The Secret To Cooking With Pantry Ingredients, According To Jacques Pépin - Exclusive

French chef, cookbook author, culinary educator, and television personality Jacques Pépin is the author of over 30 cookbooks. His latest, "Cooking My Way," was inspired by a column he penned for the New York Times in the 1980s called "The Purposeful Cook," which focused on how to cook economically for a single family, as he told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview. He further shared with us some of his best practices for sourcing ingredients economically — specifically, by making the most out of the ingredients you already have in your pantry. 

Often, when we think about preparing a nourishing and festive meal, there's a presumption of having to procure a lengthy list of ingredients and needing to adhere to the particular constraints of a recipe. But Pépin encourages home cooks to be flexible in the kitchen and to utilize what they have on hand — not only to keep costs down but also because using pantry staples like canned or dried goods can lead to hearty and delicious dishes.

The wonders of canned goods

Instead of looking toward a recipe for inspiration for your next meal, consider opening your pantry and surveying what supplies you already have in the house. It's a technique Jacques Pépin often utilizes at home — and he told us he wants home cooks to recognize that it can lead to deeply satisfying meals. 

"Certainly, I use a lot of stuff from my pantry," he said. "Pasta is one of them. When people come to eat unexpectedly, I [always] have pasta. With pasta, you can put in all kinds of vegetables that you have around. A soup with canned beans is also very good ... You can do [a soup] with meat, you can do one with fish." 

There are even some ingredients where Pépin actually prefers using canned versions, such as canned clams for his famous New England clam chowder. "Canned clams are very good because they are cooked for a long time. They are tender," he explained. "You can cook clams, you can eat clams raw — which I love, they're very nice and smooth ... But if you cook them for five minutes, they turn into pieces of rubber."

And if you find your pantry stock somewhat limited, Pépin suggests mixing things up with whatever you do have on hand. "Even if you have leftover pasta, you can reuse it," he said. "Put a little bit of fresh herbs in it and a can of beans and then you have another dish."

Jacques Pépin's newest cookbook, "Cooking My Way," is available for purchase here. Visit Instagram for all things Jacques Pépin and the Jacques Pépin Foundation.