Stretch your kitchen creativity, too – The Denver Post

Bill St. John, Special to The Denver Post

A small plate of pasta aglio e olio. (Bill St. John, Special to The Denver Post)

I’ve been told that tone of voice doesn’t come across well in text messages, or in writing on social media, or even in day-to-day emails (excepting, of course, for ALL. CAPS. PEEVED.)

Given these days of sequestration cuisine, I wrote a column last week that was headlined “How to make the most of a stretched-thin pantry.” In response, someone wrote to me on Facebook, “What can I make with artichoke hearts, oatmeal and ketchup?”

I’m pretty sure that the feeling of exasperation oozing out of those words was less with his pantry and more with me.

But here’s what you make: You drain the artichoke hearts, chop them roughly, add them to a pot with 1 cup oatmeal and 2 cups water (chicken broth, if you have it) and 1 teaspoon ketchup (plus dashes of hot sauce to taste, if you have it), and a healthy pinch of salt, and let the whole of it soak on the counter overnight. In the morning, cook the oatmeal as you regularly would, and eat.

If you’re more comfortable eating that sort of food midday, eat it for lunch.

If the artichoke hearts had been jarred or canned in vinegar and olive oil, a bonus would be to save back the liquid from the initial draining and make a sort of agrodolce syrup with it with which to dress the finished oatmeal. Reduce by one-half the saved liquid, by slowly boiling it in a saucepan, and add a rounded teaspoon of sugar (honey, if you have it, or even some small-chopped golden raisins or dried apricots) to form a light syrup.

If that’s too much oatmeal for that day, save the leftover in the refrigerator. The next day — or whenever within a week you want another meal out of it — pat down and fry small dollops of it in a mix of oil and butter (or whatever fat you have in your stores). You’ll now have wee cakes crusted in brown deliciousness, topped with dots of that agrodolce sauce you made.

That’s what you make with artichoke hearts, oatmeal and ketchup.

You may not have my experience in either cooking or teaching, but you do have Chef Google. (There’s a tasty-sounding recipe online for “Oat Risotto with Artichokes and Lemon,” using steel-cut oatmeal.)

In these difficult days, I understand exasperation — with either your pantry or with me — but now’s your time to stretch — not merely your pantry but your cooking skills, too.

Write to me, if you like (the email address is below), with a short list of what you might have at hand for a meal but have little or no idea how to work. But first, promise me to input the same list into a search engine to see if any recipe pops up that’s to your liking.

Here are some more narrative-form recipes, using likely pantry staples, for your quarantine cooking.

Pasta aglio e olio

The simplest, perhaps the most popular, pasta recipe of all time. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil. In a skillet, over medium heat, pour in 1/2 cup as-good-as-you-got olive oil, 3 slivered garlic cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes. The second that the garlic sizzles, say the Pledge of Allegiance, then take the skillet off the heat and set it aside on the stove. Cook 1 pound long-form pasta (bucatini, spaghetti, linguine, but any form will do in a pinch) until it is al dente; drain it, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the large pot.

Meanwhile, just before the pasta is done, reheat the garlic and oil mixture and, just as the oil shimmers, add it to the pot with the drained pasta, combining everything well (a pair of tongs works best here). If it appears dry, use tablespoonfuls of the pasta water to loosen it to your liking.

Pasta cacio e pepe

The great Roman pasta preparation, and a noble way to be in touch with so many suffering Italians. Bring a large pot of well-salted water (at least 4 quarts/liters) to the boil. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups finely grated pecorino Romano and 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano with 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper; mash with just enough cold water to make a thick paste. Spread the paste evenly on the bottom of the bowl.

If you have neither of these cheeses on hand and are unable to shop for them, use any firm or grating cheese that you do have.

Once the water is boiling, add 1 pound long-form pasta (bucatini, spaghetti, linguine, but any form will do in a pinch). The second before it is perfectly cooked (taste it frequently once it begins to soften), use tongs to quickly transfer it to the bowl, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water. Stir vigorously to coat the pasta, adding a teaspoon or two of good-quality olive oil and a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if necessary. The sauce should cling to the pasta and be creamy but not watery.

Canned curry

Mix together and then set aside 1 14-ounce can of any sort of beans, rinsed; 1 14-ounce can of any sort of vegetable, rinsed; and 2 cups cooked rice of any sort. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat and in 2 tablespoons neutral oil, cook until soft (7-8 minutes) 1 medium onion, chopped finely, adding 2 minced garlic cloves halfway in.

Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons any curry powder (or a mix of 1 teaspoon each ground coriander, turmeric, cumin, and red chile powders). Stir until aromatic, 30-45 seconds, then add the beans, vegetables and rice, stirring together to mix well.