Pantry essentials and go-to meals

There are a few rules that apply to my kitchen. One of them is, “Always have the basic ingredients for pasta puttanesca on hand: canned tomatoes, olive oil, anchovies, garlic, capers, dried chillis and dried pasta.” That way, if I look up from my desk at 5 o’clock and realize I haven’t planned anything for dinner, I can make a quick trip to the store for olives and fresh basil, and have dinner on the table in 20 minutes… just like I did last night. (My husband, who’s more comfortable in the pastry kitchen than the savoury one, has an equivalent rule: “Have the ingredients for brownies on hand at all times.”)

The resulting pasta sometimes changes, but is always satisfying. This time, I incorporated a technique I picked up from a couple of the pasta recipes in A16: Food + Wine. Instead of cooking the pasta all the way to al dente, cook it about a minute less, save a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Over medium heat, toss the sauce and pasta together, adding the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce, and finish cooking it for that last minute. As the pasta water cooks down, the starch it contains mixes with the sauce and coats the noodles, producing a nice, clingy texture. Having tried it with my usual puttanesca sauce, this technique is definitely part of my repertoire from now on.

What are your pantry essentials and go-to meals?

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