cooking from the pantry

Some pantry ingredients.

Okay, so we’ve stocked our kitchens. Now we need to create a plan for using all those beans, lentils, canned veggies, tuna, pasta and rice.

For some of us, meal prep is part of a daily routine. For others, welcome to your kitchen, it’s a great place for activity and comfort!

Go beyond tuna salad. Drain and flake a can of tuna and top your pasta or oven-roasted potatoes, adding (drained) canned veggies, garbanzos or white beans and your favorite dried or fresh herbs. If you thought a can or two of anchovies or sardines were a good idea at the time, add them as well for a rich dish. If you have some extra bread, toast it, cut it into squares and top with tuna that has been minced (or food processed) with some chopped pickles or relish, garlic and a dab of sour cream, tofu, hummus or mayonnaise.

Home-made soup really is easy, either on the stove or in your slow cooker. Peel and chop the root vegetables you have on hand (someone had to buy all those carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, onions and potatoes). Add a small amount of canned broth or water and let simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree all or most of the soup, re-heat, and serve with a splash of vinegar, lemon or lime juice or tomato paste. Left-over cooked or canned poultry, bacon, pasta or tofu can be stirred into the soup for added texture.

You have the time; make some onion soup! Slice lots and lots of onions — spray a large pot with vegetable oil and quickly sauté. The onions will create their own “juice.” When the onions have gotten very soft, add in vegetable or mushroom broth, allow to simmer — and, voila, onion soup.

If you don’t feel the urge to create “from scratch” soups, here are some ideas for “speed scratch” soups:

Split pea and lentil: add cooked lentils to canned split pea soup and dilute according to package directions. Add chopped onions and shredded ham, chopped hot dogs or smoked turkey during cooking for more flavor.

Fast Fish Chowder: thaw and chop frozen fish filets. Simmer with a small amount of broth and chopped carrots, celery and onions. Add to canned cream of potato or cream of celery soup and allow to cook until hot, and veggies are soft.

Puree Mongole: a classic soup combination of tomatoes and split peas. Combine canned tomato soup and canned split pea soup with drained, chopped canned tomatoes, cook and stir until hot.

Tomato-Corn Chowder: Combine canned tomato soup with canned corn chowder; dilute with milk, silken tofu or a combination of plain yogurt and water. Add drained, chopped tomatoes and frozen or canned, drained cut corn for extra texture.

Try black beans, red beans, lentils or black-eyed peas (canned or made-from-scratch) combined with mixed vegetables and served over steamed brown rice, quinoa, baked potato or couscous and salsa or mixed with chopped chilies, onions and cut corn served over toasted roll, steamed rice or cooked grain of choice.

Baked sweet potato or brown rice or polenta can be topped with apple or almond butter or hazelnut spread, sliced oranges or pineapple and almonds or sunflower seed or apple slices/applesauce and walnuts. Four bean salad may be created with canned green beans, wax beans, kidney beans and white beans, tossed with oil and vinegar or Italian salad dressing and chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds.

Recipe

Pasta E Fagioli (say it “pasta fa-zool”)

This Italian soup-stew is a winter staple. Save broken pasta (such as lasagna) and leftover beans to use in this soup. It’s thrifty, flavorful and versatile. It can be made from just about any kind of pasta and beans, and can be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon and using vegetable stock. If fresh celery is not available, 2 teaspoons of chopped chilies may be used. If fresh garlic is not available, 2 teaspoons of dried garlic may be used.

Serves 10

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

4 slices chopped uncooked bacon

1 cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped celery

4 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 Tablespoon dried sage

6 cups chicken broth

2 16-ounce cans or 4 cups chopped canned tomatoes (not drained)

1 pound (about 2 cups) cooked white beans

10 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) uncooked pasta

Method:

1. In a medium stockpot, heat oil and sauté bacon for 5 minutes, to render fat. Add onions and celery and cook until vegetables are soft. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and sage and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add broth, tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and reduce heat to medium.

3. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes, or until pasta is just tender (al dente). If desired, continue to cook, but don’t let the pasta absorb all the liquid.

Serve hot or refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with grated cheese and chopped parsley.

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