I distinctly remember the first meal I made for my husband. It was great because not only was it from scratch, but it also didn’t require making several ridiculous substitutions. (Celery, it turns out, isn’t a great substitute for ham — I learned that the hard way.) It was a recipe from his family’s online recipe book, and I have no idea what drew me to it, except that it sounded interesting: tomato dumplings. I had no idea what to expect, but I followed the directions and presented my husband with a bed of flavorful diced tomatoes topped with a soft pillow of steamed bread. We were both shocked by how good it was — way better than the packaged pasta dishes we’d been living on in the weeks since we’d been married.
Nearly nine years later, that dish is still a favorite at our house. We always have a couple of cans of diced tomatoes around just in case we need to whip up a meal that’s quick, tasty and healthy.
In fact, many of our favorite go-to dishes start from a can, which is great. Not only does it save me the time of, say, chopping, roasting, and pureeing my own pumpkin, but it also allows me to feed my family delicious, healthful food even in the off season which I love because even if it is the right season, I don’t have a garden in my little Brooklyn apartment or the resources to can the food myself. I’m ever so grateful that someone else is willing to harvest the food and preserve it for me to use when it is at the peak of its nutrition.
Here are some of our family’s go-to meals from the “cantry.”
7 Delicious and Nutritious Recipes From the Cantry 1 of 15
These recipes are staples at my house, not just because they are quick and easy but because they are tasty and healthful, too!
The Canned Food: Pumpkin 2 of 15
This is the meal my 3-year-old requests most. I have no problem with that. It requires so few ingredients that it's easy to have them all around and available all the time. My 6-year-old loves it too — not only because it's so tasty but because he plans to be an astronaut, so he needs all the beta carotene he can get to keep his vision razor-sharp. And with plenty of fiber and vitamins A, K, and E, among others, canned pumpkin is something we try to pack into as many dishes as we can. It's not just for pie, people.
Dish No. 1: Pan-Fried Pumpkin Drop Gnocchi with Kale and Bacon 3 of 15
1 14.5 ounce can pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg
4-5 slices of bacon
1 small bunch of kale, washed, de-ribbed and coarsely chopped
Mix the pumpkin, flour, salt, and egg in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until it forms a slightly sticky dough.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously.
In a deep 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove it from the pan, leaving the grease. Chop the bacon. (If you don't want to use bacon, you can substitute it with either 1/4 c. olive oil or 1/4 c. butter. Just heat your chosen fat in the deep skillet.)
Once the water is boiling, use a teaspoon to drop small (1-inch or less) balls of the pumpkin dough into the boiling water. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon once it floats to the top, and add it to the heated bacon grease (or olive oil or butter) which should still be sitting over medium heat. You will be adding just a few gnocchi at a time. As you continue to add them, stir them around a bit.
After all the gnocchi is added to the skillet, add the chopped kale, a handful or two at a time, stirring until it is slightly wilted, and then adding more until it is all in there. Toss in the crumbled bacon and serve.
… Make a Pumpkin-Flavored Treat for Breakfast 4 of 15
Although these are pumpkin muffins and many people would save them for a fall treat, I make them all year round. We take them for breakfast when we are on the go in summer, or eat them for dinner along with soup in the summer. They are moist and sturdy, and I feel that the pumpkin paired with whole wheat flour makes them a solid nutritional choice, no matter the season.
Dish No. 2: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins 5 of 15
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon + heaping 1/4 tsps. each of ground ginger, ground cloves, and ground nutmeg
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups or line them with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg) in a medium-size bowl and set aside. In a large bowl combine the brown sugar, white sugar, oil, pumpkin, buttermilk, and beat eggs and mix until well blended. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
Divide the batter evenly in the prepared muffin pan. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the muffin pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing the muffins from the pan.
The Canned Food: Diced Tomatoes 6 of 15
This is the dish that made me realize learning to cook was a good idea. It also started a long and storied love affair with canned tomatoes, which we use to make our pizza and pasta sauce as well. Canned tomatoes have great health benefits, not only because they are preserved at the peak of ripeness, but because the lycopene which has been associated with cancer prevention is even more available to our bodies through the cooking process.
Dish No. 1: Tomato Dumplings 7 of 15
For the tomato base:
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 bay leaf
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
For the dumplings:
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. butter, cold
1 T. snipped fresh parsley
2/3 cup milk.
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper, and celery and saute until tender, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes (with juice), bay leaf, brown sugar, basil, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the dumplings: mix flour baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Cut the tablespoon of butter into small pieces. Add to the flour mixture and cut it in by pinching it quickly with your fingers. Add parsley and milk, stir until just mixed — it will still be lumpy and that is good. Drop the dumpling batter into six mounds onto the tomato mixture. Cover tightly and simmer 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a dumpling comes out clean. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Serve.
… More Tasty Tomatoes 8 of 15
There are lots of homemade pasta sauce recipes out there, but I'm pretty sure this is the simplest, tastiest one you'll find. The carrots add a bit of sweetness to the tomatoes without adding a lot of extra work.
Dish No. 2: Simple Pasta Sauce 9 of 15
1 28 oz. (or 2 14 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes.
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots (or 3 medium) chopped
3 T. butter
2 T. fresh minced basil or parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
Melt butter in skillet or medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add carrots and onions. Stir occasionally until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, with juice, and salt and cook stirring occasionally until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil or parsley and adjust the seasonings. Serve over pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
The Canned Food: Salmon 10 of 15
Making sure my family gets a good amount of healthy fats like the omega-3s that promote brain development and eye health — is a high priority, made much easier by the addition of canned salmon to our pantry. These salmon cakes are among my husband's favorite meals, and while the kids needed a little more persuading at first, they've come around as well. This is great because not only does salmon provide healthy omega-3s, one serving contains nearly all of our daily calcium needs and a good amount of iron as well.
Dish No. 1: Salmon Cakes With Lemon Caper Mayonnaise 11 of 15
For the salmon cakes:
1 T. vegetable oil, divided
1/4 cup finely choppped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 7-oz. cans boneless, skinless salmon, drained and flaked
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the mayonnaise:
6 T. mayonnaise
2 tsp. capers
grated lemon zest of 1/2 of a lemon
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
To make the mayonnaise, mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.
For the salmon cakes: heat 1 tsp. of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery. saute 4-5 minutes, or until tender.
In a medium bowl: combine the onion mixture, 1/2 cup panko, mustard, black pepper, salmon and egg.
Divide salmon mixture into 4-6 patties (depending on how big you want them or how many people you are serving) and shape into 1/2 inch patties. Coat each patty with the remaining panko. Cover and chill for 20 minutes-ish.
Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over medium heat until hot. Add patties and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Serve with the lemon-caper mayonnaise.
The Canned Food: Refried Beans 12 of 15
The thing we love about this layered dip is that it's so flexible. Start with a can of refried beans (or two), and add layer after layer of your favorite toppings from a plethora of possibilities. We generally keep it to 6 or 7 layers, depending on what we have on hand, but always start with the beans. That way we know we're getting our protein, dietary fiber, and our iron (among other nutrients) from the beans themselves, plus any additional nutrition from any added veggies. The rancheros style refried pinto beans (pictured above) were prepared with tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic.
It's a quick meal to put together, too. Have one child spread the beans, sour cream, and salsa while another shreds cheese and you chop the vegetables. Dinner can be on the table 10 minutes after you walk in the door from that soccer practice that ran long.
Dish No. 1: Mexican Layer Dip 13 of 15
Use your gut and your tastebuds on this one.
1-2 cans refried beans
sliced black olives
diced fresh tomatoes
sliced green onions
shredded cheddar, monterey jack, pepper jack, or colby jack cheese
Start with a can or two of refried beans. Spread them on the bottom of a baking dish (1 can for an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan, 2 cans for a 9x13). Then top with sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole to taste. Sprinkle sliced black olives, green onions, tomatoes, shredded cheese, avocado, and/or cilantro, using as much of each as you want. Serve with tortilla chips.
The Canned Food: Sliced Peaches 14 of 15
My husband has always been into smoothies, or "special drinks" as we like to call them. And his favorite by far is the fuzzy navel, which contains peaches, orange juice, banana, and milk or yogurt. When peach season is in full swing, we use fresh peaches as much as possible, but we're happy to enjoy a summer drink in the dead of winter with the bounty of summer stored in a can. The extra vitamins (mostly A and C) help us stave off illness, and the fiber keeps us healthy. But mostly we like fuzzy navels because they taste so good. Serve it with toast for breakfast or alongside salad and bread at dinner, or even as a standalone dessert. It's always a welcome treat, anytime of day.
The Dish: Fuzzy Navel Smoothie 15 of 15
2 cans sliced peaches
1 cup orange juice
1 cup milk or plain yogurt (regular or Greek)
1-2 frozen bananas
spoonful of honey
dash of salt
tray of ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.