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Too Many Cooks: Your Favorite Pantry Meal

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You'll be hearing from the staff at Food52 in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more. 

Pasta e Ceci

Deep in the throes of winter, when the thought of summer fruit makes us laugh out loud and we're ready for bed by 5:30, we turn to our pantries for reassurance -- because even though it sometimes looks scrappy, it also holds the keys to a hot plate of polenta and Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce. So in honor of our pantries, and of the meals we eat half-awake standing over the kitchen sink, we've rounded up our team and asked: 

What's your favorite pantry meal? 

And you, dear readers: What recipes do you turn to when your fridge is sparse? Tell us in the comments!

Brette: Marcella sauce. All day every day. Sometimes with white beans. 

Kenzi: Yes to Marcella sauce, but I almost always try to drown it, quick sand-style, in a pile of polenta.  If I don't have the things for that, I make a version of Amanda/Bittman's crispy lamb with lentils -- it's ridiculously adaptable. 

Crispy Lentils with Lamb on Food52 

Lauren M: Does granola count as a meal? I'm a nut fiend, so I always have at least three different kinds in my granola, plus some dried fruit, and peanut butter and honey to hold it all together. I love to eat it right out of the oven -- yum!

Rachel: Frozen chopped spinach, fried eggs, tomato sauce, and crusty bread! It's my favorite for dinner when there is nothing in the fridge.

Sarah: I love making vegetarian chili with canned tomatoes and beans and all of the vegetables at the back of the crisper drawer. All I need is a bread bowl to complete the meal (just kidding...kind of). 

Remy: Kenzi, it makes me so, so happy that you're able to throw together crispy lamb for dinner when you don't have the ingredients for Marcella sauce. This is excellent. My go-to: Fried eggs (the kind with crisp, lacy edges from hot olive oil) (more fried eggs than I care to admit) over whichever vegetable and herb odds and ends are in my fridge, dressed with a strong vinaigrette.

Marian: Eggs, yes, always. Matzoh Brei would be a good idea. Cacio e pepe. Or, honestly, an enormous pot of quinoa cooked with little more than salt and bay leaves. The health freaks have us forgetting how comforting this idea is.

Matzoh Brei on Food52

Bryce: I like a pasta (bucatini is my favorite for this one) with olive oil, Parmesan, toasted bread crumbs, garlic, and pepper flakes. Make pasta. Toast breadcrumbs in butter for a few minutes, then add Parm and garlic; mix. Add pasta to that pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper flakes, and lightly cook for a few more minutes. Delicious.  

Posie: Shakshuka, always. Also -- yogurt biscuits. No need for cutting in butter, and the timing goes like this: Walk in door, drop keys, mix batter while standing in coat and hat, bake while in shower, hot biscuits 15 minutes after you get home!

Joy: My 5-minute sardine spread: one can of good sardines, a generous squeeze of lemon, a dollop of mayo, some chopped scallions, parsley and capers- and a shot of hot sauce, mashed up and spread on some toasted baguette. 

Catherine: When the days turn short and the pickings turn slim, I turn to curry. A can of coconut milk (never low fat), curry paste, and whatever vegetables/meat I have lying around works wonders for the morale and the nasal passages. This is next on my list.

Lauren K: I almost always have sausage, rice, eggs, and some sort of vegetable on hand, so I often find myself making a healthier version of what would be a pretty standard Hawaiian fried rice (minus the spam). I also often have a lot of frozen corn on hand due to a friend's frozen food CSA: fresh corn salad drizzled with lemon juice and a little olive oil and whatever herbs I have around -- even in the winter. Why not?

Christina: Balsamic chickpeas -- I had these in Barcelona and they are my favorite lazy man's meal.

Maddy: Pasta with bacon, Parm, and whatever vegetables I have in the fridge, finely chopped. Also, Linguine with Sardines, Fennel, and Tomato (without fennel sometimes, sometimes with olive oil-packed tuna instead of sardines). And Portuguese kale soup, loosely based on this recipe from David Leite.

Lindsay-Jean: A frittata with whatever is languishing in the fridge or smashed chickpea salad sandwiches (a.k.a. faux tuna salad).

Lauren L: +1 frittata. Usually with goat cheese. 

Karl: Wow, this thread rocks! Is it against the rules to go out and buy some canned tomatoes so I can try out the Marcella sauce? Like many others, my go-to is eggs: a cheesy scramble with a side of lemon juice-braised kale or collards or spinach or whatever hardy green I have way too much of from our winter CSA.

Merrill: Marcella sauce (only I brown the onion and some sausage in the butter before adding the tomatoes) served over pasta, a baked sweet potato, or goat cheese grits. Ricotta toasts with olive oil, lemon zest, sea salt, and honey. Soft scrambled eggs with mascarpone and herbs.

Amanda: Lately, I've been making Genius Polenta with Marcella's bolognese sauce, which is not only a great pantry meal but reheats well, so I make a big batch. Also this Stuck-Pot Rice, which goes with any kind of meat or fish (+ add a salad!). And my husband, Tad, has us all addicted to Mario Batali's Penne all'Arrabbiata.

Kristen: Just like all of you: Fried eggs on toast, oatmeal, pasta with a ton of Parm, pepper, olive oil, butter, and, recently, peas. And, like Sarah J, I used to make a decent black bean soup with a can of black beans, a can of chopped tomatoes, onions, cumin, and spicy things (made up one night as part of Mexican night -- the rest of the night never to be repeated). Thank you for reminding me to start buying canned black beans and tomatoes in pairs again!

Julie: Variations on a theme: eggs on toast with lots of butter, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan, and pasta tossed with a heap of arugula, olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes.


Frittata on Food52

Bea: Waffles and pancakes are a favorite -- since I can’t get fresh berries, I’ll buy some frozen blueberries and add them to the batter with a dollop of ricotta cheese to add a bit of savoriness. I top them with some jam, or dipped in some homemade cajeta which was introduced to me over the holidays! 

I also make an Ethiopian Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry Stew that I learned from a good friend in college. She used to cook this stew all day in her slow cooker (which was totally not permitted in our dorms) near her window and it would make our entire suite smell like sweet delicious curry. 

Yam and Peanut Stew on Food52 

Stephanie: I'm the same as everyone else too. Always eggs and variations thereof. Lately it's been a lot of shakshuka, but frittatas also come up often in the rotation. Fried eggs on pasta. Fried eggs on roasted vegetables. Fried eggs on toast. Scrambled eggs. Man, I love eggs. 

So it looks like everybody here loves eggs. Tell us in the comments: What do you throw together when you cook from your pantry?

Tags: Community, Food52 Life, Too Many Cooks