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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking From the Pantry: Pasta Emergency

I've written before about the opposed cooking styles of me and my sister-in-law. I rely on my pantry and coordinate meals. Even though I love to shop for food and cook, I spend hardly any time at it. My sister-in-law doesn't like cooking, but needs to cook for her family and for her father, who lives nearby. She decides what to cook in the morning, shops in the afternoon for all called-for ingredients, cooks dinner, following the recipes exactly. Next day: repeat the entire process.

It's none of my business, of course. But my frugal heart was distressed during our recent visit, when I discovered more than 15 partly used packages of pasta in the pantry. These ranged from 6 penne at the bottom of the bag to about 80% of a big bag of vermicelli. Then I opened a drawer and discovered about 6 more pasta boxes with varying contents. Most of the boxes contained varying amounts of vermicelli, in fact. One day we made a pasta salad and used up a few boxes. But the rest languish because we had requests to cook things like enchiladas that required no pasta.

If I had been there a little longer, I would have cooked Mark Bittman's potato and pasta dish, which is designed to use up the remnants of all your boxes of pasta. I made this years ago from one of his Minimalist books. He has since put it on his Bitten blog at the New York Times.

I always make it a point to try any supercheap recipes I run across. The comments on the blog are, for the most part, dubious. Trust me, this is delicious, though perhaps better suited to a chilly day.

I would have made this during our visit, but I didn't think the assembled company would have considered this fit for dinner. Like Bittman's readers, they would not have been enticed by the humble ingredients. If you are as bothered by bits of pasta as I am, this is the recipe for you.


* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 cup minced pancetta or bacon, optional
* 3 or 4 potatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
* 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
* 3 or 4 small dried hot red chiles, or to taste (or substitute about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
* 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, not drained
* 1 1/2 pounds assorted dried pasta
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


* 1. Put several cups of water in a pot on stove, and keep it at a simmer. Place olive oil in a large saucepan, and turn heat to medium. If you're using pancetta or bacon, add it to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until it becomes slightly crisp, about 10 minutes. (If you are omitting the meat, proceed to the next step.)
* 2. Add potatoes, garlic and chiles and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown all over, about 10 minutes.
* 3. Add tomatoes and their juice, along with 2 cups of the simmering water, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes and prevent sticking.
* 4. While potato mixture is cooking, break long dried pasta, like spaghetti, into several lengths; place cut pasta, like ziti, in a bag, and break it up with the back of a pot or a hammer. After potato mixture has simmered for about 10 minutes, add pasta and plenty of salt and pepper to pot. Simmer, stirring and adding the simmering water as necessary; mixture should remain thick and stewy, never dry.
* 5. When potatoes are tender and pasta quite tender -- this will take 20 minutes or more -- the dish is done. (It may be covered and refrigerated for a day or two, or put in a closed container and frozen for several weeks; it's likely that you will need to add more liquid when you reheat.) Check the seasoning, and add some crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper or salt if needed. Serve hot, in bowls.

Source: The New York Times


Duchesse said...

Bacon is the piovotal ingredient here ,and the quality of bacon does matter. Bacon lifts any starch-laden recipe from tedium (or plays well with greenbeans, tomates, onions, peppers)- and you only need a little. Though optional in this recipe I would not omit it, it's the difference between good and delicious.

Her style of cooking is weird, quite European in the frequent shopping but not in terms of meal management. This would bother me, too. I am not as frugal in the kitchen as you but waste bugs me.

Funny about Money said...

Six penne at the bottom of a bag? I love it! :-D

I can see how she'd come to dislike cooking, with that routine. In Europe, where the shops are interesting, the produce is glorious, and your refrigerator fits under the countertop, shopping every day is not so illogical nor so onerous. But...ugh! A trip to the Safeway every. single. DAY??? Poor S-i-L!

Recipe sounds mighty starchy, but tasty. Too bad you didn't have time to prepare it for her family and freeze portions for them: it sounds like the kind of thing one is delighted to find waiting when time is short, exhaustion looms, and hunger is high.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--I've always made it with bacon, but plan to try it without one of these days.

@Funny--A few years ago, we left a lot in the freezer, but found it all untouched the next visit, so we don't do that any more.