I got home late on Monday from a friend’s wedding in New Hampshire, dropped my bags and went straight to the fridge.
After being away for a few days, there might be a stack of flour tortillas in there, along with a half dozen eggs and some hardy vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower. But most times, there’s nothing but condiments and I wonder, who did this to me? How could she? That’s when a few solid pantry recipes, the kind that don’t rely on piles of fresh vegetables, can really save the day.
For me, that usually means beans and lentils, pasta and noodles. If I’m not making some kind of simple dal or fuul, then it’s beans and toast — I love these comforting, creamy beans with a big piece of garlic toast submerged in the broth.
If my freezer is stocked with frozen peas, I might cook a version of pasta with peas (any pasta shape will do, and mixing the last of multiple boxes is encouraged!). I don’t follow a recipe, but in the last few minutes, I throw the peas into the boiling water with the pasta, then drain the pasta and peas together and return them to the pot with the heat off. You can take it anywhere from here, but I usually reach for butter, a glug of olive oil, some chile flakes, lemon zest, furikake and lots of grated cheese.
If there’s really nothing around in the way of fresh or frozen vegetables, that’s fine. In fact, it’s a very good excuse to make Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce — the one that requires only a can of tomatoes, an onion and some butter — then delight in a simple, perfect bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce for dinner.
In the same family of basic, but weirdly luxurious pantry pastas, there’s Alexa Weibel’s vegan cacio e pepe with cashew butter, miso and nutritional yeast; her smash-hit five-ingredient miso pasta; Nargisse Benkabbou’s harissa and miso spaghetti; and Eric Kim’s creamy doenjang pasta. They’re great anytime, but they’re especially great when it seems like there’s nothing in the fridge.
Sure, sometimes I get home from a trip and just order a pizza. But when I do finally get around to cooking, that’s when it starts to smell like home again. Things just don’t feel right around here if the kitchen’s been out of use for too long.
One More Thing
At that wedding I mentioned, I met a family friend who grew 46 varieties of tomatoes this summer (46!) along with many other vegetables, and we’re planning a seed swap. I know it’s still too early for me to think about planting here in Los Angeles — the city is in the middle of an intense heat wave — but I find it’s never too early to pore over seed catalogs and dream. 👩🏽🌾
If you happened to grow a vegetable variety recently that you loved, please send me an email and tell me about it (and mention your hardiness zone; I’m in 10b).