By now, New Year’s Eve menus should be well in hand. If not check out our Holiday 101 page for some last-minute ideas.
Or maybe, like me, you gave the grocery store a pass this weekend after all the holiday shopping and now are wondering what to make for dinner. The latest Since You Asked column in A la Carte addressed the concept of pantry staples. What are absolute necessities, in other words?
Rachael Ray recently fielded this question in an interview about her new book, “My Year in Meals.” Although many food experts not-quite-jokingly refer to dark chocolate as the one food they could never give up, Ray cited olive oil and salt. Pasta with anchovies and garlic is her go-to meal when the pantry’s nearly bare.
I take a similar approach to bare-bones dinners. I stock up on pasta of all shapes and sizes when it’s on sale and, within the past couple of years, always keep a tube of anchovy paste in the refrigerator, which adds depth to pasta sauces. I’ve tried augmenting my pasta with actual anchovy fillets, which is what this recipe calls for, but I find the tiny bones’ texture a bit distracting.
I always have fresh garlic on hand, thanks to our yearly garden harvest. But if you find your kitchen often lacks it, consider keeping a jar of chopped garlic or tube of crushed garlic in the refrigerator. And red-pepper flakes, of course, can always be substituted for fresh chilies. Vermouth, likewise, could be swapped with dry sherry or any kind of white wine you have on hand.
My favorite trick for making a basic pasta dish like this more luxurious is toasting and adding a handful of pine nuts from my freezer stash. Nuts, as the column pointed out, are something every cook should have on hand. Just keep them in the freezer to ensure freshness and don’t toast them until immediately before using.
Here’s Ray’s recipe.
Aglio e Olio
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 to 10 anchovy fillets
5 or 6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced or chopped
2 red Fresno chilies, seeded and chopped
1⁄3 cup dry vermouth
Salt, to taste
1 pound spaghetti
1⁄2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Black pepper, to taste (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to boil. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Melt the anchovy fillets into oil, stirring until they break up and dissolve completely into oil. Add the garlic and chilies. Reduce heat to low. Stir that a few minutes, then add the vermouth.
Salt pot of boiling water and cook the pasta to al dente. Before draining, ladle out about a cup of starchy pasta-cooking water and add to sauce. Drain pasta and add to sauce along with the parsley, tossing with tongs for 1 to 2 minutes for flavors to absorb. Season to taste with the pepper, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.