Recently I read in a magazine article that there are certain basics that one needs to store in your larder to be able to fix a quick meal for unexpected company and not have to worry about running to the store. Here are the ingredients:
All About Pasta
In the pantry:
Ditalini (small tubes)
Rigatoni (ridged tubes)
Ziti (narrow medium-size tubes)
Conchiglie (medium shells)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ripe olives and olive slices
Greek kalamata olives
Water-packed Albacore tuna
Canned Italian plum tomatoes
Canned precut tomatoes
Canned cannellini (white kidney beans)
Canned mushrooms (both stems & pieces and button)
Package sun-dried tomatoes
Jar crushed red pepper flakes
Dried thyme and oregano leaves
Toasted sesame seeds
Evaporated skim milk
In the refrigerator:
Parmesan cheese (buy a wedge and wrap tightly in foil; before using, grate only what you need)
Romano cheese (same as Parmesan, but a little more bite)
Part-skim ricotta cheese or small curd cottage cheese
In the freezer:
Tiny green peas
Italian-style turkey sausage
Italian-style pork sausage
Extra lean ground beef
Chopped red, green and yellow peppers
Things you may need to purchase:
Half and half
Fresh peppers for roasting
Canned minced or chopped clams
Garlic bread or French bread
I also believe that a good pantry should have chicken and beef stocks or broths, many different nuts and many different kinds of rice such as white rice, cous-cous, arborio, risotto, basmati, wild rice, brown rice and even instant rice. I also keep different flours such as semolina, whole wheat (keep in freezer), rice flour, corn meal, etc. because I make my own pasta and the taste is wonderful. It even freezes well.
There are 150 different types of pasta shapes made in the U.S. Different shapes use different combinations of the same basic ingredients; flour, durum wheat, semolina, water, salt and eggs. In addition, you can be adventuresome and add your own ingredients to your pasta if making your own, such as beet pasta or spinach pasta or black bean pasta. I also make a lemon linguine that is wonderful with a smoked salmon sauce. However, most pasta tastes the same but has mouth appeal or taste. In other words, the shape seems to make a particular dish taste better. A friend who makes macaroni salad for her grown son can only use the old- fashioned elbow macaroni or he doesn’t like the taste. I prefer shell macaroni for my salad. I use large shells for a chicken or tuna pasta salad, but the small shells for old-fashioned picnic salad.
That brings to mind the rule of thumb in mixing sauces with pasta. Even though it is really a personal preference as in the case of my friend, you usually use thin sauce on thin pasta, thick sauce on thick pasta. Chunky ridged pastas seem to be best served with thick meat and tomato sauces, with vegetables cut to match the size of the pasta. Thin spaghetti and linguine are more often paired with thinner sauces and small vegetables such as green peas. However, be flamboyant and adventuresome and do your own thing. Start with a pasta dish a week, promising yourself you will try something new.
There are several recipes listed that will give you some ideas. Start with them and then begin doing your own adaptations by incorporating the ingredients your family seems to like best. Children love the fun shapes such as shells and bow ties. Give them a try.
If you are using a plain sauce with no vegetables, serve a vegetable with your entrée along with a salad and perhaps bread, garlic bread, rolls or breadsticks. A good wine always makes the meal nicer. Rule of thumb here is red wine with red sauce and white wine with white sauce, heavier wines with thicker sauces and lighter wines with thinner sauces, but again, serve what you like best.
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