6 Pantry Items California Chefs Always Keep on Hand
To make the most of the season’s fresh produce, our California chefs always keep these items on hand.
One of the best ways to eat healthy is to take a page from California cooks. Their minimalist, plant-based approach is simple, fresh, and super tasty. Here are 6 things to keep on hand if you're trying out this style:
1. Fennel Pollen
Chef-owner Jessica Largey harvests her own from the wild fennel that grows all over California, but you can easily find the finished product online (Pollen Ranch Spices, $11/0.5 oz., amazon.com). A tiny sprinkle lends a savory hit of floral anise flavor that complements just about any vegetable dish.
2. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
High-quality oil is a must for simply seasoned produce dishes. Our testers use California Olive Ranch brand’s Everyday oil—a smooth-tasting, certified extra-virgin oil that’s good for both sautéing and as a flavorful finishing drizzle. $8/16.9 oz. bottle, walmart.com
A squeeze of tart lemon juice is an ideal flavor enhancement for fresh vegetables, underscoring their natural sweetness. Shavings of the rind give a dish bright acidity, a balancing touch of bitterness, and floral perfume.
Avocados are rich in fiber, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and plant sterols which can help lower cholesterol.
Among the most abundant early-season herbs, fresh mint makes a huge difference in a dish. Because it’s so often associated with desserts, mint can slyly suggest sweetness in savory dishes (such as Pasta with Shaved Asparagus and Pea Pesto) or amp up naturally sweet flavors—like with green peas—without adding sugar.
Chef Michael Fiorelli loves this grape-must reduction, which looks and tastes like mild balsamic vinegar (it’s actually used to make aged balsamic). It’s much cheaper than aged balsamic, yet just as complex tasting, and it can add incredible sweet-tart flavor when used as a seasoning or finishing ingredient. Fratelli Gorrieri Saba, $20/250 ml., amazon.com
A sprinkling of chopped fresh chives, another herb that grows like grass in the spring, adds a lightly pungent kick and pairs well with most vegetables. Chives are also great for adding a fresh onion flavor to cooked onion dishes like Rice Pilaf with Spring Onion Confit.