Friday, December 18, 2009

Umami and elevating pantry pasta

I love figuring out meals of random things in the pantry. I haven't been to the grocery store because we have all the leftovers from the party. But we're tired of them. And, we'll be dining out all weekend (it's G's birthday), so double the reason to just eat what's in the cupboards and fridge.

I was dying for some spaghetti and meatballs, inspired by the cover of the latest Bon Appetit, where there's a large, hearty dish full of my favorite childhood comfort food!  But the only things tomato-related in our house were a can of diced tomatos and tomato soup. That was good enough!!! I knew I could do better than any jarred sauce with these items. All I needed to do was add umami to it to give it the slow cooked, savory flavor.

 This is what I did:

Sauteed aromatics (celery, garlic, and onion).

Sprinkled in a tablespoon each of dried basil and a savory seasoning (any earthy seasoning will do)

Added the can of diced tomatoes

After it cooked down for five minutes, I added a bit of beef stock to give it richness
We didn't have any tomato paste, so I used condensed tomato soup, which was a bit sweet...

...I cut the sweetness with Maggi, a really great Umami-packed liquid seasoning, akin to soy sauce, but better. It really helped to make it savory and hearty tasting.
To bind the sauce a bit, I added some flour, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
Finally, a bit of wine. It gives it another dimension of flavor. About 1/4 cup of good wine (that you'd drink)

We actually had some pre-made gorgonzola and spinach meatballs! I first baked them, then added them to the sauce to simmer.
Meanwhile, I tossed a simple salad with olive oil and vinegar
I added hot pepper flakes to my plate, as a nod to "Puttanesca," the original pantry pasta!
If I do say so myself, this was SUCH a lusty meal. There's something about the hearty, simmered, tomato sauce with all the umami flavor which drenched the creamy tendrils of angel hair....

We had it with this equally mmm, mmm screw top Shiraz. It's 93-point rated Schild Estates Barossa Shiraz, 2005. I highly recommend it. It's not expensive and tastes indulgent in an earthy way (kind of like the pasta).
To cleanse our palates, we topped the green salad with a bit of pomello and avocado. YUMMMMM.

Since this was a pantry meal, you wouldn't use a recipe (and wouldn't necessarily go shopping for canned tomato soup to make spaghetti and meatballs). Improvisation is the best way to cook. So I won't give my own recipe here. The idea is to make the most of whatever you have on hand. The guidance on this is to add a good umami flavor base to whatever you're cooking. It can turn simple and random things in your cupboard into great meals. For more on umami, go here.

But if you really, really need one, here's Bon Appétit's Spaghetti and Meatballs All'Amatriciana:
Click on each page to print recipe

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mac n' Cheese of Leftovers, aka Festivus Casserole

I don't like casseroles, but party leftovers necessitate the baked meal in a dish. As I mentioned previously, we'll be eating Festivus scraps for the rest of the week. Last year it was the same thing: desperate for different ways to eat the truckload of remaining ham, we mixed a bunch of stuff together and put it in the oven. Herein, I'll call this Festivus casserole.

Similar to mac n' cheese, it starts with a Béchamel sauce with onions. I added a bunch of Comté and yogurt dill sauce (both leftover from the party). Boiled some pasta (rotelli) and frozen broccoli, and diced some ham.

Mixed it all together and put it in a casserole dish to bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Topped it with more grated cheese and broiled it for another 5 minutes. 
Et voilà
Gooey! (It's basically macaroni and cheese with extras)

Click on recipe to print

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Leftover food and shopping in your own closet (or green is the new cheap)

Good thing about parties, you get to eat the leftovers for dinner...for possibly a week. Tonight we had the rest of the opened wine. We purchased several cases and opened 18 bottles; most people seemed to like the sparkling the best. Anyway, we ate some ham, gougères, puff pastries, shrimp, mini cheeseburgers and some dessert (leftovers from dinner with G's parents' Sunday night).  Sigh, holiday gorging.


Afterwards, we made our family Christmas list and went to the closet to sift through our "bag o reJifts" (i.e. rejected gifts and chotchkies we collected on our travels throughout the year). I'm happy to say that there was something for  each family member (just need to be sure not to regift back to the same person, ha!), and we'll get the main gifts on Amazon. I really do not like shopping for the holidays (and in general).  Thank Goodness for the interwebs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

For the rest of us...

Our third annual Festivus went very smoothly. We went really simple on the food this year. Served sparkling, a red, and a white. And various beers. No liquor. I think people were still well-satisfied.

2007 Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône , 2008 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, and NV Gloria Ferrer Sparkling

Some last minute preparations as we waited for our helper. (Turned out she was a last minute replacement.)

Not everyone got the white memo...but still looked festive.
Mini cheeseburgers... 
Desi topped one with pâté!
Gougères and other simple bites
Cookies and cream puffs (aka choux à la crème, as Françoise insisted as she put on her tiger coat )
Sedate vs costume-y

Jeff wins the best white outfit award. By. Far. He said he wore the vintage leather jacket "during [his] Wharton days." (What kind of business was he studying?)

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