It wasn’t too long ago that, while I enjoyed cooking, it was still a production: planning and recipes, the search for unfamiliar ingredients. I had signed up to an Abel & Cole vegetable box hoping that the new items included each week would inspire me and, slowly, it worked. At first, about half of the vegetables might go to waste, and I still find that there is just so much celeriac one can consume in a months time, but eventually instead of decreasing the frequency of deliveries I found myself ordering it weekly and even upgrading to a bigger box.
Around this time, my father announced that he would be in London and could we have dinner, that night! Granted it was only a dinner for two but the thought alone of having only hours to prepare and no idea what was in my refrigerator was a bit daunting. I took a deep breath and got back to whatever spreadsheet I was working on and made a note to myself to remember to leave work in time to hit the butcher. Armed with a chicken, I managed to scrape together a pretty nice dinner with just the, previously unknown, ingredients in my kitchen. It was the first time that it ever occurred to me that I might be ready to be a mother.
I, obviously, had no idea what I was talking about but for me that meal tipped the balance. After confidence, I realized that the ability to throw something good together quickly hinges on being prepared; a well stocked larder or pantry, the inspiration for the title of this blog. Everyone finds her own way to manage. My mother devised a set of dinners that were on rotation, they weren’t the most gourmet of options but they did set the stage for my childhood memories. Ragú was my one of my mother’s go-to staples, a fan favorite I might add. Who doesn’t love pasta with tomato sauce? For me, I find that whipping up a good tomato sauce is often easier than making it to the shop, but again you have to be prepared.
You will need olive oil, tomatoes of any kind, garlic and herbs.
But first a couple of tricks:
- Having fresh tomatoes around is great but often, out of season, they suck (tough but fair, I think) so good canned tomatoes work just as well. If you have fresh tomatoes, do not put them in the fridge, they will turn mushy and mealy, also if possible leave the stems on as removing the stems creates vulnerability in the flesh, which promotes deterioration.
- Garlic keeps almost forever so just toss a couple of bulbs in at every shop and you’ll find yourself never wanting. If they start to grow shoots, just remove these before cooking as they can be bitter.
- Fresh herbs are great. But sometimes you just don’t have them on hand. Herbs de Provence are a great substitute for fresh thyme and rosemary and you can buy them almost anywhere.
So here we go. Put the water on to boil. At the same time put a saucepan or frying pan on medium heat with a little olive oil and throw in one piece of chopped tomato. Chop the rest of the tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are great as you can do them in one fell swoop by placing your hand on top to hold them down and running your knife underneath to cut them in half. Embarrassingly I learned this on Iron Chef America, but it has been one of my favorite time saving techniques ever since. Again remember to sharpen your knife! If you are afraid, just use the top of a Tupperware container to hold the tomatoes. When the tomato in the oil starts to sizzle, you will be about done with the other tomatoes, so put them all in and give it a stir. When the tomatoes are in, chop the garlic and/or the herbs. If you have a garlic press or a microplane (you should buy one of these if you don’t have one) and are using dried herbs then you can do whatever you’d like for a couple minutes. When the tomatoes have softened, add the garlic and the herbs and a bit of salt.
Seems weird right, backwards in a way. We are so used to putting the garlic in first. But this way, you don’t burn it and the tomatoes have enough time to reduce into a sauce.
By this time your water is ready, throw your pasta in. When the pasta is ready, your sauce will be too. Also, tomato sauce is not just for pasta. It is great over vegetables or chicken or fish.