Because of the pandemic, but more compellingly, because when it ain’t quite payday and we’ve eaten all the flashy, expensive grub, I’ve taken it as a personal (and pecuniarily necessary) challenge to cook and eat my pantry and freezer.
There comes a point each month when the larder still contains food, but because I lack the patience possessed by a sugared-up 6-year-old, most of the expensive, shiny ingredients of this month’s haul have been eaten earlier in the month.
There is no steak in the chill chest on the 27th of the month.
So, one needs to be creative.
When Petey and I were first married, my cooking skills were about the same as my skills as a neuroradiologist (spoiler alert: few and faulty). My mom and dad lived in town, and she never met a belly she couldn’t fill, so we had that. And there was an amazing little restaurant named Copelands which used to feed the mill workers and now fed their children and grandchildren. They had a “meat and three” for around $2.
But, I thought that when I had to, I could cook well enough to keep Petey and me alive. I was especially proud of something I made when it was almost time to go grocery shopping, called desperation casserole. I would take whatever cans of stuff I found in my dwindling larder, mix them together and bake it. It was a hit-or-miss kind of thing.
Sometimes it was, if not tasty, at least edible. Sometimes, not so much.
One night Petey and I sat down to dinner and took a bite. Without speaking, we put down our forks, and went out and got in the car to go to Mickey D’s. At this time town was a 30-minute drive — each way, which can give you hint as to how truly, how “desperately: awful that particular fruit of my barren cupboard was.
One of my less proud moments as a budding cook: the hospital where we worked gave a turkey to each employee during the holidays. I thought I was onto something when I stuffed it with canned potatoes.
Yeah, I really, really wasn’t onto anything.
We ate it, but …
Now when the pantry and chill chest are light on the easy, expensive stuff, I can usually whip up something pretty tasty. And it all comes down to the basics I always have on hand and the manipulation of them.
One day, I happened upon a recipe on the Food52 website. It was for a cheesy broccoli sauce on whole wheat pasta by Emma Laperruque, who incidentally used to work at INDY Week, an independent paper in the Triangle for whom I occasionally write.
I decided to make my version of it.
I had both broccoli and cheddar, so I was good there. I tried a few whole-wheat pastas in the ’90s and early 2000s and found the mouthfeel dense and gritty, so I don’t keep it around. And, I wanted to add some protein so it would be a snuggly one-bowl meal.
I love farro and keep it in my edible inventory. Not only is it wheat in its purest, closest to the farm form, but it’s also chewy, nutty and tastes great with almost anything, savory or sweet, as in hearty breakfast porridge. It’s as easy to cook as rice, but it takes more time, comparable to brown or wild rice.
Nix on the whole wheat pasta, and a go for farro.
And I had a package of Italian sausages in the freezer just hanging around, doing nothing.
They got an invite to the party.
I have discovered that if I’m creative, Petey and I could eat our pantry for weeks.
So, bring it on, zombie apocalypse! (Be honest, you know it’s only a matter of time.)
Thanks for your time.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farro and sausage with silky broccoli cheddar sauce
1 1/2 cups whole, regular farro (not quick cook)
4 1/2 cups water
5 sausages of your choice (I use sweet Italian, but you can use anything including vegetarian)
2 heads broccoli, cut into smaller pieces with a couple of inches of stem left on
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
grape tomatoes for garnish
Have a large pot filled with very salty water ready for broccoli.
Slice sausages in 1 1/2-inch coins, then put into a large saucepan with a lid. Add farro, water, a big pinch of salt, and a little pinch of pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and cook for 35-40 minutes or until sausage is cooked through, farro is tender, and the water has cooked in. Turn off heat, keep covered, and let sit while you make the sauce. When the farro has about 10 minutes left to go, turn the salted water on to boil.
When the water boils, add the broccoli, and cook for about 8 minutes. When done, the broccoli should be just tender and bright green, but not mushy. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the broccoli to a blender. Add 2/3 cups of the broccoli water to the blender and keep another cup of water for later. Add half of the cheddar. Blend on high speed until a smooth sauce forms. Season, taste, and re-season, if necessary.
Place the farro and sausage into a large bowl, add sauce, and gently toss. Add tablespoons of broccoli water until it reaches a thickness you like (keep in mind that it will thicken as it sits). Taste and adjust the salt accordingly.
Sprinkle each serving with more cheese and garnish with grape tomatoes.
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