There's always something wonderful to eat in my kitchen, even when there's "nothing," says Taste columnist Nancy Leson.
EACH TIME my son opens the refrigerator and complains “I’m hungry. There’s nothing to eat!” I channel my inner momster, silently berating, “There are children starving in (fill in your geographically appropriate locale)!
What actually comes out of my mouth goes more like this:
“What do you mean there’s nothing? I could feed the whole neighborhood with what’s in that fridge!” And that’s only a mild exaggeration, considering the contents of our kitchen cabinets, the pantry by the stairs and the upright freezer in the basement.
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Worse, I’m secretly as guilty as my boy for failing to appreciate our household bounty — a flaw that’s especially egregious when our local food banks need all the help they can get.
Truth is, there’s always something wonderful to eat in my kitchen, even when there’s “nothing.”
Butter, eggs, sour cream, yogurt? Inevitably. Cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan? Present and accounted for. Ditto for tortillas and toastables. From salsa to sriracha, mayonnaise to miso, pickles to pepperoncini, I’m prepared to sauce and spice.
For a quick snack there’s tahini in my fridge, a can of garbanzo beans in the pantry and a lemon in the crisper (hummus among us). Plus capers, kalamatas and anchovies: salty staples perfect for ratcheting up ravioli (in the freezer) or dried linguine (in the cupboard).
Yes, there’s bacon for a BLT; I’m partial to the thick-cut version that does double-duty when a recipe calls for pancetta. Other denizens of the deli drawer include cured Spanish chorizo (swell on its own, or diced, browned and steamed with clams). And a thick ham steak that works at breakfast (frittata), lunch (grilled with cheese) or dinner (tossed with penne, frozen peas and half-and-half).
I’m no leftover lover, but trust me, I’ve got them: the last few stalks of oven-roasted broccoli (for stir-fry), the end of a loaf of rye (croutons for soup or salad).
And don’t get me started on the produce bin. Mine could star in a modern-day rendition of the old folktale “Stone Soup.” The one where stingy villagers warm up to a hungry traveler who promises soup made from a stone, slyly convincing them to provide a wilting carrot, a few tired potatoes or an onion to “flavor” the stockpot. Food enough to feed the whole neighborhood.
Nancy Leson is Pacific NW magazine’s food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is the magazine’s staff photographer.
Nancy’s Stone Soup
Serves 4 to 6
Inspired by a “Moosewood Cookbook” recipe, this one’s meant to be fiddled with. No beet greens? Wilt spinach, chard or kale instead. Toss in more garlic and onion (or less). Substitute chicken broth (or original V8) in the first step. Experiment with herbs (a hit of cilantro here) and spices (a sprinkling of cayenne there).
1. In a medium saucepan, cover with water and steam until tender (then purée in its own water): 2 carrots, 1 large potato and 1 onion, all chopped in hunks, plus 1 clove garlic.
2. In a separate saucepan, steam in 1 cup water until wilted: a big bunch of cleaned beet greens (about 4 cups), tough stem-ends removed. Purée.
3. In a heavy-bottom pot, make a roux by whisking 1/3 cup flour into 1/3 cup melted butter; stir until lightly browned. Whisk in 2 cups whole milk and cook over low heat, stirring until thickened.
4. Add the puréed greens to the roux, then add: 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, plus a handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped.
5. Add roux mixture to vegetable purée. Heat over low flame and stir until smooth. Adjust seasoning.