When Pantry Comes to the Rescue

Thursday, a week ago.

I had known in advance the day would be long and arduous. In addition to all the regular chores associated with work, home, traffic and weather, there would be evening pickup duties connected to air travel and associated ground transport for one Mister Mighty Appetite. In anticipation of the day ahead, I begin to mull over possible venues for a quick supper, not even considering a meal at home. Frankly, there is just too much to do.

As the day wears on, summer storms and resulting flight delays become part of the equation, and now it's anybody's guess when/if Mister MA would get home in time for dinner.

It's 7:30, I'm in traffic and suddenly ravenous. What to do, what to do, I wonder. I can no longer be the dutifully waiting spouse. As I get closer to home, I mentally scan the contents of the fridge and cabinets for the makings of a quick, last-minute meal, but remain unsure if I've even got the energy to pull it all together.

We've all had this kind of day that feels like a runaway train, and suddenly it's dusk and oh yeah, it's time for supper. That darn to-do list just kept getting longer and the very thing you need accomplished -- supper on the table -- is still all the way at the bottom.

Okay, I say to myself, what can I make in 20 minutes flat? From the cabinet, I grab a bag of penne pasta and a can of garbanzo beans. I put a pot of water on the stove, and while it heats up, I smash a few cloves of garlic. From the fridge, I pull a bunch of fresh parsley and a lemon, and start slicing a handful of sun gold tomatoes sitting on the counter.

As soon as the water comes to a boil, the meal comes together, like a dance. Olive oil gets heated in a pan, and I pour in drained garbanzos with the chopped garlic. Yes, let's add a little cayenne for some heat. (Time check: 10 minutes have elapsed.)

The tomatoes follow, and I turn down the heat, as they need little coaxing. The house was starting to smell nice. A few splashes of white wine from my glass later and a sauce was emerging. I taste it, add a bit of salt and a handful of that chopped parsley and a squeeze of that lemon. Now off the heat, the sauce waits for its pasta partner, a few minutes away from al dente. (Time check: We're now at the 17-minute mark.)

In the meantime, I grate a few ounces of Parmigiano, and add a small amount of pasta water to the sauce for thickening.

At minute 21, the pasta is done, and I drain it, pour it into a wide bowl, and spritz with olive oil. As I pour the garbanzo sauce on top, the phone rings, and it's Mister MA. His plane has just touched down, but there would be at least another hour of travel before reaching home.

"Take your time," I say. "There's dinner when you get here."

By minute 25, I am lapping up the sauce and enjoying the benefits of this ad hoc challenge, an exercise that took about the same amount of time to drive, wait in line and order at the carryout counter. The key is keeping the pantry stocked, and dinner outside of the box is yours. Seriously.

Share your favorite ways of beating the race against time with a spatula.

On-the-Run Summer Pasta Supper

Amounts are approximate; adjust according to taste and servings. Mix and match ingredients as necessary; omit wine if necessary or use white beans instead of garbanzos. Grated zucchini would be really nice here.

Ingredients for Two
½ pound short pasta, such as penne or rotini
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
Olive oil for cooking
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Handful sun gold or cherry tomatoes, halved
Splash of white wine
Juice of ½ lemon
Small handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Few ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. While pasta is cooking, heat a skillet with a few tablespoons of olive oil and add garbanzos over medium heat.

With a wooden spoon, stir to keep from sticking and add garlic and cayenne. Stir to combine. Cook for about three minutes, until beans develop a little bit of a crust. Add tomatoes, lower heat, and if using, add wine, allowing a few minutes for it to boil off.

Add lemon and parsley, stir to combine. Taste for salt and add accordingly. Turn off heat and pasta should be just a few minutes away.

To assemble, pour drained pasta in serving bowl, and add sauce on top, stirring to combine. Add cheese, if using, and serve in bowls.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 23, 2007; 10:44 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Summer
Previous: Never Enough Zucchini Recipes | Next: A Date With the Picnic Basket


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Whole wheat pasta, eggs (fried or poached), chopped vegetables sauteed in olive oil (frozen mixed will do fine), sprinkling of parmesan.

Something without pasta would be more creative, however. Pasta dishes and stir fry are really the easy way out of the just-got-home-and-I'm-starving dilemma.

Posted by: anon | July 23, 2007 11:35 AM

This depression era recipe is an old family favorite and when we were little, was one that my mom always had the ingredients on hand for:

1 box pasta (penne is best)
1-2 cans tomato sauce
cheddar cheese to taste (the blend bag from Costco works great...I find that a big handful is enough)

Thats it. After draining the pasta (not totally dry) add cheese to melt. Once cheese has melted, add tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Its best if you let it sit for five minutes. Enjoy.

This recipe is deceptivly simple. If you try to tweak it and add other flavors, its not quite the same and really not as good. The pantry to the rescue.

Posted by: Camp Mac | July 23, 2007 11:46 AM

Fast black bean soup: drain a can of beans and dump in a pot. Add 1/2 c water, a glug of sherry, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, plus chopped onion and some minced garlic if possible. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.

Great plain or over rice or in tortillas, and tasty topped with pepitas, onion, lime, etc.

Posted by: Leslie | July 23, 2007 11:52 AM

Fast quick meals in my house include: Frittata, Huevos rancheros, anything goes pasta, and if there is left over chicken; empanadas, chicken salad sandwich, taquitos.

There is a lot of things that you can do on the spot, but as Kim said you need to keep a well-stocked pantry, that way you can mix and match your ingridients.

Funny I did one of those fast I don't know how it got done meals on Wednesday of last week.
It was pasta (whatever you got, but linguini works best) a can of clam juice with minced clams, parsley, juice of 1/2 a lemon, garlic, bacon,calamari (if you have some on hand), cheese and s&p.

Place the pasta to boil in salted water.
dice the bacon and fry until crispy, take off the pan and set aside, place minced garlic until fragant and then the calamari-add the clam juice and minced clams (canned) let it come to a boil. Add the lemon juice, season as needed. Drain the pasta add to the pan with sauce, toss- add the parsley and some of the cheese and top with bacon bits.

Posted by: M | July 23, 2007 12:44 PM

I always keep frozen chicken tenderloins on hand... you can do so much with them... and they cook so quickly. Plus my kids love 'em.

Posted by: Meg | July 23, 2007 1:59 PM

Black bean and corn salad:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels, cooked
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup shredded cheese

Mix and eat. Much faster than 20 minutes.

Posted by: Kate | July 23, 2007 2:20 PM

Quick rice and beans:
Start the rice.
In another pan: a Cup of salsa and a rinsed and drained can of black beans. Bring to simmer.

Serve rice, add beans, top with grated monteray jack or cheddar and some quacomole and sour cream.

Question for Kim: Does a little bit of pasta water really thicken the sauce? I understand the starch thing but does it really have enough to thicken??

Posted by: rmh | July 23, 2007 2:32 PM

Pancakes made w/ Bisquick are always a quick fix as are scrambled egg sandwiches. Can you tell we like breakfast food :>

Posted by: momof3boys | July 23, 2007 2:38 PM

Kim - Did you see last week's NYT "Dining In" section? Mark Bittman had a list of 101 10-minute meals for summer. A really fun resource!

Posted by: WDC | July 23, 2007 3:33 PM

I can't do this - make something up from stuff in the pantry. One of my favorite memories from grad school is of a friend who could - it was always the best, for some reason.

Posted by: I'm not a cook. . . | July 23, 2007 5:22 PM

A can of chickpeas sauteed in olive oil and garlic, with baby spinach or chard added at the end. Mashed sweet potatoes (or roasted fingerlings if I have more time). Leftover salad. Corn on the cob. Or a quick squash sautee.

Posted by: nicole | July 23, 2007 5:55 PM

two words: "fancy" omlette.

Posted by: from michigan | July 23, 2007 6:16 PM

After an arduous day at the office, followed by a meeting, I arrived home late, and famished. Into the skillet went some olive oil, a few smashed cloves of garlic, chopped scallions, Sunburst patty pan squash, a little sea salt, freshly ground pepper, chives, and a couple of splashes of Chardonnay from my glass. Let that simmer, covered, until not quite done. Topped with two eggs to poach, covered, until firm. Grated a little Parm over it all (or whatever cheese is available). If I'd had it, some leftover chicken pieces, chopped up and tossed in, would have been good. Impromptu, but yummy!
I, too, read and printed out a copy of the NY Times' 101 10-minute meals for summer--excellent!

Posted by: Rebecca | July 24, 2007 1:10 PM

Open a can of light tuna in olive oil. Drain the oil into a pan and heat. Saute a few chopped garlic cloves in the oil. Add some red pepper flakes and the tuna. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and cook while the pasta water boils. Add a tablespoon of capers. Cook and drain 1/3 lb of penne or other short pasta. Finish pasta in sauce. Top with Parmesan and chopped flat leaf parsley, if available. This is my favorite quick meal. I tend to keep 6+ cans each of tuna and tomatoes on hand for this reason alone. You can also make without tomatoes - just add some white wine instead.

Posted by: lg | July 25, 2007 9:42 AM

This requires having some leftovers on hand, but it makes a good, quick summer supper.

Cold, cooked couscous or orzo
Chopped olives (whatever type you have on hand)
Cherry tomatoes, rinse and cut in half
Chopped fresh parsley or other fresh herbs
Cold roast chicken (or use drained garbanzos, white beans, etc. for protein)
Cold, steamed vegetables (broccoli florets or peas are good)
A little feta cheese
Lemon (zest it, then juice)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Spread the cold couscous or orzo onto a plate or serving platter.

Add the olives, protein choice, chopped herbs, lemon zest, vegetable choice, and feta cheese. Toss them with the pasta or arrange them attractively atop the pasta.

Make the dressing: Strain the lemon juice, add a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil to make a nice emulsion. Toss the dressing with the pasta salad, or allow people to take some salad and dressing and toss on their own plates.

Hard to give amounts, but about a cup of pasta and 3 to 4 ounces of protein per person is good. 4-5 olives and a tablespoon or so of feta per person work. Herb and veggie amounts can vary to your taste. Make as much dressing as you wish with a 3:1 or 2:1 ratio of oil to lemon juice. Any leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Posted by: Pila | July 25, 2007 4:21 PM

I made a great white bean salad the other night with a can of cannellini beans (drained), 1/6 cup olive oil, 1/6 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup chopped italian parsley, 2 tbsp chopped tarragon, dash of salt and pepper. Just mixed it all together and ate room temperature. Nice to eat something without having to turn on the stove or oven in this summer heat!

Posted by: Amanda | July 26, 2007 2:28 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company