Getting canned

Twelve great canned foods that you need in your kitchen pantry

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Boulder Weekly

The recent news out of Boulder County is pretty grim:

Citing lower demand, Broomfield-based Ball Corp. said it will shut down yet another food can production line soon, this time in Arkansas. 

“Given the overall decline in food can demand, our Springdale (Arkansas) food can operations are no longer sustainable,” said Jim Peterson, a Ball executive, in a press release. Last month, the company announced the upcoming closing of can-making plants in Alabama, California and Texas.

In Boulder, we think of Ball Corp. for aerospace activities including many satellites. In the rest of the world, Ball is synonymous with food and beverage cans and bottles. “Ball mason jars” is the generic term for glass canning jars.

Is this a sign of the end of canned food as we know it?

When natural disasters like the recent spate of hurricanes hit, the canned food shelves still get emptied. Canned beer is making a comeback led by brewers like Oskar Blues, and canned wine and coffee are gaining popularity.

However, supermarket chains across the country are planning to cut back those can-lined middle aisles and convert them to frozen and prepared foods and in-store dining areas. Some suggest that eventually canned foods may only be available on Amazon.

Shoppers like you are moving toward foods that are “freshly harvested,” “made from scratch,” and not to mention “local” and “organic.” Consumers are rejecting food in cans and bottles because, well, it is “canned.”  I also suspect that they no longer own (or don’t know how to use) a can opener.

This food snobbishness is not supported by reality. Besides being affordable, time-saving and recyclable with a long shelf life, the great canned foods are as good — or better — than what most of us can prepare at home without huge amounts of time in processing ingredients.

A well-stocked pantry makes it easier to cook for yourself or for an unexpected crowd, especially with the festive gauntlet of holiday occasions from Halloween through Jan. 1.

I understand that some canned, bottled and shelf-stable foods are really gross. I’m not talking about easy cheese or even the more upscale Cheez Whiz, Chef Boyardee big beef ravioli or a No. 10 can of Roland pineapple slices in juice.

The canned foods I like are not heavily processed, not loaded with sugar, fat and salt, and not finished dishes loaded with additives. Salt-free versions are often available. I’m cheap so I try to avoid the pricey big brand names and use house brands (traditional or organic) and imports.

Here are 10 of my essential can-opener favorites that should be in your pantry.

Garbanzo beans

Besides adding to salads and soups, puree garbanzos with olive oil and roasted garlic to make hummus. You can grind them for falafel burgers. The liquid in the can, which is called “aquafaba,” can be flavored and whipped into an egg-like meringue.   

Smoked oysters

Packed in oil, these treats are ready to eat as is, on a salad or topping a plate of linguine with Denver-bottled Spinelli’s puttanesca sauce. Wrap them in precooked bacon and then broil until crisp and serve with chutney.

Roasted red bell peppers

Grab a bottle of whole roasted and peeled red bell peppers. Right out of the bottle, slice and serve on meat and cheese board or on a flour tortilla with Mexican cheese for a quesadilla. The peppers can be pureed and added to vegetable broth to make a comfy soup.

Coconut milk

An inexpensive item (especially at Asian supermarkets like H Mart), coconut milk can be used to make a quick chicken curry with added spices including ginger. Add creamy peanut butter to warmed coconut milk for a superb Thai sauce. Use it and frozen mango chunks to make a smoothie.

Seedless raspberry preserves

Use these all-purpose preserves as a warm sauce over Camembert baked in frozen puffed pastry or on a sponge cake topped with mascarpone and raspberries. Add it liberally to sriracha or soy sauce as a finishing barbecue sauce on grilled lamb, turkey or venison. 

Roasted whole green chiles

Yes, I’m passionate about roasted fresh Colorado chilies but canned whole roasted and peeled ones are a great ingredient to top nachos or chicken. The best use, of course, is to fill them with good cheese and either pan fry in a savory batter or inside an omelet.

Artichokes and hearts

Artichokes are more expensive but delightful for using in salads, on grilled shrimp kebobs, in pasta dishes and coated in egg and panko bread crumbs and baked or fried in olive oil. Roast chicken thighs with canned artichokes, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes works too.

Tart cherry juice

Made from sour, intensely flavored Montmorency cherries which make the best cherry pies, this juice is the very essence of cherry. Simmer apple slices in it to upgrade apple pie. Reduce it by simmering to make an ice cream topping. Also recommended: Canned tart cherries (not in syrup).

Other canned goods to have on hand

Tomatoes: Paste, crushed, pureed, whole and seasoned, these cans are essential for sauces and more.

Capers: Great on lox bagels, appetizers and for veal, chicken and tofu piccata

Fat-free refried beans: Use for bean dip and thin with broth for bean soup.

Crabmeat: Chunk white crabmeat can be used in gumbo, spaghetti dishes and in crab cakes.

Unsweetened apple sauce: Great addition to hot cereal and quick breads.

Whole pumpkin: Pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix, mixed with chicken broth makes a fine squash bisque.

Local food news

Farmer Girl Restaurant has closed in Lyons. … Fate Brewing Co.’s next location is now open at 400 W. South Boulder Road in Lafayette. … Coming soon: Longmont Public House, 1111 Francis St. … The most famous wearer of Boulder-born Crocs shoes, chef Mario Batali, has switched shoes in the kitchen. “I’m onto the Yeezys and I will wear them everywhere. One pair of shoes is what I travel with,” Batali told GQ. … National Pierogi Day will be celebrated with pierogi, kielbasa and polkas Oct. 7 at the Mile High Pierogi Festival in Wheat Ridge.

Words to chew on

“Do not get drunk in the taverns in which they drink beer, for fear that people repeat words which may have gone out your mouth without you being aware that you uttered them.” — Egyptian papyrus, circa 1400 B.C.

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays, KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org).