Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What's in Your Pantry?

Okay, just because you think you don’t like anchovies, don’t go skipping down the page without reading this. If you like salt, you like anchovies. As Rachael Ray says, “cooked anchovies taste like toasted nuts.” I’m not going to make you eat the little fishies whole or on a pizza (though they are FABULOUS), but let me tell you, they add great dimension to some foods. The best Caesar salad dressings have them in it. And our pantry stand-by dish, Spaghetti Puttanesca, wouldn’t be the same without them. So, here is a dish I can make at any time as I always make sure I have the ingredients on hand.  (Oh, and puttanesca literally means “in the style of a prostitute” in Italian, as the legend states that the gals in the red-light district would cook up this quick and easy dish between visitors).

Spaghetti Puttanesca
Spaghetti Puttanesca from America's Test Kitchen
One pound dried spaghetti
2 T olive oil
2 -3 cloves garlic, sliced or minced (depending on how much you love garlic)
One tin anchovies, drained
¼ t. red pepper flake (or more if you’re spicy!)
1 28 oz. can diced, crushed or whole (that you then squish) tomatoes, juice drained but reserved
2-3 T. capers, drained (depending on how much you like capers)
½ c. pitted kalamata olives, diced
While pasta is cooking in a large pot of boiling, salted water, heat large skillet over medium-high heat.  Heat oil then add garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add anchovies and mush them with your spatula until they are a paste. Add red pepper flake, and tomatoes. Stir and reduce heat to low. Right before pasta is done, add in capers and olives. Toss drained pasta into skillet, toss with ingredients and the reserved tomato juice. Serve in warm pasta bowls. Can be topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, if desired.

Arborio rice to make risotto.

Risotto?  You mean that concoction you have stand at the stove stirring for 20 minutes?  Yes – guilty as charged.  This is not the quickest thing in my pantry.  But it’s something I probably make at least once a week.  I’ve found that all that stirring is a great time to help my girls with their homework.  Picture the scene:  mom standing at the cooktop stirring a heavenly aromatic risotto and some kind of meat gently roasting in the oven,  while the kids sit at the counter doing their school work.  It’s like a scene out of Norman Rockwell … or something. 

For me, risotto is one of the ultimate comfort foods.  I buy mine at a local Italian grocery store when I have the chance.   But, you can find some at your local supermarket.  Risotto is something I can have some fun with.  Sometimes I make it with chicken stock; other times vegetable.  Have some aged parmesan in the fridge?  Shred it over the risotto just before serving.  Add pine nuts.  Add steamed asparagus.  Make it a main course by adding cooked sausage, prosciutto, cooked  shrimp, cooked chicken … the possibilities are endless, and that’s part of what makes it so much fun!

Never tried making risotto because it sounded intimidating to cook?  Fear not!

Here are some simple steps to follow:
  • It all starts with your broth.  If your using a prepared broth, make sure it’s low in sodium or you’ll end up with a really salty taste after much of the broth evaporates in cooking.  Heat your broth – a warmed broth cooks into the risotto more quickly and evenly.  You’ll need about 3x as much broth as rice.  So, a cup of rice will need 3 cups of broth.
  • While your broth is heating, sauté some diced onions or shallots in a tablespoon of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan.  Once those are soft, add your Arborio rice to toast it in the pan.  You’ll know it’s ready when the edges of the rice start to turn translucent.
  • Next, start adding your stock about ½ a cup at a time.  Whenever the stock is absorbed into the risotto, add some more.  You just want to barely simmer it, so keep your burner turned low.  Stir frequently but you don’t have to stir constantly!  You can stop to help a child with a math problem.  You can prep the rest of your ingredients.  Stirring is important, because it releases the starch and forms the creamy sauce associated with risotto.   
  • Risotto is done when it’s just al dente – firm but not crunchy.  It should be fluid enough to spread when served on a plate.  

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