When it feels as if the world is crumbling and nothing is in your control, it’s a gift to be able to step into the kitchen and nourish yourself and your loved ones.
There have been many days these past few months, as an unprecedented pandemic took hold of us, and especially this past week, as demonstrators across the country protest the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police, when I haven’t had an appetite.
Generally, I find comfort in putting together meals for my husband and myself. But some days it’s harder than others.
This week, I’m sharing some reliable building blocks for one of my go-to meals during stressful times: pantry pasta.
Tomato paste: Always have tomato paste on hand. You can buy it in small cans or tubes, and it will last for a while. It’s an easy way to add lots of concentrated flavor to pasta dishes. It won’t necessarily overwhelm the dish with a tomato-y flavor like tomato sauce, but it can provide that little something extra to the simplest dishes.
Beans: Beans can add nice heft to pantry pastas, particularly creamy cannellini beans. They can be sauteed with aromatics like garlic and onion, or turned into a sauce of sorts
Shelf-stable protein: Dry pepperoni or soppressata, or a tin of anchovies, can add ample umami flavor to pasta dishes. I’ve kept a couple of logs of dry sausage in my pantry these past few months, and have used them for plenty of pastas made in a pinch.
Garlic, garlic, garlic: Garlic can enliven just about any dish, but especially pasta. Sizzle slices in oil as a base for a sauce, or finely grate fresh cloves over a hot pot of pasta to add even more zing. If you have oil/butter, garlic and dried pasta, you can make a worthy meal greater than the sum of its parts.
Olive oil: It’s useful as a cooking oil, but olive oil, especially a high-quality olive oil, can be used a finishing element to enhance your pasta dish.
Parmesan cheese: A wedge of Parmesan cheese lasts forever in the fridge, and a little bit freshly grated over your finished dish goes a long way.
Here’s a pantry pasta I made this week, when 5 p.m. rolled around and I had no idea what to make for dinner.
1 pound fresh Italian sausage (about 4 links), or 8 ounces dry sausage
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried pasta
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
¼ cup (a 4-ounce can) tomato paste
1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans or garbanzo beans
1 large bunch of greens: kale, spinach or any other leafy green you need to get rid of
Parmesan cheese, for grating
Remove the casings from the sausage. If you’re using fresh sausage, go to the next step. If you’re using dry sausage, cut sausage into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Dig in to Tampa Bay’s food and drink scenes
Subscribe to our free Taste newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Add a tablespoon or so olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon if using fresh, until browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Dried sausage may cook faster. You still want it to brown, but keep an eye on it. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage, leaving the fat behind.
Add bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil to the pot used to cook the sausage, and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Cook the pasta in a separate large pot of salted boiling water until just al dente. Drain, reserving at least 1 cup of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in the pot used to cook the sausage, then add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted and golden brown. Add the tomato paste and beans to the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, until tomato paste is darker in color, at least 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the greens, then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted. It won’t take very long.
Add sausage back to the pot, then add pasta along with ½ cup of pasta water. Cook, stirring constantly, until pasta is thoroughly coated and a nice sauce forms.
Serve with toasted bread crumbs and cheese on top.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times