Yellow onions are probably the most common and easiest to find. And even when they aren't in season they are one of the most cost effective vegetables to be had. They create the flavour foundation for just about everything I cook. The humble onion is the foundation for sauces, soups, stew & broths.
For me & especially my husband, there is nothing better than carmelized onions smeared over a grilled steak. Don't throw out the left overs, a steak sandwich is a fantastic way to make sure nothing goes in the green bin.
2. Bell Peppers (green, red, yellow)
Peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and are part of the holy trinity (onions, celery, pepper) when you want to layer flavour. Mexican, Cajun and Italian dishes often call for these three ingredients to get the cooking started. I can’t imagine marinara sauce, fajita’s or gumbo without at least one of these peppers. One of my favourite appetizers is to saute´ all 3 types of peppers with onion and garlic. When they soften, top with goat cheese and serve on a bit of toasted Italian bread. I promise you will think you died and went to heaven.
I find celery often gets overlooked. Most of us think of it as a snack with PB and raisons that we either had as kids or fed our own. Celery can add quite a bit of personality to many dishes and the leaves are packed with goodness. So, like onions and bell peppers I most often use celery as a flavour base in soups and stocks.
Flavour Base for Soup
Garlic is found in abundance in North America. It is one of the easiest local vegetables (cousin of the onion) to find at grocery stores and markets. So look for local! Because it is so inexpensive most of us can even afford organic. Many people believe that once garlic has sprouted it’s past its prime. Not so, but it has lost some of its flavour and health benefits. Just make sure you remove the stem before dicing and mincing.
I use garlic in almost everything I cook from pasta sauces (red and white) to sautéing spinach to vinaigrettes. For me it’s one of the most versatile ingredients. It adds a unique flavour regardless of how you decide to use it.
Ginger is a common ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. Can you imagine pumpkin pie without ginger? I didn't think so. Gingerbread cake and ginger crinkle cookies are two long term favs in my family.
Ginger Crinkle Cookies
Looking for a bit of heat, add fresh ginger when cooking. It can be used sliced, but I prefer it minced so that it mixes into the dish and is the background flavour that makes you say yum, what is that? Ginger is particularly good in Indian and Asian cooking. I love to use ginger in marinades combined with soy sauce, garlic and a bit of orange juice. Fresh ginger can be stored in the freezer and grated as you need it.
How many types of mushrooms are there? Too many to count!
The oyster, lobster and shiitake all have their place in the kitchen but for everyday cooking I suggest the button or cremini (baby portobello). I particularly like the character and meatiness of the cremini. If I’m going meatless, this mushroom adds the substance often needed when converting a recipe from carnivore to vegetarian.
Because mushrooms are about 90% water, be patient when sautéing to allow the water to evaporate and for them to turn that lovely shade of brown that results in fantastic flavour. Use fried mushrooms in stews and as a base for marinara sauces. Because mushrooms pair so well with onions try them with that leftover steak sandwich.
For me a pantry staple is canned tomatoes. I suggest buying them whole and unsalted. This allows you to control the amount of salt in your cooking. Why whole? Who needs to pay extra for processing when it is so easy to break up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon.
Most of us know canned tomatoes are the base for pizza, spaghetti and lasagne sauces but they can do so much more.
Tomatoes can transform traditional chicken soup into something completely different. Add some oregano, basil, thyme and a hand full of rigatoni and you have a mediterranean style minestrone. For a quick weeknight dinner, break a couple eggs into a skillet on top of leftover marinara sauce, add a bit of hot sauce and bake in the oven for 4-5 minutes and dinner is on the table.
Marinara Sauce with Beef
Prep Time: 30 minutes ( simmer time : 1 hour)
1 Tbsp canola oil 1 onion, diced 1 green pepper, diced 1 red pepper, diced 4 cloves garlic, minced 8 oz mushrooms, sliced 1 Tbsp oregano 1 Tbsp basil 1 Tbsp thyme 1 tsp cayenne pepper pinch red pepper flakes 6 oz tomato paste pinch fresh ground nutmeg 1 tsp sugar 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar 2 28 oz can whole tomatoes 4 bay leaves
Instructions Heat a large dutch oven & add oil,
When hot add onions and saute´ until translucent about 3 minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes, add mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add oregano, basil, thyme, cayenne, red pepper flakes and cook stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook until brickish red colour about1 minute.
Add the canned tomatoes breaking them up with the back of a wooden spoon. Add sugar, nutmeg, worcestershire sauce, vinegar and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, lower heat & simmer for at least 1 hour but as long as you like. I make the sauce in the morning and leave it on the back burner for the day. Use for lasagne in time, spaghetti, pizza or any pasta. Remove bay leaves before serving.
Keeps in the fridge for a couple days or store longer in the freezer and thaw as needed.