Pantry Perfection

Assemble what you have on hand into the best possible meal for tonight.

By Sam Sifton

Good morning. It’s a joy to cook this time of year, where I stay, as long as the fat heirloom tomatoes continue to ripen, as long as we’ve got corn. You don’t need recipes. You just assemble what you’ve got, according to texture or taste: pan-roasted chicken thighs under a shower of salt, say, placed on top of raw, sliced tomatoes, with steamed corn, roasted new potatoes and loads of butter. Or sautéed scallops on a corn salad, which is really just corn cut off the cob, tossed with butter and diced jalapeño, then moistened with lime juice? Serve that with more tomatoes on the side — raw again, but this time topped with brown butter. Please pass the bread!

We’ll be back to real recipes in a moment. But on a Wednesday in late September, it’s nice if you can just put the best of what you find at the market out on a plate. That makes for fine eating. It’s never a bad idea.

Not that you have to do so. Not that everyone always can. That’s where a dish like red lentil soup with lemon (above) comes in — an alchemical pantry potion that freezes very well if you make extra, and you ought to. Or spicy spaghetti with caramelized onions and herbs. Or pork chops in cherry-pepper sauce. You look into the pantry, see what you’ve got, add a protein and a fist of herbs: dinner in no time and the taste of something new.

This week, I like the idea of dakdori tang, a spicy Korean chicken stew, and of a warming clam chowder. (Here’s a fast fish chowder, as well.) I want scallion egg wraps for breakfast, five-minute hummus with pita and celery for lunch, pan-fried eggplant with chile, honey and ricotta for dinner and a Norwegian apple cake for dessert.

There are thousands and thousands more recipes like those waiting for you on New York Times Cooking, including Melissa Clark’s ace new one for roasted chicken thighs with garlicky cucumber yogurt. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but you need a subscription to access them. Subscriptions are what make this whole situation possible. So if you haven’t already, won’t you subscribe today?)

And please write for help, if you find yourself in a pickle with a recipe or while using our site and apps. Just write: [email protected] Someone will get back to you, I promise.

Now, it’s nothing to do with home cooking, but our Pete Wells has a few things to say about what they’re doing in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park in New York. I predict you’ll want to read them.

Even further afield, try Michael Azerrad’s piece in The New Yorker about his relationship with Kurt Cobain.

Here’s new Snail Mail, “Valentine.”

Finally, Priya Krishna has a great story in The Times this morning about all the repurposed food tins and bins that Americans use in their homes to store sewing supplies and hardware sundries, leftover chicken and mashed potatoes, spare change. It’s a thrill to discover what seems to be a universal appeal for empty Royal Dansk cookie tins, Bonne Maman jam jars, tubs that once held Cool Whip or Country Crock.

What containers do you use over and over again, and to what purpose? I look at the empty tin of Old Bay seasoning on my desk — it holds pens and pencils, a letter opener, a pair of scissors — and wonder at what all of us get up to with the brands that intersect with our lives: the plastic Talenti sorbet containers I fill with fuses, with lead weights for fishing; the empty tubs of Stonyfield yogurt I use for paint and spackle. You store the dried beans you use for pie weights in an empty glass jar of instant coffee? You, too?

Let me know: [email protected] And I’ll be back on Friday.

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