Years ago, I stayed with an Italian friend in Bologna who worked long hours at his job. By the time he got home, he was hungry, so he’d start water boiling and cast about his tiny kitchen to see what he could use for dinner.
Then, to my fascination, he’d whip up a delicious pasta sauce from almost nothing: a few anchovies and some walnuts, or a can of tuna and another of beans. Yesterday’s bread became today’s bread crumbs, browned in olive oil with garlic and tossed with spaghetti, olives, capers and jarred tomato purée.
Important to any home kitchen, I realized, is a varied pantry, a place where you can always pull together the essentials for a meal. These days, my pantry is more than just a cupboard. In the freezer, I keep peas and edamame, as well as nuts of all kinds and bread crumbs. In the refrigerator, I always have feta, goat cheese, Parmesan and often pecorino or another hard cheese. Lemons are helpful, too, as is flat-leaf parsley.
These ingredients are particularly useful for pasta. As you’ll see this week, the sauces made with them take no more time than it takes to heat the pasta water.