So far, I have talked about cooking from fresh ingredients and avoided the use of processed ingredients. But, just as I think everyone should have a date night dinner they can pull out to make, I think everyone should be able to make dinner strictly from pantry items. This is useful when you (like me) have recently been traveling and haven’t been able to get to the grocery store, or if (like me) you are just swamped at work and haven’t been able to get to the grocery store. Knowing how to make a meal from the pantry means you can still avoid the high calorie, high volume of take out.

I have a pretty extensive pantry. As a partial list, I keep canned beans (black, white and red), canned tomatoes, canned green beans, canned artichoke hearts, canned tuna, and cream of mushroom soup on hand. I also always have frozen broccoli, artichoke hearts, Brussels sprouts, and salmon or other frozen fish in the freezer. I keep rice, wheat pasta, rice noodles, and bouillon in my pantry as well. In addition to canned, frozen, and dry goods, I think of a few fresh (fresher) items like kielbasa, or other pre-cooked sausage, onions, garlic, spinach, and lemons or limes as pantry items because I always have them on hand. Your pantry items may be different.

Pantry meals do have a downside. They aren’t as tasty as cooking from scratch and downside for me – upside for some – they make more than one serving. I take the leftovers to work for lunch.

Sausage and Beans

I make sausage and beans from pre-cooked sausage (most recently chicken and garlic), white beans (usually cannellini, but others work), garlic and spinach.

Sausage & Beans Ingredients

I cut about one third of the kielbasa into rounds,the rest I put in the refrigerator – it will keep for a few days for other recipes – and sauté the rounds.

Sausage Saute

I just brown the slices on both sides. I don’t even add any oil. The slices will give off fat while browning. Next, I add some chopped garlic and a drained and rinsed can of white beans. I like the beans toasted, so I give it a minute or two, stirring occasionally.

Add Beans

Add Spinach

Then add about one half of a bag of spinach.

Turn off the heat and toss it until the spinach wilts.

Sausage Sauté with Spinach

Squeeze a lemon quarter over it, it does make a difference. This makes about three servings for me.

But why not just get takeout? I timed this. It took me sixteen minutes to make, including slicing the sausage and chopping the garlic, and I wasn’t rushing. It also cost much less than takeout and I think it is better for me.

Variations: You can use black or red beans, even chickpeas, instead. On one occasion, I didn’t have sausage, but I did have pepperonis. So I put a little oil in the pan, sautéed the garlic, added the beans and pepperonis, then the spinach. It was good. You could substitute chorizo or other sausage as well. If it isn’t pre-cooked, though, it will take longer to make.

Another use for sausage is a variation of the stove top hotdish I grew up with. Stove top hotdish is a package of mac ‘n’ cheese combined with a cut up hot dog and frozen veggies or a can of tuna and frozen peas. I no longer buy packaged mac ‘n’ cheese. Instead I use a little pasta, frozen veggies and whatever cheese I have on hand. Most recently I had cream cheese to use up. I sautéed my sausage, microwaved a broccoli cauliflower mix and combined it with some pasta, cream cheese, cheddar, and cayenne pepper.

Spinach, sausage, and garlic are fresh(er) ingredients. What if you don’t have those on hand?

Easy, make 8 minute soup. This is a strictly canned goods dish. Drain and rinse a can of black beans and a can of red beans. Put in a pot. Add a can (including liquid) of tomatoes. Add a drained and rinsed can of corn. Add two or three cups of broth (made with bouillon if needed) and a tablespoon of chili powder and ½ tsp of cayenne and ¼ tsp of black pepper. Taste, then add salt. All those canned goods have salt, so make sure you taste to avoid an overly salty dish. Bring to a boil and boil for 8 minutes. If you use vegetable broth, you have a vegan soup. (You’re welcome, SP).

These are just three of what I call pantry meals. There are hundreds more that you can make. As I mentioned above, it really depends on what you keep in the pantry. So, Glibertarians, what do you keep in your pantry, and what are your favorite pantry meals?