Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pantry Raid, Part Deux

As we near the toughest part of the holiday season, many of us have to deal with emptying our fridges and pantries before heading out of town (in addition to Christmas shopping). Buying new ingredients is verboten for the time being, and we all have to figure out a way to use what's around to keep it from going to waste. It doesn't hurt that this encourages us to save money, but that doesn't make it any easier to figure out what the heck to eat. I usually try to avoid just dumping everything into a pasta dish and go with something more challenging, but I had some delicious (and pricey) black squid ink pasta sitting in my pantry that I did not want going to waste. I only hoped that I could come up with a dish that would do such a wonderful ingredient justice.

So I took yet another close look at what I had in my house, and realized that my baby spinach wouldn't hold up for much longer. I really wanted to savor the flavor of these noodles, so I did my best to keep the flavors clean and simple. I didn't want a cream sauce, or something overly buttered, and certainly not a thick marinara sauce. But, I figured a nice thin, flavorful, yet simple tomato sauce would be delicious and help me use the last third of some strained Pomi tomatoes I had in the fridge. The whole thing needed some tang, but I didn't want to go overboard on the Parmesan cheese, so instead I decided to use a soft farmer's cheese in place of something like ricotta.

The sauce came out even better than I expected, since Italian food and pasta sauce in particular are not my specialty. But I have to say that I'll definitely be making this basic tomato sauce my new go-to quick sauce. It had great flavor, especially for how incredibly quickly it came together. I didn't make tons of it either, I just wanted a light coating on the spaghetti to keep it moist and add a little flavor, with a hint of spice in the back of your tongue. That kind of colored pasta actually has some flavoring from the squid ink, so you don't want to mask it completely, you just want to compliment it with other flavors. The spinach was great, and I only let it just wilt so that it would add a tiny bit of texture and bite to the dish. And the cheese was great, a bit tangy and soft and something that could just melt in your mouth without overpowering the other ingredients. In the end, it was not only a successful pantry clean-out, but also a delicious dinner.

Black Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Spinach

1/2 lb black pasta (spaghetti would be best)
extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
3/4 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup plain tomato sauce or strained tomatoes
1/4 cup water
4-5 julienned fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups loosely packed baby spinach
1 cup soft farmer's cheese (ricotta salata would work too)

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, heat enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of a non-stick skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flake and cook until garlic begins to brown. Add white wine and cook until wine is reduced by half.

3. Reduce heat and add tomato sauce, water, sugar, basil and oregano to pan. Cook together for two minutes, then add pasta as soon as it's done and toss to coat. Add spinach and cook until just wilted, then add half of the cheese. Plate and top with the remaining cheese. Enjoy!


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