Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Dependable Dozen: 12 Dinnerworthy Staples for Avoiding a Trip to the Store
What’s cooking? Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

You arrive home after a long absence. You let yourself in the front door, kick off your shoes, and decide to unpack later, because the vibes coming from your body are calling “Feed me... feed me....”

It’s early in the evening, and, airplane food being, well... airplane food, you’ve had essentially nothing to eat since early afternoon when you turned a blind eye to your diet and ate the best you could find at the airport. But you really really don’t have the energy for a run to the grocery store, and as easy as it would be to order in pizza, that just seems like more fast food. You want something not too heavy, but with vegetables in it. Something you don’t have to work hard at creating, but something that’ll satisfy your need for real food.

You grab a glass of wine (you do have a chilled bottle available, don’t you?), sigh and stand in the door to your pantry, looking for inspiration. And maybe it’s the wine, but as you scan the shelves, some of those items start to look like the basis for... dinner.

That was the scene I faced recently on a trip to New Jersey. I hadn’t been in our condo since Christmas, so the fridge was pretty bare (jams, ketchup, pickles, and that bottle of wine). Thankfully, the Kitchen Goddess stocks the pantry – and the freezer – with any number of items that can be put to work for just the dinner I envisioned.

You, too, might find yourself yearning for real food and looking to your pantry for inspiration. You don’t even have to go on a long trip – it might just be a day when you haven’t the time or energy for a trip to the store. So here are a dozen of my tried and true fallback ingredients, followed by the lovely dish of pasta with tuna, artichoke hearts, spinach and capers that I concocted in my hour of need.

The Dependable Dozen – Staples You Can Count On to Become Dinner

This list assumes you have stuff like olive oil and a reasonable assortment of spices.

1. Tuna and/or Salmon – either the foil-packaged kind, which has less water, or oil-packed in cans, which has more flavor. Of course it’s not as good as fresh, but for fresh, you’d have to go to the store.

2. Cannellini beans – for making the classic pasta e fagioli soup or a nice, garlicky dip.

3. Diced tomatoes – for juicing up and flavoring a pasta dish.

4. Artichoke hearts – in a jar, please, where they are usually marinating in oil and spices. The canned ones taste tinny and soggy. Go for the best quality you can find. Artichokes dress up a multitude of dishes. Among other uses, they make a great dip with frozen spinach, a bit of mayo, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano, or add them to risotto.

5. Capers – those tiny things that look like soft seeds. They’re flower buds, salted and pickled, and they are great in seasoning or garnishing a dish, especially one with a Mediterranean flavor. An opened jar should be kept in the fridge.

6. Pasta – I try always to have on hand the long-cut kind (e.g., spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine) and the short-cut kind (farfalle or fusilli).

7. Marinara sauce – in a jar. My favorite is Rao’s, but Newman’s has a nice line, too.

8. Oil-cured olives – in the fridge. Oil-cured olives will keep several months, especially if steeped in oil.

9. Frozen spinach and/or frozen peas – great in soup, pasta, risotto, frittata, ... you name it.

10. Roasted garlic – you do make this stuff, don’t you? Next time, make some extra and freeze it.

11. Dried mushrooms – which will keep for years, as long as they’re kept dry and out of the light. Rehydrating is a snap, and you can rehydrate with water or broth or wine or sherry, just to keep things interesting.

12. Shallots and raw garlic – that’s right. The little buggers will stay reasonably fresh for a couple of months, as long as you keep them in a dark, cool, dry place that’s well-ventilated – but not in the fridge, where they’ll only last a couple of weeks.

So here’s the dish I put together from my pantry. Not only easy, but fast and delicious. All that I had hoped for in my travel-weary state.

Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers

Serves 2 with leftovers.

8 ounces farfalle pasta (or other short-cut pasta like fusilli)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup shallots, minced
1-2 large cloves garlic, minced
7-ounce foil pack albacore tuna
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
8 ounces frozen spinach, barely thawed
1 heaping tablespoon capers (no juice)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water. When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and reserve. When pasta is done to al dente state, drain and return to the pot. Cover and reserve.

While the pasta is cooking:
In a separate large skillet, set over medium-low heat, add the oil and allow it to warm. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add the tuna, the artichoke hearts, the spinach, and the capers, and stir to combine.

Pour in the reserved pasta water, cover and let cook long enough to heat all ingredients, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the reserved pasta, and continue to cook until pasta is also well warmed. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.


  1. Replies
    1. So glad you liked it, Barbara! It was fun for me, thinking about what I stock for those odd occasions with nothing "fresh" in the house.