By Kristin Boza
How many ways can you make a meal out of beans? Or pasta? Or canned tomatoes? Every pantry seems to brim with these kinds of staples, and the stash continues to build when there’s a big sale at County Fair.
Alvin Green, a personal and private chef, noticed he had an abundance of pantry foods, yet he continued to make his regular grocery purchases each week. Figuring out how to cook with whatever is on-hand once everyone began sheltering in place spawned the idea for his Facebook group, Cook My Pantry. For the group, Green gathers ideas from his friends around the country to answer the age-old question: What’s for dinner today?
Green intended to get the group started in January 2020, well before the shelter-in-place orders took effect. In that month, he challenged himself to only purchase fresh foods and add them to the non-perishable food already in his house. Once the pandemic hit and people were making fewer trips to the grocery store and purchasing more shelf-stable food, he got the group going to help others expand their palate while creating different and tasty dishes.
“The initial idea for the group was to post what you have in your pantry and I’d give suggestions on what to make that night, but it has evolved beyond that,” Green said. “Now, the entire group has pitched in to post their food and give suggestions to others. It’s a whole community of people who are helping one another and sharing ideas.”
Green began the group by inviting his large family and friends, all of whom are spread across the United States. The diverse group is composed of people of different backgrounds and locations sharing their family or community’s food traditions, from carnivorous options to vegan and everything in–between.
“I’m from the East Coast and there was once a two-day discussion in the group about hot dogs. I like them with ketchup and relish, which my wife thinks is blasphemy,” Green joked. “It was so funny to see what people across the country like on their hot dogs and how committed they are to their way of doing it.”
Pasta, rice, and canned tomatoes are three pantry staples that get a lot of mileage among many ethnically diverse cuisines. “You don’t have to be fancy to be a great cook. We welcome all ideas on the Cook My Pantry page, so just put it out there!” Green said. “I recently made mini naan pizzas with caramelized onion, pasta sauce, ground lamb, and greens. It was all stuff I had in the pantry or freezer and it was easy and delicious.”
With Father’s Day approaching, Green recommends having the kids pitch in to make dad a special meal. “And don’t forget to pick up some beer from Horse Thief Hollow and Open Outcry to round it out,” he said.
Make Your Own Pizza Party
You can you use a wide array of items for your pizza crust: Store bought pizza dough or crust, dough from a local pizzeria, naan, flatbread, puff pastry and if you like, you can make you your own dough from scratch.
The same goes for the pizza sauce: Store bought pizza, marinara or alfredo sauce doctored up to your taste. You can also make a simple homemade pizza sauce, like the Italian style sauce below, recipe from Alvin Green.
Toppings are endless, mix and match to your heart’s content.
EASY PIZZA SAUCE
15 oz. crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic (1/2 medium)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Scant 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Cut garlic into a few rough pieces
Place all ingredients in blender, blend until fully combined. (This pizza sauce is Italian-style, which has a slightly runnier texture than American-style pizza sauce.)
Add desired toppings to pizza crust* and bake in a 425F preheated oven for 13-15 minutes or until toppings are golden brown. Slice and serve.
*If using a store–bought crust, follow package directions.