As a member of a CSA program, you have the wonderful opportunity to eat fresh vegetables, straight from your local farms. When cooking from your farm haul, try to let the vegetables guide the meals. Having a well-stocked pantry will help you cook and eat effortlessly, easily incorporating seasonal produce into your plates- making fully composed meals with things you already have on hand. Your Co-op Farmers know this best: it’s easy to be a good cook when you’re starting with fresh vegetables that are landing on your chopping block just days after they’re harvested. Not interested in pouring over a new recipe or experimenting in the kitchen? Turn to our pantry staples. The combo of vegetables + pantry serves the simple purpose to delight and nourish us without much fuss.
A well-stocked pantry, like a library full of books, is a gateway to delicious meals, and a catalog of canned goods is a vital part of this equation. We’ll save boxes, bags, and freezer staples for another post, but today we’re talking about those goods that are preserved and packed in steel cans, which, in case you were wondering, are ribbed as a way to strengthen the metal, prevent denting, and allow for slight expansion/contraction.
Our Favorite Cans
Tomatoes: Diced, whole, and paste.
Tomato season, especially in Texas, is short, but rich and acidic tomatoes are useful for easy dishes, year-round. We like to keep a few cans of whole San Marzanos around, which we’ll use for tomato sauce- whether we’re making spaghetti and meatballs, Bolognese, or something in between. Whole or diced tomatoes are perfect for soups, stews, curries, and Creole dishes. And tomato paste – a perfectly concentrated tomato-umami bomb, is perfect for adding a deep tomatoey flavor to just about anything. Need some clues on how you should be using tomato paste? Check out this article which elaborates on a tomato paste must: cook it down a bit before piling on other ingredients. Need more convincing on why you should stock up on canned tomatoes? Here are 43 things to do with tomatoes in a can.
We love keeping whole-fat cans of coconut milk and coconut cream on hand. Of course, these are essential to making many Southeast Asian soups, curries (see below), and stir-fries, but they’re also a preferred “dairy” to use anytime we’re making a cream-of-whatever-vegetables-needs-using soup. Sauté aromatics, add diced local vegetables, broth, and simmer. Stir in coconut milk, puree, and enjoy. Bisques, chowders, and creamy soups can come together at a moment’s notice by simply subbing coconut milk for perishable milk or cream.
PROTIP: swing by one of Austin’s many Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch or MT Mart to find a wider selection of coconut milk brands. We’ve been known to buy a case at a time.
Thai Curry Paste
Maesri is our favorite brand of Thai Curry paste. Making your own curry paste is great, and yes, the flavor may be slightly superior to these cans, but having a few of these on-hand turns a soulful pot of curry into a weeknight reality. The best part about Thai-style curries is that they’re easily adaptable to just about ANY Co-op veggie you bring home. Admittedly, we’re not an expert in the nuances of different types of Thai curries; there are many. Our favorite cans to have on hand are Panag, Green, Red, and Masaman.
Canned beans, of all flavors, are a larder stalwart. Black beans get thrown into Southwestern and Mexican-style stews, salsas, and tacos. We love creamy black-eyed peas, perfect for folding into a wrap or making a salad. Often, we will rinse and strain black-eyed peas, then simply dress them with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice and store in the fridge. A scoop here, a spoonful there – beans or peas stored this way are easy to add to any plate throughout the week. Hearty chickpeas, either straight from the can or roasted till crisp, are a wonderful addition to soups, salads, grain bowls, or just mixed with a big pile of sliced cucumbers. White beans are perfect for a Tuscan-style kale soup, white chicken chili, or, with the addition of whatever herbs and greens are available, to make a hummus-like dip that you can serve with even more crunchy fresh vegetables. Canned refried pinto beans plus a tostada/chips/or a tortilla is a perfect foundation for ANY vegetable – freshly chopped or leftover and roasted. Melted cheese on top is merely a bonus.
Hear us out. Let’s celebrate canned corn. The texture and taste is, to me, closer to the fresh thing than any other canned vegetable. During Texas’s short fresh corn season, please eat the fresh stuff. But during all other parts of the year? We go for the canned. We love to add canned corn to soups and stews and salads – a sugary pop to make the perfect bite. Together with eggs and veggies, corn can liven up a quiche or frittata. Shredded veg + canned corn (+ flour and a binder) make a delicious fritter.
We love to have a can of artichokes in the pantry. They feel lux and Mediterranean and are an easy meaty addition to a vegetarian meal. Pat them dry and roast them in a hot oven or in a cast iron skillet and add them to salad, a pan of roasted chicken, or a creamy pasta sauce thick with local greens. Or, when your Co-op haul has run out, simply dress canned artichokes with some hefty glugs of olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and freshly chopped herbs for a quick vegetable side.
If you’re like us, there are times when we’re simply feeling like your vegetable-centric plate needs a little heft. If you haven’t gone to the grocery store or defrosted some meat, canned or tinned fish are an excellent solution. We love to make a huge salad or slaw, sometimes with pasta, and simply plop a can of oil-packed tuna on top. If you’ve been paying attention to recent food trends then you’ll know that tinned fish like sardines and mackerel (and oysters and octopus) are all the rage. There are some seriously high-quality products out there that can easily be added to a medley of blanched veggies, for example, to nudge the plate from snack to meal.
Green Chilis & Chipotle Peppers in Adobo
Canned green chilis are usually one of several varieties of pepper including jalapenos, poblanos, hatch, Anaheim, or Pasilla. Often, these peppers are roasted before they’re canned. Roasted or not, a can of green chilis (which are usually mild – not too hot, but not devoid of any heat), are a wonderful substitution for fresh peppers in… well, anything you would add fresh peppers to: a pot of chili, tortilla soup, beef stew, or even jambalaya. Whereas fresh onions and garlic have a pretty long shelf life, raw peppers usually won’t last longer than a week or so. Stocking your pantry with a can of diced chilis, plus the onions + garlic is a wonderful way to make sure you always have a flavor base for just about any pot. Chipotle peppers in adobo are an excellent addition to fold into a bowl of sour cream or yogurt or a pot of simmering vegetable soup to add some depth. More tips on how to work with canned peppers in adobo sauce here.
A Fruity Thing
Farm work is time-consuming, and we don’t often have time to bake. But when the urge to make something sweet presents itself, it’s great to have some panty ingredients that will help satiate the sweet tooth. Canned pumpkin becomes pumpkin bread, canned peaches (in water, not syrup), a crumble/pie/or galette. Canned pineapple rings to make a pineapple upside-down cake.
Pretty much every good cookbook has a section that totes a list of recommended pantry staples, and we hope this list of my favorite cans helps you fill your cupboard, and cook your Co-op vegetables. Usually, it’s the procuring the fresh produce – the life force of the meal – that is complicated… but if you’re reading this, we know you’ve got that bit covered. Now, to stock the pantry.
Is there a canned good that you love to have around? Let us know!