I have a thing for pantry items, the stuff that keeps in bottles or jars in the frig, pantry, or freezer that I can pull out on a moment’s notice and toss in a dish in progress. The pantry gets a little overstuffed from time to time, occasionally requiring a thorough clean-out, but for the most part I use the stuff I bring home. Out of everything that’s in our pantry, these 10 things are must haves for us, and if we ran out would probably set off an unscheduled trip to the grocery store.

The DC Moms - Top 10 Pantry Items

1. Sea salt – Though our pantry has several different kinds of salt, fine sea salt is what I prefer for seasoning foods at the end of cooking and for the table.

2. Peppercorns – Ground pepper loses flavor and aroma more quickly than whole peppercorns, so we store peppercorns in an airtight container in a dark corner of the pantry, and just grind it fresh.

3. Garlic – We keep garlic on hand both fresh and in dried, powder form. After harvesting the garlic we grow in our garden, we hang it dry in our basement rafters, and it keeps for up to six months.

4. Olive oil – This is the oil I use the most of any that we keep on hand. We use regular olive oil for cooking because it has a higher smoke point, and save the flavorful extra virgin olive oil for vinaigrettes, pesto, and dipping or drizzling on fresh bread.

5. Vanilla – I buy vanilla beans by the pound and store them in glass jars filled with sugar. Some I use to make vanilla extract and the rest I use in gelato and other desserts.

6. Almonds – My all-time favorite nut, we snack on almonds, add them to granola, drop a handful on top of Greek yogurt for breakfast, or toss some with cool salads. They are also delicious roasted with tamari soy sauce.

7. Soy sauce – I learned to love soy sauce during my first year overseas, and now I couldn’t live with out it. We use tamari, low sodium, and light sauces.

8. Pasta/noodles – Italian or Asian, it doesn’t matter, the stash of pasta and noodles in our pantry never seems to decrease. We eat them hot or cold in all shapes and with many different sauces and vegetables. Rice noodles are my favorite followed closely by buckwheat.

9. Vinegar – This is another ingredient that takes up a lot of space in our pantry because we like many different kinds and choosing just one favorite would be very difficult. I use rice vinegar in Asian salads, apple cider vinegar in barbecue sauces, and champagne or white wine vinegar for vinaigrettes. I save the plain white vinegar for mopping floors.

10. Hot sauce – My husband is the chili head and loves all kinds of hot sauces. We stock Sriracha, Cholula chipotle, Frank’s RedHot, and sambal oelek in the pantry. I’ve experimented with making hot sauces from dried Mexican chilies, and one of our goals for the summer garden this year is to make hot sauces from our homegrown chilies. We may set our heads on fire, or not, but we’ll let you know either way.

What ingredients do you keep on hand that you can’t cook without?