Although building up your pantry can seem like an onerous (and expensive!) task if you undertake it all at once, adding one or two items at a time can slowly help you get to the point where all you'll ever need on a whim are fresh produce and specialty items.
Here is a list of my actual pantry contents, with suggestions for specialty items to add over time... I try to buy in bulk stores so that I can control the amount I need. Keep in mind that many seasonings lose their potency within six months once the package is open so it's better to buy less at a time.
- onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes
- variety of dry beans (chick peas, lentils, white beans) as well as canned.
- canned whole tomatoes plus tomato paste (freeze the paste in ice cube containers and then pop them into a plastic freezer bag - perfect for last minute sauces)
- variety of starches (rice, couscous, bulgur, polenta, etc.)
- canned fish
- coconut milk
- canned artichokes, hearts of palm
- all-purpose flour, plus specialty (semolina, buckwheat, whole-wheat, bran, etc,)
- dried fruit & nuts
- baking flour, baking soda, dry yeast
- white sugar, brown sugar
- cocoa powder
- olive oil, vegetable oil, plus specialty (nut oils, asian-style oils)
- white & red wine vinegar plus specialty (balsamic, cider, champagne, rice)
- soy or tamari sauce, hot sauce, fish sauce
- dijon mustard
- My basics include sea salt, black & white pepper, cayenne, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon, basil, cumin, curry blend, cloves, vanilla extract - and in the warmer months, I grow a few fresh herbs, too.
- I frequently use tarragon, lavender, herbes de provence, paprika, dried chilies, chinese five spice, star anise, raz hanout, garam masala - add anything else you love or are curious about!
In the fridge:
- milk, eggs, unsalted butter
- citrus fruit (lime, lemon, grapefruit)
- carrots, leek
In the freezer:
- various stocks (chicken, beef, fish). Great for soups, sauces, risottos, braised dishes, etc.
- tomato paste
- bread crumbs (made from old leftovers), Parmesan cheese and more butter!
There are always a minimum of five or six varieties of dark chocolate hanging around, waiting to be sampled. And, of course, wine is de rigueur! For the cooking, obviously.