Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Perfect Pantry...and Pasta Dish

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in what I thought was a gem of a one-bedroom New York City apartment. Why was it so special? It had a fully-operational kitchen! It was was a small, galley style arrangement, but had all the requisite appliances, and even a dishwasher. Perhaps "requisite" is not an accurate description; one apartment we went to see had nothing more than a bar-sized sink, a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a two burner stovetop, which was also considered a kitchen in New York real estate terms. I'd been in hotels better equipped to cook a meal!

Needless to say, in those early years, as much as I loved our apartment, I didn't have room for an actual pantry. Not that I needed one, since in a pedestrian city such as New York, you only could shop for as much food as you could carry. There was no "stocking up" when Progresso soup was on sale! When we later moved to a bigger (but still not-so-large) condominium in Connecticut, and had access to super-supermarkets (and a car), I gained a new appreciation for a pantry. I could stock six types of pasta at any time! Beans? I'll take three each of garbonzo, cannellini, AND red kidney! I couldn't go too crazy, since my space was still limited, but I did learn to keep key items on hand.

When we finally bought an actual house, I was disappointed to find that the pantry in my new abode was not much larger than what I had in my condo. What's a cook to do? I did what any food-obsessed person would do...I converted my coat closet (which happened to be adjacent to the kitchen) into a large, glorious pantry! I bought wire baker's racks, hooks, and storage baskets and bins, and then headed right to the store to load up on my favorite pantry items. I wanted to keep back-ups of necessary items (olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar), plus enough other dried/unperishable goods to whip up something delicious at a moment's notice. And don't forget, your refrigerator and freezer are definitely an extension of your dry pantry.

If you are among the fortunate who have a pantry (or are willing to forgo a coat closet), here is a list of what I try to keep in my pantry at all times:

Dry pantry: pasta (a variety of shapes/sizes), rice, cous cous, canned beans (a variety of types), tomato paste/canned diced tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries), olive oil/canola oil/vegetable oil, vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white and specialty flavors), onions, garlic, dried herbs/spices (especially rosemary, oregano, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg)

Refrigerator: milk, eggs, butter, cheese (cheddar, parmesan, and feta), nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds), mustard (dijon), ketchup, mayo, fresh parsley, lemon

Freezer: peas, spinach, frozen garlic, pancetta/bacon, bread

Pantry Pasta with Artichokes
Serves 4

This dish is reminiscent of "pasta carbonara", but adds artichokes in place of pancetta. With a well-stocked pantry, you won't even need to make a trip to the market!

1 onion, chopped
1 - 12 oz jar marinated artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 lb fettuccini, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté onions until browned.

Add the chopped artichokes (not the liquid from the jar), salt & pepper and cover.

Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs together with about 1-2 T of parmesan cheese and a good pinch of salt.

Toss the hot pasta with the egg mixture until it is thoroughly coated and top with the artichoke mixture. Gently toss to combine.

Serve immediately with additional grated cheese if desired.

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