Despite —or because of— my career as a food writer, my pantry is an absolute circus: The kitchen is so cramped, so stuffed to the gills with oils, spices, and tins of fish that it sometimes feels like there’s nothing left to add.
But as we know, that’s not true: There’s always room for a 100-year-old bottle of balsamic vinegar, or a jar of honey from special bees. Everybody loves a good pantry item, one that can turn an entire meal around in minutes. That jar of marinara that saves your skin after a night out. Those dried Moroccan rose petals that transform an everyday meal into a restaurant-worthy indulgence. That punchy tikka masala mix whose eye-pleasing packaging is as vibrant and inviting as its contents.
Pantry doesn’t have to mean mundane. So whether you’re shopping for stocking stuffers or oh-là-là gifts for family and friends, you’ll find something for everyone in this list of pantry pinch-hitters.
I’m not sure if it was Droosh’s loopy logo, eye-poppingly colorful tins, or mouthwateringthat drew me in first, but suffice it to say, these spice mixes have become a fixture in my kitchen. Founded by three cousins eager to share their family’s Indian home cooking with the world, Droosh relies on top Indian spice purveyors, which makes their blends phenomenally fragrant.
When I was tasked with sampling 20 cans of top-quality Spanish tuna for a conservas story (tough gig, I know), one tin edged out the rest: Don Bocarte’s wild red tuna belly. The fish is marbled with so much fat that it’s nearly spreadable, and it comes in a pretty embossed box with a sachet of flaky salt for sprinkling. I love flaking it over vinegary potato salad, or tossing it with tomatoes, onions, and a simple vinaigrette as they do in the South of Spain.
Just saying “persimmon” feels chic—so imagine presenting someone you want to impress with this duo of organic estate-grown olive oil and Fuyu persimmon vinegar. The former hails from Ojai, California and blends columella and Noccelara del Belice olives from century-old trees, while the latter is produced using sweet California persimmons harvested during the autumnal equinox.
“Single-origin” isn’t a term you see often in the spice aisle, since even the world’s most prestigious spice companies aren’t, say, getting all their black pepper from a single source. But when you buy Vân Vân’s dried purple shallots or sparrow ginger, you can see the ingredients’ place of origin—down to the village—right on the package (Phan Rang and Lâm Đồng, Vietnam, respectively). All the spices and aromatics come packaged in multicolor, whimsically illustrated sleeves, and they’re well-priced at $53 for a six-spice bundle.
Shouldn’t gifts be something the recipient might not buy for themselves? No home cook in their right mind needs three pounds of Maldon, and that’s precisely why you should purchase this unapologetically over-the-top tub for the flaky-salt fiends in your life. Depending on whom you’re giving it to, it very well may constitute a lifetime supply. Embrace the absurd!
If you think fish sauce is an exclusively Asian ingredient, think again—the Italians of Campania have been making it for centuries according to their distinctive method. The condiment is essentially the concentrated fermented juice of anchovies caught off the Amalfi Coast, and it’s added as an umami basenote to everything from pastas to sauces to vinaigrettes. Pro tip: A few drops of colatura will take your Caesar salad and pasta aglio e olio to new heights.
Fabada is a sight to behold: Plump, white beans measuring an inch in length swim in a brilliant orange broth that brims with hunks of chorizo, pancetta, and blood sausage. This is Spain’s answer to cassoulet—only requiring a fraction of the elbow grease. Any creamy white bean will work in a pinch, but for a gift any Spanish-food-loving cook will geek out over, it’s worth seeking out real-deal DOC fabes de La Granja.
A bouquet of flowers is nice to look at, but for a serious cook, a twee little jar of edible rose petals is far more useful. Plucked from Moroccan Damask roses, these ultra-fragrant, lavender-tinged petals look gorgeous on everything from tagines to biryanis to rice pudding and cheesecake.
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