By: Ann Davis-Rowe
In my pre-cooking days, I read a lot of articles on how to stock your kitchen and cook just for one or two people – but they were all a bit overwhelmingly vague. Today, I’m going to showcase some of the products my husband Hampton and I keep on hand and how to use them in multiple ways in the most detailed (but least overwhelming) way possible.
Much of our fridge is stocked with cured meats, salty snacks, and cheese. The great thing about these ingredients is that they can be used in a variety of ways, from being eaten straight from the container to being tossed into pasta (hot, cooked pasta + olive oil + a few shaves of parmesan + antipasti = done) and they have a great shelf life due to the curing process. Disclaimer: obviously, it’s important to watch your salt intake; you unfortunately can’t live your whole life on antipasti.
Thanks to our Italian honeymoon, “Tuscan breakfast” is one of our favorite meals, especially when local melons are in season over the summer. This “meal” could not be easier. The ingredients are:
Put all of these things on a plate and graze away! It’s a great way to transport yourself to Italy on a busy weekday evening or lazy weekend morning.
Homemade pizza is a staple in our house. The great thing about pizza is that it’s perfect for cleaning out the fridge. Pick up refrigerated crust – or keep a pack in the freezer – and top it with whatever you’ve got lying around! Despite our affinity for cooking, we still struggle with the refrigerated dough that you have to warm up and then is always too sticky to roll out no matter how much we flour it, so I am all about the pre-made crust. It saves time and effort and, if you have the frozen kind, it stays good for eons. (And if the crust gets frozen in a not-flat position, it will straighten out in a few minutes, don’t worry).
We prefer to skip a tomato base, mainly because it’s recommended that you use a jar of open pizza sauce within five days, which is deadline we can’t live with. We top our frozen crust with a glug or two of the same extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) we use for everything and whatever spices suit our mood. Oregano and basil are oft-used dried herbs in our house, but if you’re just beginning to stock your pantry or have small cabinets, consider an Italian blend. Cooking with shortcuts is still cooking.
This particular night, we added shredded mozzarella that was slightly past its Use By date. Now, much like pizza sauce, “the experts” say that an open bag of shredded cheese should be used within five to seven days. However, my personal experience has proven that as long as your cheese still looks and smells like cheese, as long as you press out as much air as possible the use before and keep things wrapped tightly…well, we’re all here learning to be adults, so use your best judgement.
We also were able to add a few slices of fresh mozzarella from a previous Tuscan breakfast, as well as the last few slices of salami and a few leftover artichoke hearts.
Fresh herbs are something we generally only buy for specific recipes because we have a really hard time using them all up. This time we happened to have basil on hand, so it went on this pizza, too.
While the pizza was cooking, we made a take on our second favorite Italian honeymoon meal: bresaola salad. Bresaola is an air-cured beef, and every restaurant we visited had some take on bresaola, parmesan, and rocket – aka arugula. Bresaola is a bit harder to find than prosciutto or salami, but if you can, give it a try. It can be used on an antipasto spread or pizza or pasta just like any other cured meat. We’ve even seen it rolled around the salad filling instead of on top. The possibilities are endless!
If you like, you could just top your arugula and bresaola with shaved parmesan (a block of parmesan – not the green shaky kind – will last for a good long time and is extremely versatile), lemon juice and EVOO. Hampton prefers to mix up a vinaigrette because he’s an overachiever like that.
A basic vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar… approximately. You can combine any type of oil with any vinegar. Or substitute any citrus juice for all or part of the vinegar. Then add any combination of salt, pepper, and herbs and spices you prefer.
This particular night, we did EVOO with lemon juice and salt and pepper. If you buy a bag of lemons, I’ll bet you’ll find more chances to use them than you would expect. And if they start to get a bit sad looking before you can cook with them, hot water and lemon is a great wakeup drink, and lemon can be used in a variety of face masks and body scrubs.
When the salad was made and pizza was cooked, we topped off the pizza with some balsamic glaze and marveled at all the extra room in our fridge.
(Yes, we eat on our coffee table because we don’t have a dining room, and, yes, it’s usually messy. We may not be millennials, but we’re also not proper adults).
A few days later, as often happens, we found ourselves with some sad looking basil and arugula. It can be so hard to use up herbs and greens when only cooking for one or two people! Have no fear, however, because pesto is here. Or, well, soon will be.
Pesto is traditionally basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts. The great thing about pesto, however, is that it can be made with any green and nut - and cheese can be completely optional. We usually have arugula wilting, not basil, and Trader Joe’s has a killer new vegan kale pesto dip.
A basic pesto recipe is:
However, this is a very forgiving basic recipe, so feel free to shake things up. As mentioned earlier, cooking with shortcuts is still cooking, and keeping a jar of minced garlic on hand is a great idea, especially when cooking in smaller quantities. Pine nuts are technically a seed, and a bag can last for a very long time in your freezer. They’re great for adding to… most things. Salad (as seen above), pasta, grain bowls, etc. They’re not the cheapest of ingredients, but their versatility makes them a staple in our kitchen. We’ve also been known to throw walnuts or almonds into “pesto”.
Add your dry ingredients to a blender or food processor, start chopping, slowly drizzle in your oil, and in moments you’ll have a beautiful green sauce that can be used on pasta, vegetables, meat, in a grain bowl, or even as a pizza sauce. You can also freeze it for later use.
And there you have a few long-lasting(ish) and versatile ingredients to make your refrigerator feel less like a frozen tundra of nothingness. Antipasto ingredients always feel like a party to me, but they can freshen up a busy Wednesday, as well.