This is my prediction. After reading this post you’ll open your cupboard doors or walk into your pantry, put your hands on your hips and take a mental inventory. Whether you’re into cooking or would rather not, it’s smart, if only for safety’s sake, to stock your pantry well. The question? Can you feed the two-legged/four-legged mouths in your home, for one week, from your pantry?
Alice Waters, an American culinary icon and author of 12 books about food, recently published her 13th entitled “My Pantry, Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Your Own”. Being a Waters’ devotee, I ordered the book. When it arrived, I thumbed through the 135 pages but it was her Introduction that reminded me why I honor this woman.
“A familiar pantry,” she writes, “is like being surrounded by friends who won’t let you down. No matter how tired I am, at least I’ll be able to dream up something to cook — something delicious! — and right away, too.”
It was her opening sentence, however, that threw down the gauntlet for this week’s post. “When I come back from a trip, one of the first things I need to do is walk into my kitchen and look around. A pantry is not just a shortcut to cooking something special in a hurry, it also encourages the best kind of impromptu cooking.”
Since I was leaving for an 8-day journey, I challenged myself to let my pantry create the meals for at least two days upon my return. So, while catching up on sleep (my usual 8:30pm lights-out routine would be severely interrupted), unpacking, returning calls and wading through a week’s mail, I’d survive on what was already in-house.
Fast forward to last Tuesday. Trip over. Early in the morning, my friend, Betsy, drove me to the Boston airport to catch my 4-hour flight to Denver. After arriving in the Mile-High city and retrieving my bags, I waved down a shuttle which dropped me by my parked car. I was Aspen-bound. Four hours later, cruising by Whole Foods and City Market in El Jebel, I wished I hadn’t read that damn book! By the time I reached Aspen and drove by the Hickory House (best ribs in town), I was silently cursing Alice Waters.
Tired and hungry I decided to mimic Water’s menu. Coming Home Pasta: spaghetti tossed with a heap of sautéed garlic, dried chile flakes, a salted anchovy and handful of chopped parsley, ‘is what I always make for myself when returning from a trip,’ she writes.
If this sounds familiar, Ina Garten’s version is called Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. I meshed the two recipes. It couldn’t have been easier, faster or more delicious. Most ingredients were in my pantry. I cut/refreshed parsley, in its last gasp but still growing on my balcony, grated an end chunk of Parmesan cheese and pulled half a whole-wheat baguette from the freezer. (Okay, the freezer thing, that was cheating.)
My two-day challenge ends when I share this post with you. I didn’t starve. It was fun. I win. Oatmeal topped with dried dates or apricots. A hard-boiled egg. Popcorn, my fave snack. And, Ina’s Tuna & Hummus Sandwich. The leftover tuna mix was also fantastic with cheese, a grilled tuna melt.
While I may not make all Water’s suggested recipes myself, her book, packed with spice mixtures, sweet and savory preserves, grains, legumes and condiments, is loaded with ideas. Her All-Purpose Pickling Brine has my head spinning. (Stay tuned.) The Panforte recipe is doable. And, when I go shopping tomorrow to replenish my pantry, I’ll do it more skillfully.
My recent journey to Boston and Hyde Park exceeded my expectations, thanks in part to the generosity of Betsy Pollack-Benjamin. Although Betsy and I had met only once, she’s been my virtual friend for years, having shared administrative duties on French Fridays with Dorie. When we finished cooking through Greenspan’s Around My French Table, our responsibilities ended but our friendship did not.
These photos are a brief glimpse of our trip’s highlights. The premier memory was our dinner at The Bocuse Restaurant in Hyde Park’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America. We were joined by other FFWD colleagues who lived nearby in New York and Pennsylvania. “Nearby” translates to Cher & Joe (4-hours RT); Diane (2-hours RT) and Tricia & Ro, who stayed overnight, (6-hours RT). This evening, six months in the planning, was second to none, without equal.
COMING HOME PASTA/SPAGHETTI AGLIO e OLIO adapted from Waters & Garten
1/2 pound dried spaghetti, such as DeCecco
1/2 cup good olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 salted anchovy, chopped roughly
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 – 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden on the edges. Don’t overcook it! Add the red pepper flakes and chopped sardine and cook for 30 seconds more.
3.Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic/oil and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.
4. Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss. Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Allow the pasta to rest off the heat for 5 minutes for the sauce to be absorbed. Taste for seasoning and serve warm with extra Parmesan on the side, if desired.
TUNA & HUMMUS SANDWICHES, minimally adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That?
Makes 2 Sandwiches
5 ounces canned tuna packed in olive oil
1/4 cup minced celery
1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon minced cornichons
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons good mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Rustic artisan bread or baguette, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Hummus, store-bought or homemade
1.Drain the oil from the tuna.. Place the tuna in a mixing bowl and flake it with a fork.
2. Add the celery, onion, cornichons, lemon juice, mayonnaise, the mustard, salt, and pepper and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop.
3. When ready to serve, toast the bread and spread each slice with a layer of hummus. Spread the tuna mixture on each piece of bread and garnish with minded parsley.
4. Serve immediately.
TIP: Although I had an unopened container of Classic Hummus in the fridge, you can also make your own. Garten includes a tasty hummus recipe in her cookbook and Waters has a Hummus with Preserved Lemons recipe in hers.