Taking a peek at the pantry of a celebrity chef is like getting a glimpse of their inner self –- their creative process, the secrets to their personal cooking style, their guilty pleasures. This glimpse is especially exciting when we're talking about Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network maven and veteran of high-end and wildly popular dining establishments like Butter and Daniel, both in New York City. It feels like knowing the secrets to her pantry might help us better our own cooking by branching out, purchasing new ingredients, and learning how to use them through her shows. It's also interesting to see just how much of a single ingredient a chef likes to keep on hand. For example, who knew they sold such large vats of vanilla as what Alex Guarnaschelli has in her pantry? And what could all that vanilla possibly be used for? It's our job to find out and see what the fuss is all about.
While anyone who has seen her shows or been to her restaurants knows Guarnaschelli is a true fan of produce and of using plenty of vegetables in her cooking, we haven't had much insight into the pantry staples that drive these dishes, until now. So let's delve into the ingredients she reaches for whenever she has to prepare a quick meal, add flavor to a complex one, or simply prepare a little snack.
In a 2021 interview with Mashed, Alex Guarnaschelli said she considers herself to be a "closet vegetarian," meaning someone who eats a whole lot of vegetables and only the occasional chicken or steak. As such, it's easy to see why she might have plenty of canned beans and other pulses in her pantry. These provide an excellent source of protein for someone who might not go for meat or fish that often, and they can be used in pretty much any dish. Guarnaschelli, for one, has been known to add canned beans to her salads for flavor and texture, or to soups, for added heft and creaminess.
Another great use of canned beans is Guarnaschelli's party-friendly white bean dip. Reach for the canned beans instead of the labor-intensive dry variety and boil half a cup of water with some olive oil before adding garlic gloves, thinly sliced yellow onions, and salt until the water reduces. Heat the beans in this mixture and add the Worcestershire sauce, white distilled vinegar, garlic powder, paprika, hot sauce, olive oil, and salt before blitzing everything in a food processor. Add more oil and seasoning for good measure, and dip baby carrots or crackers in to enjoy them to their fullest. But one place where you will not find beans at Guarnaschelli's house is in her Texas chili. She is strictly traditional when it comes to this dish, and tradition dictates that no beans are allowed.
There is no denying that mustard is an acquired taste. For the uninitiated, it can seem sour, or even spicy. But once you've acquired this taste, there's no letting go of it. Alex Guarnaschelli seems to agree because she puts Dijon mustard in practically everything, which is probably why she always has a few jars of it sitting on her pantry shelves. In an exclusive interview with Mashed in June, Guarnaschelli said "You can do anything with mustard."
In particular, she recommends making a quick and easy meal by slathering mustard on chicken and roasting it, similar to this mustard-crusted rack of lamb recipe. You can also make a delicious vinaigrette for salads by combining mustard with some salt, pepper, olive oil, honey, minced garlic, and vinegar, as in this all-purpose vinaigrette recipe, or you can add it to your barbecue sauce to provide extra bite and thickness. She even admits to using mustard in her spice cake.
Most home chefs remember to add salt, but pepper often comes as an afterthought, if at all. Alex Guarnaschelli insists that this is a travesty and that black pepper should always be front and center on the list of ingredients for most savory dishes. This is because the spice can add quite a bit of flavor with practically no effort at all, and can be the best friend of anyone who doesn't have a lot of other spices on hand. In other words, it is simple but effective, which is all anyone can ask for in an ingredient.
That said, it's important to make a distinction between pre-ground and freshly ground black pepper. The former has been ground who-knows-when, and as soon as the grinding occurs, the pepper starts to gradually lose flavor. For the latter, on the other hand, you can somewhat control the freshness of the ingredient and the strength of the flavor by grinding it yourself directly onto your food when you're good and ready to use it.
There are more ways to add flavor to a dish than simply by piling on the salt. One such way is the use of Worcestershire sauce, a fermented combination of anchovies, vinegar, molasses, sugar, cloves, chili pepper extract, and tamarind. Alex Guarnaschelli uses it as a secret weapon in many of her dishes, and there's no reason why we shouldn't do the same. You can even add it toward the end of the recipe and pretend the dish had been stewing in salt the whole time.
One way to do this is to add Worcestershire sauce to your soups. Use it to finish off a tomato soup for an extra bite and hint of umami, or stir some into a potato-based soup to balance out the softness with a vinegary bite. Just beware that Worcestershire sauce isn't for everyone. The presence of anchovies means it's a no-go for vegetarians, though pescatarians may still abide. Meanwhile, the barley malt vinegar that is key to Worcestershire sauce's success may cause some problems for those who need to follow a gluten-free diet.
Given Alex Guarnaschelli's propensity for vegetarian dishes, it's to be expected that she would keep a generous stock of canned chickpeas in her pantry, right alongside her beans. These legumes are packed with good stuff like protein, vitamin B6, and folate. Add these to any meal, and you can be sure you're serving up something nutritious.
Try, for example, our savory chickpea waffle recipe and top the waffles with a slaw made from Armenian cucumbers, carrots, onions, parsley, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt, along with a Greek yogurt sauce mixed with harissa paste, salt, and lemon juice. Another great recipe is our Moroccan chickpea stew, which is a simple mixture of minced garlic and chopped onion sautéed in olive oil, which is then combined with diced tomatoes, canned chickpeas, ground cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and vegetable stock. Cook everything together for 25 minutes, until the flavors blend together nicely.
Canned sardines make a great snack, but it also can feel comforting to have them on hand during a pandemic. As Alex Guarnaschelli told Women's Health Magazine, this is one reason she likes to keep them around -- the COVID-19 pandemic taught her to think about which ingredients to keep in case she ever gets stuck in her house for three weeks.
In fact, a can of sardines is an extremely smart thing to have in your pantry, especially for unexpected scenarios. This ingredient is nutritious, tasty, and easy to store for long periods. It's also easy to cook with. For example, you can use canned sardines to make an easy open-faced sandwich by brushing some toasted sourdough with olive oil and garlic and then placing some canned sardines and chopped herbs or chives on top. You can also slip them into a pasta dish by trying these almond, dill, and sardine bucatini. You can make this by sautéing Espelette peppers with garlic, chives, some drained and filleted sardines in tomato sauce, and salt. Then cook the tomato sauce from the sardines along with roasted chopped almonds, dill, lemon zest, more filleted sardines, and prepared al-dente Bucatini. Adjust consistency with extra pasta water as needed and top with more lemon zest to serve.
Anyone who does any baking, or even cooking, is likely to have some good old granulated cane sugar stored in their pantry. But if you're truly committed to these practices, you may also have some unusual sugars on hand, such as palm or coconut sugar, just as Alex Guarnaschelli does. Coconut sugar, for one, can make a great substitute for brown sugar if you want to dial back the sweet factor in one of your recipes. The two sugars have a similar composition, though coconut sugar contains a little less moisture than brown sugar.
Another option for making your desserts a little less sweet is substituting palm sugar. Just be aware that it has a slightly deeper flavor than granulated or caster sugar, with hints of caramel and molasses. For this reason, it's great for Asian dishes that require some low-level sweetness, like Pad Thai, sprinkled over Chai, or even melted down into syrup.
We like Alex Guarnaschelli just the way she is, but when she says she has a huge vat of vanilla extract in her pantry because she wants to be more like Ina Garten, who makes her own, we certainly can't blame her. And there are plenty of inspired ways to use vanilla, especially if you're a big dessert lover.
For example, this simple classic vanilla pudding recipe will help you make a dent in your vat of vanilla. To make it, combine milk and cornstarch, and in a separate bowl, whisk your egg yolks. Then heat up milk, sugar, and salt on the stove before combining it with the egg yolks and cornstarch mixture and continuing to cook everything together, whisking constantly until the pudding starts to take shape. Once it's thick enough, add the vanilla and butter and pour into a dish or several ramekins. Chill the pudding for at least six hours before serving. Just make sure that when you include vanilla, you're using the real deal instead of the imitation stuff. The flavor is much purer and stronger than the fake varieties, and it will make a noticeable difference in the outcome of any recipe.
Another important baking staple that should be in everyone's pantry is some good quality chocolate, whether it be in the form of cocoa powder, chocolate chips, or bars. Alex Guarnaschelli, for example, uses all three of these ingredients to make her incredibly rich and delicious chocolatey cookies.
To prepare this quintessential chocolate recipe, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon while you melt a chopped-up bar of 70% dark chocolate with butter. Then beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in a bowl before adding the flour mixture, melted chocolate, and chocolate chips. Bake the cookies for about eight minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. But chocolate is even more versatile than that. If you're not into baking, you can use it in your cooking, such as in this beef chili with pancetta and ancho, where the chocolate will provide the ideal complement to the warm spices in the dish.
Red Wine Vinegar
Alex Guarnaschelli loves vinegar in all its forms and uses, or at least that's what it looks like judging by the contents of her pantry. In a recent interview with Tasting Table, she told us that red wine vinegar in particular "can really perk up other flavors and bring them to life." This is great news, because red wine vinegar tends to be cheap, at least when compared to balsamic vinegar for example, and we love to hear about cheap and easy ways to add flavor to our dishes.
But Alex Guarnaschelli doesn't stop there. She also stocks her pantry with anything vinegar adjacent, including preserved lemons, horseradish, and olives –- things she says "add a spark plug to your dishes," as she says in a recent Food Network post. To get a taste of this, try combining some horseradish sauce with mayo before spreading it on your sandwich. "Spark plug" is exactly the phrase that comes to mind.
Dried mushrooms can pack so much flavor in such a small space that they can almost act as a spice rather than a fungus or protein. This, and the fact that they can be safely stored for long periods of time in cool, dark environments, make them ideal candidates for a pantry staple. Alex Guarnaschelli knows this, which is probably why she keeps several bags of them in her pantry at any given time.
To get a feel for what she might be thinking when it comes to dry mushrooms, try her steamed pork dumplings recipe, which she makes with dried tree ear or wood ear mushrooms. To cook this, you'll first need to rehydrate the mushrooms in hot water for about 20 minutes before chopping them up. Then combine ground pork with grated ginger, minced scallions, a lightly beaten egg, soy sauce, the prepared mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Finally, scoop up some of your mixture, place it in the dumpling wrappers, and steam them until cooked through.
Grains are perhaps the most common and important staple to have in a pantry. Rice, couscous, spelt, barley, and other such marvels can do a lot to fill you up when you serve them alongside a protein and a vegetable. Alex Guarnaschelli has all of these and more in her pantry, including quinoa, which she uses to make delicious pilaf.
Her simple recipe can be made by sautéing curry, cumin, onion, and salt in olive oil before adding the quinoa and lightly toasting it in the pan for about two minutes. Add plenty of water and transfer it to the oven, where it needs to bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Finish off this dish by stirring in some good quality vinegar and pair it with a simple salad and some seared steak. You can also make a Basmati rice pilaf by following similar steps and then adding rice instead of quinoa.
Noodles also abound in Alex Guarnaschelli's pantry. In fact, not only does she keep a lot of them on hand, but she also goes for variety, stocking Asian noodles, Italian spaghetti, and other noodle-like creations from around the globe. Luckily, the noodle, in all its forms, is an ingredient we can all appreciate, especially when used in Guarnaschelli's spicy noodle recipe, which she posted to Instagram just last year.
To prepare this Pad Thai-inspired dish, whisk the smooth peanut butter with warm water, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, red wine vinegar, hot sauce, fish sauce, sugar, a dash of salt, and sliced scallions. Then simply cook your noodles of choice until al dente, and toss them in the peanut sauce. To complete this dish, stir in some mint, basil, and chili slices, and refrigerate it as it marinates. Before serving, sauté it in some oil and add peanuts.
Why confine yourself to just one type of flour when there are so many to choose from? This seems to be what Alex Guarnaschelli was thinking when she stocked her pantry with pasta flour, bread flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, buckwheat flour, and more. With that kind of flour guest list, she can make just about any baked good on the planet.
A particularly good example of her baked goods comes in the form of her popover recipe. Popovers are great for soaking up butter and drippings and are ideal when served with a hearty meat dish with some roasted vegetables, the perfect accompaniment to the coming fall season. Prepare the popover batter by whisking together eggs, milk, and melted butter and pouring this mixture into a bowl of sifted flour. Scoop your batter into greased muffin tins and bake for 12 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit before reducing the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cooking for another 12 minutes.
Alcohol, in its practically infinite forms, can be enjoyed alone or in combination with other ingredients in cocktails. But it's also widely used in the realm of cooking and baking, to which it has a lot to add, both in terms of flavor and chemical reactions. Alex Guarnaschelli keeps various forms of alcohol in her pantry for both libations and meals, with kirsch, marsala, whiskey, dry sherry, and others being used for all sorts of tipples or for sweet and savory recipes.
Guernaschelli's zesty iced tea, for example, combines black tea with lemon, sugar, and top-shelf whiskey. In terms of cooking, her breaded chicken marsala uses a marinade made with ½ a cup of marsala wine combined with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, and canola oil. You can even use whiskey in baking by creating a whiskey glaze that will add a kick to any of your favorite bread recipes.
Many of our favorite chefs, from Giada De Laurentiis to Bobby Flay, will swear by using anchovies to elevate the flavor of their dishes, and Alex Guernaschelli is in on the secret, too. But unlike those other chefs, Guernaschelli has indicated she understands that some people might find anchovies to be a little too much, and suggests simply using the oil from the tin instead of the fish themselves.
A good way to start your foray into cooking with anchovies is to make a simple but tasty French spread called anchoïade. To prepare it, toss anchovies and garlic into a food processor and blitz them until they become a paste. Be sure to avoid adding salt here, because anchovies are already very salty. At this point, you can stir in the red wine vinegar and olive oil until thoroughly combined. Spread as much as you're comfortable with over a nice, toasted piece of sourdough.
Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.