Learning to make one or two pantry meals was one of the best things I ever did for my grocery budget. These are the dishes that you can easily cook up with the slow-to-perish items that you regularly keep in your fridge, freezer and cupboards. They are lifesavers on those nights when you get home late from work and you’re on the verge of calling for takeout. Knowing that you can throw together a pasta dish or something made from rice, beans and a tasty simmer sauce will keep your fingers from dialing your local pizza joint nearly every time.
I have several recipes that can be made from my kitchen staples and I turn to them regularly, particularly as the days get shorter and colder (who wants to dash out for last-minute ingredients when the wind is whipping?).
One of my very favorite pantry meals has been a quick baked pasta dish. You cook up any short, chunky kind of noodle you have knocking around the cabinet. While it boils, you simmer together onion, garlic, a big can of tomatoes and some frozen spinach. Once the pasta is done, you stir it into the sauce, scoop the whole mess into a baking dish, top with whatever odds and ends of cheese you have in the fridge and bake just until the cheese bubbles.
Thanks to Rachael Ray, I’ve recently added another pantry meal to my repertoire. Her recipe for Tuna and White Bean Pasta With Gremolata Bread Crumbs almost entirely relies on pantry staples and even the fresh vegetables she calls for are the kind that I almost always have on hand. It’s a hardy, filling dish that I successfully sold to my husband as a reinvented tuna noodle casserole. He ate two servings and took the leftovers to work for lunch. It’s a little fussy for hurried weeknight cooking, but it’s perfect for a cozy fall Sunday evening and The Weekender.
Before you toast your breadcrumbs, here are a few things you should know:
– This is a dish that easily allows you to break up the work. You could make the gremolata breadcrumbs earlier in the day and set them aside when you’re ready to finish the rest.
– I did find that I didn’t quite need the full pound of pasta the recipe calls for. If your family isn’t a huge pasta-eating crowd, I’d recommend backing off a little, or having a plan for 3-4 cups of leftover cooked pasta.
– If you think you’re going to have leftovers, make sure to save a bit more pasta water to help with next-day reheating.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.