What’s for dinner? We are confronted on a daily basis with this age-old question. Sometimes the answer may be going out or ordering in and letting someone else do the preparation but, for me, living in the country, these options are often limited. For this reason and the lack of a nearby grocery, I keep a very well stocked pantry. On occasion I have been accused of being food hoarder, but my love of improvising and creating are what really motivates the pantry stock. Needing a special ingredient, my friends have called many times to ask if they could shop here. Some of the standard items you will find are; extra virgin olive oil, neutral cooking oil, wide variety of spices, canned beans and tomatoes, olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, honey, pasta, rice (several varieties of each), red and white wine vinegar, soy and fish sauce, chicken stock, nuts, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, white and red wine, cornichons (mini dill pickles), potatoes, onions, garlic, shallot, flour, sugar, salt and pepper. In the refrigerator, I keep lemons, limes, milk, cream, eggs, fresh produce including celery and carrots and some variety of protein. I may have missed something but you get the picture. Having these things at my finger tips allows me to be spontaneous and creative when deciding what will grace the table tonight. You would be amazed at the variety of dishes born out of these ingredients.
That said, my pantry and fridge were the inspiration for the dish I am featuring today. In addition to being easy, it contains the essential food groups making it practically, with the exception of the pasta pan, a one pot meal.
Here is how it went down.
MEDITERRANEAN PASTA Serves 4-6
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
½ c kalamata olives, roughly chopped
½ c sun-dried tomatoes, julienne cut
½ t dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. penne rigate (with ridges)
5 oz. fresh baby spinach
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
- Coat the bottom of a large skillet with a generous amount of olive oil and heat on medium-high.
- Remove casing from sausage, if necessary, and break into bite-sized pieces into the oil. Cook until browned and cooked through.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the olives, tomatoes, capers, oregano and salt and pepper. Simmer lightly while pasta is cooking.
- Cook the pasta in generously salted water until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water, and add to sausage mixture. Mix thoroughly adding additional olive oil if needed to fully coat all the pasta.
- Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted. Add a little of the pasta water if it needs thinned.
- Take the pasta off the heat, add the feta and mix it in gently leaving it in bite-sized pieces. Serve warm.
The day this was created was one of those busy times when dinner seems hours away but before you know it, there it is! I had nothing planned but had a pound of sausage recently purchased from my favorite Italian specialty store and a piece of feta cheese from a local cheese maker. I used them as the foundation and added a few other flavor enhancers that I had on hand. The result received rave reviews from the diners and now I get to pass it on to you. Enjoy!
Spring is the season of rebirth and new beginnings. If your cupboard looks like Old Mother Hubbard’s, it may be time to revamp. I urge you take inventory of your stock and make a list of the non-perishable items used most often in your cooking. I use my phone to maintain my lists, breaking down by the store where I usually purchase the items. This way I always have the lists with me. The key to success is to keep your inventory current. When you are close to needing to replenish, put it on the list. I promise if you do this, it will make your life and meal preparation so much easier.
I leave you with that advice today. If you have any tips you would like to share for cooking on the fly or creative approaches to last-minute decisions, I would love to hear from you. Regardless of how your manage your kitchen whether it is careful planning or impromptu creations, keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Until next time I send love and spring wishes from my house to yours. Jeanne