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THE DINNER DILEMMA by Karen Tedesco

Revamp your pantry and get out of the mealtime rut

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the pantry is the rhythmic beat that keeps everything flowing.


Pantry Pasta with Spicy Tuna Aglio e Olio Sauce is a good dinner you can make with a well-stocked pantry.

As someone who chooses to cook for both work and pleasure, I rejoice in my kitchen as a focal point, a space I’m happy to spend lots of time in.


But there are days when I wish that my household hub were staffed by a robot that was programmed to supply meals, all ready and waiting, on demand.


We’ve all been there. Everyday life can be wearying, especially when we’re constantly on the go. Getting home at the end of a long day, only to be faced with the job of making something to eat, feels like an overwhelming chore.


But what to do when hunger takes charge?


Maybe it’s reasonable to order takeout and move to the couch for the evening, but that’s not exactly a long-term recipe for happiness.


This, my friends, is where a well-stocked pantry comes through in the clutch.


At its most basic, building a pantry that works for your family is a matter of housekeeping, requiring an investment in planning and organization.


It might not be realistic to cook completely from scratch every single day. But by carefully assembling a collection of everyday staples – which includes shelf-stable goods as well as refrigerated items – you ensure that even the simplest thrown-together dinner will have your personal touch. And that, after all, is the essence of home cooking.


The best part is putting your pantry into action.


Those stocked ingredients become the building blocks of a meal. With a little bit of assembly you’ll be able to put together a balanced plate that tastes delicious.


Assembling a workhorse pantry does mean spending time up front, but it pays off in the long run. A pantry shelf is money in the bank, forking over periodic dividends in the form of minutes and hours of time saved.


Breaking down the pantry-building process into manageable parts makes it less daunting.

Start by shopping online for things you can buy in bulk (often at a discount if you’re an Amazon Prime or Costco member) and make a list of the other items you need to pick up on your next trip to the grocery store.


Once your pantry is supplied, make weekly supplemental shopping trips for perishables like fresh produce, meats, seafood and dairy products. Keep the pantry love (and home-cooked meals) going!


Here’s a list of essentials to get started. Personalize it as needed to suit your family’s needs and tastes.


BASIC PANTRY LIST:

Dry Goods:

Pasta and noodles, brown or white rice, oats, all-purpose flour, honey or maple syrup, couscous, canned beans, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, canned tuna, coconut milk, spices, kosher salt, olive oil, vinegar, tahini, nut butter, dried fruit

Produce:

Garlic, onions, winter squash, sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes

Condiments:

Mayonnaise, ketchup, shoyu or tamari sauce, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, harissa paste, Thai curry paste, miso

Fridge:

Lemons, limes, herbs (cilantro, Italian parsley), yogurt, salad greens, eggs, butter, parmesan cheese, cured meats

Freezer:

Berries, peas, corn, broccoli, spinach, Italian sausage


Pantry Pasta with Spicy Tuna Aglio e Olio Sauce

A back-pocket recipe from the pantry, with preserved tuna and a chili-garlic-laced olive oil sauce. (4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can or (6.7 ounce) jar tuna packed in olive oil

  • Kosher salt

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

  • ½ - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, to taste

  • ½ cup dry-packed sundried tomatoes, cut into slivers (soak in hot water for 10 minutes if they’re very dry)

  • 1 pound linguine or spaghetti

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • Handful chopped Italian parsley

Instructions:

  1. Lift the tuna from the jar with a fork, leaving the oil behind. Put the tuna into a small bowl and break into smaller pieces with the fork – don’t shred too much as large chunks have a nice texture.

  2. Set a large pot (4-6 quarts) of water on the stove to boil, adding 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water.

  3. Heat the oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-low heat for a minute. Toss in the garlic, crushed red pepper and tomatoes and cook just until the garlic starts to sizzle. Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna and ¼ teaspoon salt.

  4. Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water before draining. Immediately add the pasta to the skillet along with the butter. Use tongs or two large forks to toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a bit of water to loosen the sauce (you might not need all the water).

  5. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta, then taste and add more salt or crushed red pepper if you like. Serve hot.

Karen Tedesco is a recipe developer, food stylist and photographer living in Maplewood. For seasonal recipes and more, visit her website FamilystyleFood.com.