June 02, 2023

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The Italian Pantry

by Fran Claro

When I want quick meals I turn to Italian—usually pasta. For as exotic as some Italian food seems, pasta dishes are quick to fix, satisfying, and flavorful. And your kids can gain a little something by trying food they might not be exposed to otherwise.

While anchovies, bay leaves, pine nuts, capers, and even olive oil may sound too “foodie-ish,” once you stock your kitchen with these things, you’ll find countless ways to use them.

In The Cupboard

  • Pasta (long, short, a few types)—Rigatoni–short, fat pasta tubes–are great for baked pasta or just to boil and throw on some sauce; long curly fusilli is perfect for a quick Bolognese meat sauce; and of course, I always keep a few boxes of spaghetti on hand, to mix with anchovies, meatballs, or whatever. Tomato sauce (several eight-ounce cans)—I like to use unseasoned sauce, but this comes in so many varieties—you might want to have some plain and some seasoned with basil and other Italian spices, which can make meal preparation even faster.
  • Beans (a variety, canned)—Garbanzos, kidney, and white beans are a staple of the Italian cupboard. Have a few of these on hand throughout the week and you can use them in any number of dishes—they’re packed with nutrition as well.
  • Anchovies (packed in oil, with or without capers)—Don’t be afraid of anchovies. They’re full of flavor and once you dissolve them in a sauce your kids will hardly notice them.
  • Olive oil (packed in Italy)—Two types provide all the variety you’ll need: a nice neutral or even a light oil to use not only for pasta sauces but also for cooking a frittata of eggs, vegetables, and potatoes; and a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil (from the first pressing of the olives) to sprinkle on salads or to top pasta dishes.
  • Bay leaves (dry)—For a fragrant finish to most sauces, soups, or stews, and the dishes don’t even have to be Italian.
  • Bouillon (chicken or vegetable)—Quickly replaces homemade stock or broth in sauces and adds a kick to a too-thick tomato sauce; it’s also a marvelous mid-afternoon pick-me-up instead of a cup of tea.
  • Flour (all purpose, unbleached)—Perfect for thickening sauces and of course, making cookies, biscuits, and bread.
  • Pine nuts (pricey but worth it)—They have a buttery richness kids will love in meatballs, sauces, and sweets.
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Dry mustard
  • Dried rosemary

In The Refrigerator

  • Capers
  • Heavy cream
  • Parmesan cheese (in one piece)
  • Bread crumbs (unseasoned, store in freezer)
  • Frozen peas (no sauce)
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Turnip
  • Parsnip
  • Fresh basil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ketchup

Sometimes I'm in a rush to get to a school meeting, late getting home from work, or just trying to feed everyone before we dash off to a soccer game. And though I know, it’s a low-carb world, and we’re all being faithful to our gram count, at those times, pasta fills the bills. So, I can prepare a crowd-pleasing quick dinner with ingredients I have on hand: peas and macaroni—aka pasta piselli—or beans and macaroni, known in many Italian-American restaurants as pasta fazool.

Pasta with Peas

  • 1 pound pasta (elbows, ditali, or any small pasta)
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 eight-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 box frozen baby peas (without sauce)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • grated cheese (optional)
  1. Bring five quarts of well-salted water to a boil in a covered pot.
  2. Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a wide, shallow skillet. Sprinkle the onion with salt and pepper (and a pinch of crushed dried red pepper if you like).
  3. Place the unopened box of peas in the sink and allow hot water to run over it.
  4. When the onion is golden, add the tomato sauce and the bay leaf to the pan, as well as additional salt and pepper. Stir sauce; simmer on medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Toss the pasta into the rapidly boiling water and stir. Do not cover.
  6. When pasta is almost cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes), stir the peas into the sauce and heat until they are warmed through.
  7. Test pasta for doneness. Drain and fold it into the sauce. Cook, about 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan until the pasta is coated with sauce and peas are nicely distributed. Dish into deep soup bowls. Pass the napkins along with any type of cheese you have to accompany the pasta. Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.

Beans and Macaroni

  • 1 pound pasta (elbows, ditali, or any small pasta)
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can beans (cannelini, chick peas, or kidney)
  • ˝ cup olive oil
  • sprinkle of dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Bring five quarts of well-salted water to a boil in a covered pot.
  2. Heat olive oil in a wide, shallow skillet. When oil is hot, add carrots, garlic, celery, salt pepper, and spices. Sauté over medium heat until all ingredients turn golden.
  3. Toss the pasta into the rapidly boiling water and stir. Do not cover.
  4. Drain beans in a colander (use the same one to drain the pasta) and rinse under cold, running water. Shake colander to remove excess water from beans.
  5. Gently fold beans into carrot/celery sauce. Cook over medium heat until beans are heated through.
  6. Test pasta for doneness after 8 to 10 minutes.. Drain and fold into the bean mixture. Cook about 4 or 5 minutes over medium heat, shaking the pan until all ingredients are distributed. Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.

About the Author

Fran Claro is a cook and contributing writer to Food & Crafts. She lives in Irvington, New York where she dreams up Italian feasts for her extended family.