I enjoyed Mark Bittman's column yesterday on what we might call the new pantry, a reflection on how our staple items might be changing or should be, all of it a reflection of our increasing interest in cooking great food sensibly and efficiently (photo for The Times by Francesco Tonelli). He notes things such as bouillon cubes are out (or should be), and a simple stock of a carrot celery and onion boiled in 2 cups of water should replace it—so true. Better than canned chicken stock, too. Making your own vinaigrettes rather than buying bottled dressings, which he calls a ripoff (a decent olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice over crisp greens is far superior, in my opinion). Having parmigiano reggiano on hand (I ALWAYS have this—grated or shaved on pasta, on salads, seasoning for soups, finishing a gratin, no end to its uses), fish sauce, sherry vinegar (buy the good stuff it's worth it). One item I didn't agree with, or not whole heartedly at least. Canned tomato paste should be out, tubes of it in. He argues we seldom need a whole can. True. But whole cans are better quality and less expensive. What I've been doing for years is opening both ends of a can, pushing it out whole, slicing off what I need, wrapping the rest and freezing it. It keeps for months frozen and it's easy to slice off as much as you need. I always put some in stock, where I use it most. Nothing wrong with the tube, but it got me thinking what are the things I always want to have in my freezer?
—Tomato Paste, for sauces and stocks.
—Chicken stock, frozen in quart zip top bags, no end of uses (you always have a good meal at hand when you have some stock in the freezer).
—Slabs of bacon for lardons, for noon time frisee and poached egg salads, stews and soups and pastas (bacon, like most fat rich foods, freezes very well).
—Chipotles in adobo sauce, for the great smokey heat in anything tomato based.
—Thai curry pastes for last minute curries and dramatic seasoning.
—Dried red chilli peppers (I do at least one stir-fry a week and like them hotter than everyone else, so I fry them black in plenty of oil for and use both the oil and the chillis throughout the week).
—Ginger can be frozen and grated when you need it, so you always have it on hand.
—Phyllo dough and puff pastry to turn leftovers into elegant meals, tarts and pot pies.
—Baguettes from On the Rise Bakery (find a good bakery near you—don't rely on grocery store baguettes); good fresh baguettes freeze great.
Would love to hear what invaluable staples you keep in your freezer.