Pantry Raid

My whole concept for this week was going to be entirely different.  I had been basing this post, along with my monthly recipe newsletter, on The Power of Five.  This is my belief that five high-quality ingredients are all you need to make an incredible dish.  While this is true (and it is also true that I don't always follow this rule), today's post is more about the creative spirit in cooking.  And, by coincidence, it follows The Power of Five rule.

My friend Michael - friends since the 5th grade if you can believe it - likes to say, "David can look into my refrigerator and see a jar of mustard, one egg and half a can of flat Tab® - and before I know it there is a four-course meal on the table.  How annoying is that?" Well, annoying it may be, but it isn't true.  For me, the Tab® would need to be fresh.

Today will be a sort of challenge - for me, and for all of you.  Head over to your refrigerator and your pantry.  What do you have on hand?  If you are like many of us foodies, you probably have a stash that would keep you going for months.  (Can one live on condiments for a month???  I vote yes...)  Pick out five ingredients that "go together" and make dinner.  An example might be canned tuna, capers, olives and lemon.  I can imagine the perfect pasta dish with those simple ingredients.  An example of things NOT to pair might be: caviar, fudge sauce, Indian fennel candies and sesame oil (oddly all on the same shelf in my pantry...).  You need to trust your stomach.  If you think a combination sounds good, you are probably right.

I do really enjoy creating from the fridge.  My friend Bunny (who is the proud owner of the Metropolitan Refrigerator of Art) also has a term for this: Inspiration du Jour.  It can include leftovers, condiments and whatever else you have in your cubby.  The thing I find most interesting about cooking out of the fridge/pantry is that I tend to enjoy it more than following a recipe - I love the challenge - and I also tend to use fewer ingredients and they shine in their simplicity.

The other day, I was making my aunt's stuffed shells and was looking at her two, distinctly different recipes for the filling.  Both for the same number of shells yet one called for 2 cups ricotta cheese and the other for 4 cups.  I decided - Sherlock Holmes that I am - to follow the recipe with the shakiest handwriting because the deteriorated penmanship meant it was the most recent version and probably the culmination of many years' experimentation.  This decision left me with some leftover fresh ricotta cheese.  (The stuffed shells were great, by the way.)

So, I had the the ricotta.  I knew there was always a nice hunk of Parmigiano-reggiano in the cheese box. That made me think: lasagne.  Noodles?  Check.  Tomato sauce?  Check.  Eggs?  Check.  Cheese?  Double check.  The answer for today was, indeed, lasagne.  Oh wait - the noodles.  While I had both regular and no-boil Italian noodles on hand, I chose the no-boil version for ease.

Okay, this was no Iron-Chef-Bobby-Flay-Throw-Down reality show; it was dinner for one night.    While this lasagne wasn't the most exciting thing to come out of my oven in the past week, it was good.  Really good.

So, take note!  Five ingredients.  Okay, six if you count the parsley....  But who's counting?

- David


2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1 1/2 ounces grated Parmigiano-reggiano, divided
1 egg
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 2/3 cups tomato sauce with basil*
8 no-boil lasagne noodles

Equipment: a hand-cranked pasta roller.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, 1 ounce of the Parmigiano-reggiano and the egg.  Add the parsley and mix well.

In an 8-inch square baking pan, spread 1/3 cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom.  Top the sauce with 2 of the no-boil noodles. 

Top the pasta with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese mixture, spreading evenly to the sides.  If you use fresh pasta, this is a little difficult as the pasta sauce softens the dough very quickly.  Top the cheese mixture with another 1/3 cup of sauce, spreading evenly over cheese.  Repeat layering twice and end with the final lasagne noodles and the final 1/3 cup of sauce.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 ounce of Parmigiano-reggiano.

Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly.  Let set for 15 minutes, then cut and serve with extra sauce, if desired.

* Use your favorite pasta sauce or make a simple sauce as follows:

Tomato Sauce with Basil

1 28-ounce can peeled Roma tomatoes (preferably Italian)
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Run the tomatoes through the finest disc of a food mill into a medium saucepan.  Add the onion, butter, sugar and salt and bring to a simmer.  Cook at a low simmer for about 45 minutes until thickened.  (Sauce will not be as thick as store-bought sauce.) Remove the onion and add the basil.  This recipe is based on a Marcella Hazan recipe and is one of my favorites.


  1. Hi David, Is it OK to only comment on the exquisite photography. The recipe looks wonderful but I am enjoying tasting the photos now. Lovely shots!

    I am taking photos in Lourmarin now with my old circa 2001 Canon S30 point-and-shoot (other camera is visiting Burkina Faso). It actually feels more dated than a 70's vintage SLR. Functional but uninspiring.

  2. Thanks, Towny! This was a tough one for photography - so much RED! I am trying new lighting options which were somewhat successful, so I really appreciate your kind words!

    I hope your other camera is having a good tiem in Burkina Faso - and I still look forward to seeing what you capture with the old Canon. It's the eye, not the camera!

  3. Eggs, cornmeal, cocktail sauce, sardines, cold brew ice coffee?

    Just kidding!

    I find cooking from the fridge much easier in the summer (tomatoes, oil, vinegar, bread, cheese!)-- I think a wintertime power of five challenge could be fun.

  4. Agreed, Liz! That means we should definitely revisit the Power of Five in December.... he sardines and cold brew ice coffee made me laugh out loud! Happy cooking, David

  5. A story about the Power of 5 (or in this case, 3)

    Several years ago we had a massive snow storm on December 23rd. By December 24th the plow had still not come, we were still digging ourselves and neighbors out, and fearing that we would not make it to Toledo and Michigan for Christmas. For a day and a half my partner helped neighbors shovel snow and push cars, and I (optimistically) packed and cleaned the house, and baked loaf after loaf of bread for gifts for the neighbors and to take to our families if we ever made it. At about 11 am on the 24th I realized that we had tons of bread, but really nothing to eat for lunch. Hunting in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer revealed the following: 1 can of white beans, 2 piece of turkey bacon, and 1 can of diced tomatoes. Hoping for the best, I began to make soup, and soon after heard the rumble of the plow and a cheer from shoveling neighbors. We would get out! That afternoon we sat together on the couch with steaming mugs of the the best white bean soup we had ever tasted, and watched families joyfully load bags of presents, platters of cookies, and suitcases into their cars. We followed soon after and made it to my parent's house on time for Christmas Eve dinner. To this day I have not been able to recreate the soup. Something about the magic of the day...

  6. Beautiful story, Jenny! I love the Power of 3 - and your soup sounds wonderful. It is amazing what we can pull off when push comes to shove.
    - David


Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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