Kitchen & Cooking

Sick of pantry meals? Here’s what to cook instead

Here's what we're eating this month.

Sick of pantry meals? Here’s what to cook instead Credit: Getty / Linda Raymond / Anova

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Back in March, I suggested different ways to make the most of your pantry meals while under quarantine—how to cook with beans, dry pasta, eggs, and more basics creatively. But two months in, and it’s hard to not feel a little bored of these foods, no matter how many different ways you’ve hopefully learned to prepare them.

If you’re lucky enough to have regular access to grocery stores—which are generally better-stocked across the country than they were in late March—you might want to experiment with cooking projects that take time and skill to prepare. Or you might want to try incorporating more spring fruits and vegetables back into your diet, whether you get them from a store or a CSA or a local restaurant supplier.

Whatever your goals, here are some of my humble suggestions for what to cook this month.

1. Switch to making fresh pasta

Making fresh pasta
Credit: Sur La Table

Making fresh pasta is a fun culinary challenge—and a big step up from boxed pasta.

OK, so not everyone will want to begin their journey back to normal eating habits with more carbs. But if boxed pasta has been a staple for you these past few months, I can promise you that fresh, homemade pasta will taste unbelievably delicious—and it takes enough time and effort to prepare that it will feel special, too.

Making homemade pasta is a great way to take your culinary skills to the next level, whether you’re a casual home cook or serious chef. And with a good pasta maker, it's surprisingly easy to turn out a pappardelle or linguine as fresh and delicious as what you'd get in Rome.

Don’t have a pasta machine? We found the Marcato Atlas Pasta machine is as well-built and easy to use as it is affordable, snagging first place in our roundup of the best pasta makers.

You can use a good canned pasta sauce to complete your meal, but I always recommend making something yourself. My go-to is this delicious three-ingredient tomato sauce from famed Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan.

2. Roast something—anything

Roast chicken
Credit: Chelsie Craig / Jessica Emily Marx for The New York Times

A roast chicken is a simple, elegant dinner option—and you can truly customize the recipe.

If you’re not quite ready to start grilling for the season—or if it feels wrong to grill without a crowd—turn to your oven and roast something. Yes, we often associate roasts with holidays and wintertime, but letting simple ingredients get crispy and brown in the oven is one of the very easiest ways to bring out all their flavors.

If you’re a meat-eater, learn how to roast a chicken. My household loves this simple roast chicken from Melissa Clark, this Korean gochujang chicken from Bon Appétit’s Molly Baz, and this buttermilk chicken from Samin Nosrat. Once you have the hang of the process, you can experiment with ingredients to your heart’s desire. Roast chickens feed a crowd, but also make great leftovers, and can be pulled apart and added to sandwiches, salads, and soups.

If you prefer to stick to veggies, experiment with roasting all sorts of produce like cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. You can whip up a simple honey glaze, or just season with salt, pepper, and olive oil and enjoy in a grain bowl or as a side dish.

3. Make more salads

A kale salad
Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Take advantage of seasonal greens and vegetables with a really big salad.

Lettuces and other greens all flourish in spring, so now’s the time to get back into salads and eat fresh produce (if you weren’t doing that already). If you’re able to, try to get ingredients that were harvested locally, either from a grocery store, a CSA, or a nearby farm. These fruits and veggies will be fresh, in-season, and last longer in your fridge or on your countertop. With so many restaurants being forced to close temporarily, many small farms and restaurant suppliers are going direct to shoppers to stay in business.

Not sure where to start? Check out this guide on how to make a really big salad to your liking, or learn to perfect a classic like the Caesar salad. With the right balance of produce, proteins, and fat, your salad might just be the best thing you eat all month.

4. Learn how to sous vide

Cooking pork shops sous vide with Anova
Credit: Anova

Learning to cook sous vide isn't as challenging as it seems, you just need time and the right tools.

If you’re not already on the sous vide train, now’s a great time to get into using water baths to cook your food. Why? It’s a time-consuming process, but it turns out perfectly cooked meat and veggies every time. This week, I made sous vide pork chops for my household, which gave me enough time to roast veggies as a side and prepare a pan sauce without worrying whether the meat was cooked through.

You can sous vide salmon, steak, chicken, pork, asparagus, carrots, or even those egg bites you get from Starbucks. But you’ll need the right tools to get you started. We love this immersion circulator from Anova, one of the best immersion circulators on the market, to create the water bath. Some people also like to use plastic tanks to create their baths, but I just use a stock pot or a Dutch oven.

5. Order in—from pizza to oysters

Island Creek Oysters
Credit: Island Creek Oysters

You can order meals typically reserved for restaurant eating right to your door, including oysters from Island Creek Oysters.

At a certain point, we all get sick of cooking. There’s a good chance you’ve been cooking every single meal you eat—and maybe for other people, too! Treat yourself and support local businesses at the same time by ordering in. Eater has great coverage of how restaurants across the country are adapting to suit the times, with lists of where to eat in many cities.

There’s a good chance that many of your favorite restaurants have converted to take-out only, and you can support them by picking up lunch or dinner once a week. We ordered pizza from a local institution last night, and to celebrate a friend’s birthday last weekend, we ordered oysters directly from Island Creek Oysters, a famous Massachusetts restaurant supplier. They deliver overnight across the country, so if you’re looking for a way to celebrate a special occasion from home, consider the oyster.

Want more cooking coverage while you’re stuck at home? Here’s some ideas about what to bake, how to store all your extra food, and which cookbooks to work through.

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