“I’ve always found pantry basics lists misleading. First, they tacitly suggest that the right combination of ingredients aligned in your kitchen can be counted on to organize itself into a meal…” — Tamar Adler, author of “An Everlasting Meal”
I find this to be so true. While I love to cook, by the end of some days I’m so frazzled that I incomprehensibly stare at my pantry and wish it would just magically assemble into a meal. There are plenty of ingredients in the cupboards, but many of them were partially used for past meals, and some of them are of questionable vintage. In the fridge, the veggies I bought last week are wilted, the meat is frozen.
On the other hand, if I were to take a recipe to the store, buy up all the ingredients, and make the meal, there’s always a bit of this and that left over, and I just hate when I end up throwing them out by the end of the week. Such a waste.
An ingenious new business opened up last month in Brookline, Pantry in Washington Square, Brookline, that streamlines the whole process for those suffering from the paralyzing combination of hunger, lack of time and the need of a home-cooked from-scratch meal. For the single cook or dual-income-no-kids couple tired of resorting to takeout. For the parent feeding a family during the crush of back-to-school schedules.
For little more than the price of the groceries themselves, around $18-24 for a meal for 2, double that for 4, the meals can be made in under 45 minutes, many of them about 20 minutes, say owners Amanda Mayo and Dennis Lasko.
The recipes are by Mayo, 36, is a mom with a background in food, including a Boston University degree in gastronomy, and studied cooking and sustainable agriculture in Thailand. Coming from a Korean family, her childhood was divided between a Nebraska farm and Los Angeles, and she also has lived in China. So she not only knows how to raise and butcher the meat that goes into a meatloaf, she thinks to add kimchi into it. “I like to take regular recipes and give them a twist.”
Lasko is a management consultant who takes care of the details. “I’m not a cook,” he adds. With degrees from Northeastern and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, he has consulted clients in the food industry as well as Fortune 100 companies. Dennis was born in Russia but grew up in Brookline. He has lived in Chicago, New York, Vermont, Moscow and Kazakhstan. Pantry brings Dennis full circle. “I’ve traveled the world and worked in dozens of different industries, only to end up opening a store a 100 yards from where I went to kindergarten.” His mom helps out in the store by taste-testing everything.
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” she said, as she ran back and forth to the stovetop in the back to check on the salmon dish she was creating for samples alongside a wine-tasting that night.
The kitchen isn’t kosher, gluten-free or nut-free, but they will work with anyone on substitutions to make their meal fit their preferences. Some items, like kosher chicken or cheese substitutes, still has to be purchased outside. Otherwise, they can usually create a paleo or vegan version of most recipes.
They’re working on delivery outside of Brookline, and another Boston-area location.
“We thought this would be a dual income no kids thing, but we’re really surprised at the response from families,” she said. Added Lasko, “Many customers will buy a recipe or two for a weekend on, say, the Cape. We eat better and spend less time at the supermarket while on vacation.”
The recipes are so easy, in fact, her husband can cook them. “His idea of what he can cook is a turkey sandwich with a side of ramen,” she said. “i bring a kit home, he’s so proud of the dish he takes photos of it and he’s so proud of it.”
Added Dennis, “We don’t want to be a special-occasion place, or a Friday night place or a date night place. We also want to be a Tuesday night place. You’ll spend a fraction more than Stop and Shop, less than Whole Foods. And there’s so much less waste, so much more variety. Our customers love that they’re trying new things. It’s a new way they can eat.”
The recipe: Provencal Tomato Soup
Want a meal? Easy. No hunting several markets for ancho chilis. All the ingredients are available on one table.
“We actually had to go through the state for this,” she said. “The Vermont creamery creme fraise, we buy it like a restaurant and kit it ourselves. Mexican crema, the dipping sauce for our sweet potato flautas. My daughter will just eat it with a spoon, so it’s better in a tiny package.”
I chose a recipe that seemed perfect to launch the fall, provencal tomato soup. Dennis packed up enough for four of us; they supplied everything except the olive oil, salt and pepper, and the French Cafe channel on Pandora.
Local and quality ingredients.
They try for local ingredients including local tomatoes and Maine berries. Otherwise, they aim for a lot of organic or sustainable foods; their beef is from Brandt Farms. Their wines are family-owned vineyards with affordable bottles, and their beer is craft. “I feel it’s an opportunity to educate people about food,” said Amanda. “If you’re looking at what’s best for the environment, and for the person, there’s reason to choose organic.”
Recipes that are convenient and healthy
For those who want to feed their family — or themselves — healthy meals, Pantry in Washington Square, Brookline, supplies portioned ingredients already assembled by station, to make it easier for you. My kid found it easy to follow the recipe for the perfect fall soup, Provencal Tomato, and I’m sure you could too.
While you wait
While you’re waiting, open up the tomato cans, chop the rosemary, zest the orange. If you don’t have a microplane to zest the orange, use a vegetable peeler to remove just the orange part of the rind and mince finely.
Step 1: Prep and cook the aromatics.
- Chop the vegetables and rosemary. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in large pot over medium low heat.
- Add onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper.
- Cook, stirring occasionally until they begin to soften and color, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add chopped fennel bulb, stirring occasionally until fennel begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
A few ingredients, an easy-to-make meal
“Our food is easy to cook, it’s more gourmet than you can usually do on a Tuesday night,” said Amanda. “You know your kids wants sloppy joes, and you can call ahead and pick it up.”
“We serve a lot of college students, grad students. The empty nesters, they are gourmands, they know food, it’s something simple to cook but they don’t end up with a lot of leftovers.”
Some food prep needed
We had to chop the rosemary and zest the orange, but most of it was just open and pour into the pot.
There’s little cups of pre-measured ingredients that they measure and package in-house, like mirin, spices, miso paste, just enough, in a heat-sealed cup, so you don’t have to buy a whole bottle, or have to measure the portion, or worry about using up the rest before it goes bad.
“How often have you been to a house where the grated parmesan is dust?” said Dennis. “i remember buying pasta in college and moving it to a couple of apartments. Spring onions, you have to buy in bigger quantities. Watercress goes bad in 3 or 4 days. Spices are something that people keep for years.”
Step 2: Make the soup base
- Add tomato paste to fennel and onion.
- Cook, stirring constantly until it darkens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add olives, rosemary, and 1 tbsp orange zest.
- Cook, stirring until fragrant, less than 1 minute
Step 3: Add the Liquids
My son adds the liquids to the aromatics. Add tomatoes and their juice to the pot. Scrape any browned bits off the
bottom. Add 2 cups stock and raise heat to high. When soup comes to a boil, lower heat so it bubbles gently but steadily. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. While this is happening, reheat the bread. Ours went stale, since I bought my bag two days before, but that’s an easy fix: run the bread under water, quickly, then put it in the oven til it crisps up.
Step 4: Add the fish
Place fish on top of soup and cover pot. Cook undisturbed until fish flakes easily with fork, about 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t open the lid to check on the fish for 3 minutes. It needs a chance to steam. Stir to distribute fish into soup.
Step 5: To Plate
Ladle soup into individual bowls. Drizzle each with a bit of olive oil.
Garnish with a few fennel fronds.
Serve with the bread and beverage. We served it with the suggested Dogfish Head Namaste.
Serve with the bread and beverage.
We served it with the suggested Dogfish Head Namaste, although they also recommended a Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, or for wine, Abigal Rose Sauvignon Blanc or El Xamfra Cava.
Step 6: The next day
- They estimated it would take about 45 minutes, but we took our time chopping: it took me, working with my guy and our kid, about an hour to chop, cook on a stovetop, and serve.
- This filled three good-sized food containers for leftovers. The next day the flavors married together for even more depth.
Choice of 10-20 recipes
A big hit among the customers is the recipe for the salmon and creamy barley with red-veined sorrel and dill; this was sampled on the night I came, and it was delicious.
This week there’s 10 meals, along with a mixed berry salad and a strawberry crisp with nectarine and rosemary for dessert. Dishes included customer favorites Moroccan chicken with cauliflower “couscous” They just introduced their eggplant caponata with fusilli. A popular kid’s dish is the maple dijon sloppy Joes with broccoli slaw and a pickle; Another fish dish is the miso hake with farro and sugar snap peas with a lime beurre blanc; shepherds pie with quinoa crust, sweet potato flautas with a radish and jicama salad, and, get it while you can, the lamb and English pea orecchiette. Recipes are rotated for each season, and they are looking to offer up to 20 soon, including kimchi meatloaf with soy butter roasted potatoes, dark chocolate brioche bread pudding, and mushroom bourguignon.
“The Vermont creamery creme fraise, we buy it like a restaurant and kit it ourselves. Mexican crema, the dipping sauce for our sweet potato flautas. My daughter will just eat it with a spoon, so it’s better in a tiny package.”
Leave your list at home
You grab a basket, and scan one of about 8 stations, each one set up with stunning photos, a recipe list, and the actual pre-measured ingredients and sommelier-suggested beverages.
One-stop food shopping
There’s also some kitchen tools such as wooden spoons, pans and knives. Unlike online subscription-based recipe kits, Pantry requires no commitment or advance notice and does not use excessive packaging, insulation and ice packs to ship food. You can buy your meal a couple days in advance, or order ahead and they’ll assemble it for easy pick-up.
The storefront is small, with several tables arranged in the middle, while the walls are lined with cooking gadgets, beer and wine. You can buy your meal a couple days in advance, or order ahead and they’ll assemble it for easy pick-up. There’s also some kitchen tools such as wooden spoons, pans and knives. Unlike online subscription-based recipe kits, Pantry requires no commitment or advance notice and does not use excessive packaging, insulation and ice packs to ship food.
1622 Beacon Street, Brookline
hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-8pm, Sunday noon-8pm