Give me a loaf of good bread and I’ll be fine. Give me that same loaf of bread, a properly stocked pantry and a bottle of wine, and I’ll eat like a king.
I always have great bread at hand, and a number of great bakeries supply it in Kansas City. Keep in mind that good bread isn’t cheap—$8 or $9 for a loaf is realistic, but not a single crumb need go to waste. And those great bakeries are a bit out of my normal path, so when I do visit one of them I buy quite a few loaves. My preferred method of storage is to slice and freeze bread the day I buy it, so a great snack, appetizer, or meal is only a toaster moment away. If you think of bread as a canvas or vehicle for other flavors (like pasta or rice or a crust of any kind), you will immediately see an endless source of culinary possibilities.
It only takes an item or two from the pantry to create an almost instant bite to entertain a surprise guest or placate a hungry human after school (or work). A quick tuna salad with capers, pickled onions, mustard and mayo; a dollop of fresh ricotta topped with a good anchovy and some crushed red pepper; a puree of beans flavored with some herbs—put it on a slice of toasted or grilled bread. Soak the bread with a little melted chocolate and coffee and top it with whipped cream and nuts for a quick dessert. It’s all so easy and delicious for any meal of the day.
My go-to pantry staples:
- Good quality canned tuna packed in olive oil (some of the best kinds come from Italy, Spain and Portugal)
- Canned anchovies packed in olive oil or salt
- Canned beans: garbanzo and cannellini (or Great Northern)
- Jarred olives like castelvetrano, cerignola and gaeta
- Nonpareil capers
- Rice: I usually have at least six or so kinds on hand, from Carnaroli for making risotto to Carolina Gold, Jasmine, Basmati, and Black “Forbidden” Rice
- Dried beans and peas of all kinds
- Dried fruits and nuts
- San Marzano tomatoes
- Various shapes of dried pastas
- Good extra-virgin olive oil
- Garlic (not the kind in a jar)
- Various sugars and flours, honey, assorted sea salts and kosher salt
- Vinegars: homemade wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar
- Great bread from Ibis Bakery and Fervere
- Basil pesto
- Homemade stocks and soups
Here are two really simple variations on the bean purees that we serve as part of the bread service at Lidia’s Kansas City. There’s really no need for a recipe or any measuring.
For the Basil Pesto Puree:
Drain and rinse a can of garbanzo beans and put the beans in a food processor. Add a few tablespoons of basil pesto. With the motor running, drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil to achieve your desired consistency and smoothness. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed (you’ll probably need salt, but the level of seasoning in canned beans can vary greatly from producer to producer).
For the Black Olive Puree:
Drain and rinse a can of cannellini or Great Northern beans, and put in a food processor. Add a few tablespoons of tapenade (black-olive paste), or a generous handful of pitted gaeta, kalamata, or other good black olives. With the motor running, drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil to achieve the desired consistency. Adjust seasoning.
Variations: For a lighter (but less luxurious puree), water can be substituted for part of the olive oil. To give these purees a little kick, try adding a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or a squirt of Sriracha, or a small clove of garlic—a little goes a long way.