to make the most of your jarred, canned and dry goods.

Notes on home cooking from the pantry:

  • Many of what I consider “pantry staples” you’ll likely have on hand. Pre-stocking your kitchen with few more ingredients will give you so many options and opportunities. Here is my list of pantry staples.
  • These recipes call for shelf-stable pantry items only, to illustrate that you can make great stuff using these alone. However, feel free to improvise should you want to toss in chopped onion, garlic, butter or cheese, or other non-strictly pantry items. Also, I consider my freezer an extension of my pantry, and often reach in there for frozen peas, spinach, shrimp or other fish, extra butter, and loaves of bread.
  • Most of what I include below aren’t “recipe” recipes, noting every measurement, detailed cooking instructions or serving sizes- but instead I wanted to present in a more informal way, so should be thought of as basic guidelines to get you going. Take it and run!

A Warming Rice Dish

rice in baking dish with olives nuts and dried fruit

Inspiration for this dish comes from one of my faves, Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. Baking rice is really genius, and I wish I had discovered the method sooner. No clean up from the pot bubbling over on the stove, no gummy rice because you lifted the lid too many times to check on it, just perfectly done, fluffy grains of goodness. The topping is packed with olives, cranberries and walnuts, and comes together quickly while the rice is baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring 3 ½ cups of water to a boil. Place 2 cups of Basmati rice in a deep casserole or baking dish. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and cut up two tablespoons of butter and scatter around the rice. Pour in the boiling water, then cover with foil tightly. Bake for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up a handful of green pitted olives and toss together in a bowl with a handful of dried cranberries or golden raisins, a handful of chopped walnuts, a half-ish teaspoon of garlic powder (or fresh chopped garlic if you prefer), a half teaspoon of dried oregano, and a pinch of salt. Mix together, then stir in a splash of balsamic syrup or a pinch of brown sugar and a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil.

When the rice comes out of the oven, sprinkle the topping mixture over the rice and serve warm.

Linguine and Clams

Fettuccini pasta twirled around a fork

I had a hard time deciding on a pantry pasta. Italians are experts at making delicious pastas out of meager ingredients. Aglio e Olio (with garlic and olive oil), Pasta e Ceci (with chickpeas), and Pasta Mollicata (with breadcrumbs and anchovies) are all super simple, classic and flavorful dishes. I decided to go with one that I often make when the fam goes camping. It’s my “emergency” dinner – should we decide to stay another night or need an extra meal. I’ve found a way to make it all in one pot! P.S. If you don’t like clams, try it with an olive oil packed tuna, or use chickpeas to make it vegetarian. Buon Appetito!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook until just al dente – a good 3 minutes shy of being done. Strain out most of the water, leaving about ½ cup in the bottom per half pound of pasta. (When you strain the pasta, save some of the cooking water to add back to the pot if it needs more liquid).

Add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil to the pot with the pasta, a splash of white wine, one or two crushed up garlic cloves, and a few pinches of dried thyme. Pour in a can of clams with about half of it’s liquid, and let it simmer together until the pasta is finished cooking. Taste for salt, add more if needed, and plenty of cracked black pepper. If you like spice, sprinkle some red pepper flakes. Divide among plates and serve warm.

Black Beans and Rice

Beans and rice – a complete protein and an ultimate comfort food combo. Here the black beans get a boost from jarred salsa. This is a great dish as is, but top with shredded cheese to make it ooey-gooey, or wrap in a large tortilla for a veggie burrito. This serves about 2.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 can of drained black beans, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and a cup of your favorite jarred salsa. Bring to a simmer and taste, adding salt if needed. Cover with a lid and keep warm. Make the rice according to package directions. When it’s done, scoop into bowls, top with the beans, a little extra salsa on top, and a few pickled jalepenos.

Spiced Pumpkin and Pink Lentil Stew

spiced pumpkin and lentil soup in blue bowl with spoon

Serve this with a bit of rice and you have a hearty vegetarian dinner. This is a super straightforward dish, and mildly spiced with curry powder. Lentils are a workhorse in my kitchen. They are a legume that cook much more quickly than dried beans, meaning I can grab them off the shelf and they are cooked up in less than 30 minutes, sometimes shorter depending on the type of lentil. The coconut milk makes this luxurious and creamy, worthy of a stand alone dish. This will make enough to serve 4 if served with rice or naan.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups of pink lentils, 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth. Throw in a cinnamon stick if you have it. Bring to a simmer and cook about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft. Pour in a can of pumpkin puree and about 1 ½ cups canned lite coconut milk and return to a simmer. Cook until thick and creamy, about another 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt or curry powder if needed. If it’s too thick, add more broth or coconut milk.

All the Cans, Pantry Salad

There’s no shame in a pantry salad. You can whip up something really decent out of canned or jarred vegetables and beans. Look for low-sodium products to keep the salt quantities in check, and in about five minutes you’ll have a healthy side dish for your family.

In a salad bowl, place 1 can drained chickpeas, 1 can drained artichoke hearts (cut up if whole), 1 jar of roasted bell peppers cut into pieces, and a handful of pitted kalamata olives. If you like, go ahead and add some good canned tuna (solid, not chunk light). Drizzle in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar, and a dollop of dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper, and a few pinches of dried oregano and a little garlic powder. Toss and serve.

In-a-pinch Gingerbread Bites

gingerbread cake cut in bite sizes with powdered sugar

Cakes, cookies, biscuits and scones… all baking starts out with pantry staples. And guess what category of recipes stays in the pantry? Vegan. I have a fear of running out of butter, that’s how much I love it, but I’ll admit there are some vegan baked goods that can give traditionally baked treats a run for their money.

I’ve been making this incredible vegan gingerbread cake ever since I came across it in a cookbook a few years ago, and because it’s so healthy, I’ll often serve it to my kids for breakfast. Props go out to Bad Manners for their fantastic creation. I’ve adapted it slightly to simplify and reduce a bit of the sugar, and because it’s baking, provided you with the complete recipe.

In-a-pinch Gingerbread Bites

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Adapted from the Thug Kitchen Cookbook
I call these "In-a-pinch" because they come together so quickly and easily, they are often what our family turns to when we want a homemade treat on short notice. As a vegan cake, these are in no way short on flavor. Warming spices and earthy molasses deliver, and you'll be amazed at how well a can of coconut milk works in this cake. The results are moist, rich, and delicious.
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Course Dessert
Servings 16 cake bites


  • 1 ½ cups (190 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup (100 grams) packed brown sugar, light or dark
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk, from a 14 or 15-ounce can
  • ½ cup chocolate chips or chunks


  • Preheat your oven to 350 F and butter or oil an 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Line it with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients (flour through brown sugar).
  • Before you open the can of coconut milk, shake it well. If it is still not thoroughly mixed, pour it into a bowl and whisk until it comes together, then measure out one cup. In a small saucepan, warm the molasses and coconut milk until it just begins to simmer, but is not boiling.
  • Pour the warm molasses and milk into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Quickly stir in ½ cup chocolate chips, then pour into the prepared pan and bake 25 minutes. Let it cool at least 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. Enjoy warm, or let cool completely. Will keep about 3 days at room temperature.
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