The secret to maintaining a smart, serviceable pantry is keeping versatile, affordable items on hand. Here’s a list of the most useful ingredients. Be sure to check off what you’ve already got in your pantry before you head to the store.

  1. A good-quality olive oil (but you don’t have to break the bank)
  2. Red wine vinegar
  3. Kosher or coarse sea salt
  4. Peppercorns (in a grinder)
  5. Jarred mayonnaise
  6. Tomato paste (buy in the can, then freeze dollops on waxed paper and store)
  7. Canned cooked beans
  8. Canned tomatoes, whole or diced
  9. Dried pastas—preferably with some whole-grain flour
  10. Fresh garlic and onions
  11. Selection of dried herbs or favorite blends (i.e. herbes de Provence, Montreal steak seasoning, and a salt-free garlic herb blend)
  12. Capers or olives
  13. Mustard
  14. Maple syrup or honey
  15. Shredded Parmesan or other aged pungent cheese