Chef Sense: Pantry Staples

Ask any chef and they’ll tell you that one of the keys to successful cooking is a well-stocked pantry; stocking said pantry with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible is even better. Here are seven local staples to start your locavore journey en route to a homesteading kitchen.

Please Note: This list is intended to provide pantry inspiration. Most farms diversify by selling many different items. Ask at your local farm and explore your local farmers’ market for items on this list. You may be surprised at the offerings!

1 & 2. Cornmeal and Flour

Whether it’s to whip up a quick polenta or cornbread for a simple side dish, or make a simple thickener for a soup or sauce with a few tablespoons of flour (not to mention the baking potential!), cornmeal and flour are must-have items in the pantry. While many people aren’t fortunate enough to have access to freshly milled local flour, those of us who call southeastern Massachusetts home are lucky to have access to freshly milled flour by two local gristmills.

The Plimoth Grist Mill, part of Plimoth Plantation, operates on water power and produces some of the best cornmeal money can buy, along with whole wheat and rye flours. You can visit the mill to see the milling process and buy your products in their shop or order online. www.Plimoth.org

Gray’s Grist Mill located in Westport grinds Rhode Island Narragansett Flint Corn and offers cornmeal, Johnnycake mix, and a variety of pancake mixes. Gray’s Grist Mill provides tours by appointment and their products are available in many local specialty stores and online. www.GraysGristMill.com

Additional Sources:

Freedom Food Farm: www.FreedomFoodFarm.com Web of Life: Facebook: Web Of Life Organic Farm Skinny Dip: www.SkinnyDipFarm.com

  1. Salt

Salt is essential to the pantry of any good cook. It awakens our palate and brings life to just about anything you sprinkle it on. Specialty salts can make a wonderful finishing ingredient, making any dish just a little bit more memorable.

The Hippy Pilgrim, based in Plimpton, offers a great selection of flavored salts that are sure to add some zing to your next dinner. The classic garlic salt is great, but other flavors include Jalapeno (fantastic for tacos or to rim a spicy margarita glass) and Thanksgiving (which includes marjoram, thyme, and sage). The salts can be purchased online, at some local farmers’ markets, and at specialty stores in Duxbury and Kingston. www.HippyPilgrim.com

Richard’s Famous Garlic Salt, based in Plymouth, also offers a delicious garlic salt inspired by an old Italian family recipe. In addition, they sell a spicy version called Firecracker salt. Their products are available online and in select local specialty stores. www.RichardsFamousGarlicSalt.com

  1. Honey

Honey is one of nature’s most perfect creations. It offers a unique and multifaceted sweetness without being overpowering and requires far less processing than commercial white sugar. Honey’s complexity makes it a chef favorite, and thanks to the rising popularity of beekeeping, local honey is becoming more and more commonplace. Aside from its health benefits (eating local honey throughout allergy season helps tremendously!), honey is great in salad dressings, marinades, or drizzled over fresh berries for a simple dessert.

Queen Bee Honey from Pembroke offers a wonderful selection of honeys, including pure raw honey, as well as fun flavors such as Lavender and Blueberry. As an added bonus, they sell products made from beeswax too! www.QueenBeeHoney.com

Jenny Dees Bees from Duxbury sells honey and bee products, including lip balms and beeswax candles. www.Facebook.com/JennyDeesBees

Additional Sources:

Buzzards Bay Bees: Facebook: Buzzards Bay Bee Company, LLC

Dufort Farm: www.DufortFarms.com

Holly Hill Farm: www.HollyHillFarm.org

  1. Fats: Olive Oil/Lard

Most chefs could wax poetic about their love for olive oil (myself included). It is naturally robust and very versatile. While lighter olive oils are best suited for cooking, a good bottle of deep green and slightly spicy extra virgin olive oil is an absolute pantry must-have. Like a specialty salt, a drizzle of good olive oil can elevate an average dish into something special.

Omega Olive Oil, based in Kingston, makes it their job to source only the best in organic, domestic olive oil (all from California) since New England is not the ideal climate for growing olives. They have an excellent finishing extra virgin olive oil and a variety of flavored options to play around with, as well as a variety of aged balsamic vinegars. Their olive oils can be ordered online or purchased at select local farmers’ markets. www.OmegaOliveOil.com

Olio Di Melli operates in Westport and sources their olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and chocolate torrone direct from Italy, making sure to get products mainly from family-owned and operated small businesses and farms. www.FamousFoods.com/OlioDiMelli.html

Additional Resource:

www.GustareOliveOil.com

Brown Boar Farm: For a truly locally sourced fat, try lard. While lard has come to take a back seat to other cooking fat options, it’s time to reintroduce yourself to this versatile product. It has a very high smoke point compared to delicate olive oil or butter, making it a great choice for frying, and there’s no beating it when making flaky biscuits or piecrust from scratch. Lard is also sustainable and ensures that all parts of the pig are used; the epitome of waste not, want not. Brown Boar Farm, a Scituate-family owned operation, raises heritage pigs in the foothills of Vermont. They sell both their pork and lard at local markets and select locations. www.BrownBoarFarm.com

  1. Jams and Jellies

Good jams and jellies are a versatile starting point for so many meals. With endless flavor variations, they can jazz up a simple cheese board, be quickly whisked up into a salad dressing, act as a glaze for meats and vegetables, or even be shaken into a cocktail in place of simple syrup.

Al’s Backwoods Berrie Company is a great resource for locally made jams and jellies (they also sell honey, grilling sauces, and their own coffee blend). Located in Plymouth, Al’s makes all of their jams and jellies on site and uses locally grown produce whenever possible. Favorites include Cranberry-Basil, Blueberry-Rhubarb, and Moonshine Orchard. Al also collaborates with Plymouth Bay Winery on an exclusive product line made with Bay wine. Give Drydock Scampi jelly a try over shrimp or chicken. www.AlsBackwoodsBerrie.com and www.PlymouthBayWinery.com

Additional Source:

Sprig: www.SprigSavor.com

  1. Local Produce

While not technically a dry pantry item, fresh and local produce is an absolute must for chefs and home cooks alike. We’re fortunate in our community to have an abundance of farms that provide an enormous variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Make a stop at your local farmers’ market or that roadside stand you keep passing while out running errands. Farms that offer CSAs are a great way to learn about new produce varieties and experiment with different recipes.

The Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) is a great resource for finding farms, farmers’ markets (both summer and winter), and information on local harvests and seasonality. www.SEMAPonline.org

Additional Resource:

www.edibleSouthShore.com

Use your pantry basics in the following recipes:
Spicy Watermelon Wedges

  • 1 small local watermelon, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 2/3 cup Dirty Water WhatKnot Rum
  • 2 tablespoons triple sec
  • 2 tablespoons local honey
  • 2 limes
  • Jalapeno salt

Place watermelon wedges in an even layer in a shallow storage container or baking dish. Whisk together rum, triple sec, honey, and the juice of half a lime, and pour over. Cover and chill overnight.

Arrange wedges on a serving platter…(drain off excess liquid—chef’s treat!) and sprinkle with jalapeno salt to taste. Cut remaining lime into wedges to accompany and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Creamy Polenta with Braised Greens

  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups cornmeal or polenta
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish, if desired
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound local greens (can be a mix of your favorite, kale, escarole, chard, spinach etc.)
  • 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes or 1 cup diced heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Red pepper flakes, optional

Bring chicken or vegetable stock to a boil and stir in polenta and a heavy pinch of salt. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook while stirring frequently until cornmeal is tender. Stir in Parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and hold off heat while you cook your greens.

In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Stir in garlic then add chopped greens in handfuls. Cook covered until greens are just tender, but still bright and green. Add tomatoes and cook over high heat a few minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Season with more salt and pepper to taste and serve spooned over polenta. Grate over additional parmesan, if you like, as you serve.

Serves 6.

Cranberry Glazed Grilled Pork Tenderloin

  • 2 pork tenderloins
  • ⅓ cup local cranberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 teaspoons good mustard
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare a medium-hot fire.

Whisk together cranberry jam, cider, mustard, sage, and olive oil. Season the tenderloins with copious salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill over coals until evenly seared.

Brush glaze on the pork and cook until the interior temperature of the tenderloins is at 140 degrees, or when meat resists just a bit when touched.

Let tenderloins rest on a warm platter 10-15 minutes before carving into ½-inch slices. Serve with a bit more cranberry jam, or perhaps grilled orange slices, alongside.

Serves 6.

Chef Sense recipes are developed and provided by the author, Katie Callahan.


Katie Callahan is a chef, writer, and organic gardening enthusiast. She found a love for cooking at a young age and has worked for restaurant groups in Vermont, on the South Shore, and in Boston.

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