Staples: Pasta Puttenesca

2011/02/23

I’m sure this has happened to you before. You look in the fridge and proclaim there is nothing to eat. Maybe you were out of town and haven’t made it to the store yet. Maybe you went shopping without a list and therefore didn’t get everything you needed for the week. Whatever the reason, nothing in your fridge goes with anything else. Don’t worry; it happens to everyone. But you don’t need to reach for the takeout menus just yet. All you need is a strategically stocked pantry.

Every year at about this time, the end of winter (hopefully), I like to go on a pantry fast. I buy less food at the store, to force me to clean out my freezer and cabinets by eating the food that has been accumulating in the corners of my kitchen that I don’t see as often when there is so much fresh food available (like in the spring, summer, and fall). However, some things I like to keep around are the ingredients for vegetarian Pasta Puttenesca.

This dish is very simple and easy to make. It never tastes exactly the same way twice, but that is mostly because I don’t ever measure anything when I make it. First, I heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Then, I add an onion and a few cloves of garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Then I add chopped olives (black or kalamata, preferably jarred, not canned), chopped capers, some red pepper flakes, dried oregano, salt and pepper.

When this starts to smell really good, I add a pint jar of tomatoes and stir. Then I just let it cook down, stirring occasionally, while I boil the pasta.

When the pasta is almost done, I drain it and add it to the sauce to finish. I like to do this because the pasta will really soak up a lot of good flavor.

I like to shave pretty curlicues of Parmesan on top (just scrape at a hunk of it with a y-shaped vegetable peeler) and serve with a green salad and warm baguette (not pictured). However, since we had a friend over that night, I also put out an appetizer of a small piece of fontina cheese and a bowl of antipasto.

By the way, if you eat fish, the only other thing you need to keep on hand is some tinned anchovies or a tube of anchovy paste. Just add it in with the olives, and then you have authentic Puttanesca.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of a long day, I do not want to fight the crowds at the supermarket and then still have to come home and put together an elaborate meal. That is when I make things like this. I always have pretty much everything I need on hand, and popping into the store for bread and maybe a head of lettuce is far less of a hassle then trying to put together a whole meal. And it is a lot less greasy than takeout.