20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

It is amazing how many meals you can create if you have the following 20 pantry items on hand. You don’t need a fancy kitchen, pots, or ingredients. Wonderful cooks have been producing four-star “every day” meals with just these staples. If you add good bread, and a few fresh ingredients from the garden (see my post on the 10 plants to grow in pots) you have a feast. Simplify your kitchen and therefore your life.

All of the following 20 will keep well in the pantry or refrigerator. Use them to make quick delicious meals for your family, or guests. I’ll be using all of them in future posts with menu ideas.

  1. Salt – I like grey salt and sea salt for flavoring, having kosher on hand is also nice (keep it close in a jar by your stove)
  2. Onions – brown or white, plus red for salads
  3. Garlic
  4. Fresh ginger
  5. Lemons
  6. Olive oil – extra virgin
  7. Neutral oil such as canola or sunflower or coconut
  8. Butter
  9. Rice wine vinegar
  10. Wine vinegar – red
  11. Dijon mustard
  12. Soy sauce
  13. Coconut milk
  14. Sesame oil
  15. Parmesan cheese (whole piece, not pre-grated, best you can afford)
  16. Dried pasta
  17. Canned tomatoes
  18. Various canned or dried beans
  19. Chocolate bars
  20. Sugar and/or honey

The following classic dish is difficult to beat with only 4 out of the above 20 ingredients.

Picture these two scenarios…you just got home from work, it was a long day with no time to go to the grocery store. The train or bus was late, and traffic was bad. Your family is grouchy and hungry (and you aren’t far behind).

Or, maybe you get a call from an old friend who is in town for just one night. They want to meet your family. There is no time to do anything elaborate and besides, again, you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. You want to make something delicious and classy but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen.

If you have a well stocked pantry (plus some herbs and greens in pots on the deck, and bread in the freezer) you are in for a gourmet treat.

Relax; pour yourself (and your guests) a glass of wine.


  • French breakfast radishes, sweet putter, flaked salt, crisp baguette
  • Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Cheese
  • Salad de la casa 
  • Chocolate bars, assorted types

For the starter: Go out to those herb and veggie filled pots on your deck or patio (or your garden) and pull some radishes (see “10 herbs and veggies you can grow in pots”). Wash them, cut off the root and trim the tops to an 1 inch. On a plate arrange the radishes with some sweet butter and flaked salt. If you have a baguette wrapped in foil in the freezer, it can be ready in 20 minutes. Heat your oven to 400 degrees, place the frozen foil wrapped baguette on a rack and cook for 15 minutes, remove the foil for another 5 minutes to crisp.


This is a classic Italian pasta dish. While living with my family in Rome as an 8 year-old, I lived on it. At that stage of my life Italian food was not my cup of tea, with the exception of Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano. It was standard fare at every restaurant.


Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Parmesan Cheese (serves 6-8)

1 lb. pasta of your choice

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving

8 tablespoons butter – 1 stick cut into 8 pieces and softened to room temperature (not melted)


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (kosher) until it tastes like the sea. Add your pasta and cook according to the package directions, tasting to make sure it is done to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Do not rinse! Dump your pasta back in the hot pot, add the butter and toss until melted, add a little of the hot cooking water if it looks dry, then the cheese and toss again. If the mixture still looks dry, add a bit more cooking water. The cooking water contains starch which turns butter and cheese into a creamy sauce. Don’t add too much as you don’t want it to be watery. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Turn into a warm serving bowl or individual plates. Grate some cheese on the top.

Serve with extra cheese on the side.

Olive oil can be substituted for the butter. This is the basic version, you could add fresh herbs, a few chili flakes, a handful of frozen peas (defrosted), some toasted breadcrumbs, toasted nuts, etc. Need some meat? What about crumbled crisp bacon, slices of Italian sausage browned in olive oil, or left over rotisserie chicken. Let your imagination go wild! But, this dish is delicious just as it is, with only good butter and cheese.

Fix a salad from your pots, make a simple vinaigrette.

Salad pickings from the garden

For dessert pull out those chocolate bars, break them into pieces, put them on a pretty plate, serve with pride.


Pasta, salad, bread, chocolate…dinner, perfecto!

What’s in your own pantry is considered an essential?

6 thoughts on “20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

  1. Yum! I was just trying to figure out what to make for dinner and saw your blog post! My cupboards are empty, but your list inspired me. I have a spaghetti squash wanting attention. I’m going to make spaghetti (squash) with garlic, just harvested parsley, parm and chili peppers, with spaghetti squash. Thanks for the inspiration.
    I chopped up all my parsley this afternoon and put it in ice cube trays–a tablespoon in each cube–and I’m freezing it. Something for my fall and winter soups. Yum! your blog makes me hungry and want to cook!

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