Like many NYU students, I found myself abruptly evicted from my dorm and back at home for the rest of the semester. During these turbulent times, I find that one of the best ways to decompress and relax is to cook dinner with my family. You may be staying with friends, or even alone, but the power of a good home-cooked meal can’t be understated.
That being said, this isn’t the best time to go shopping in crowded stores. Taking multiple trips a week to a market to get fresh produce and meat may not be an option for you, especially depending on where you live or if you are concerned about your health.
With that in mind, there are many fantastic recipes you can put together with just the essentials of a basic pantry. I’ve been relying on these recipes to keep me nourished and well-fed through my quarantine at home.
The first dish is basic sauteed canned beans. You can use any variety, but I like chickpeas, navy beans and butter beans. Beans that come in cans are well-cooked, so your final product will be soft. If you prefer a more al dente texture, start by soaking dried beans in water and then cook them according to the packaging instructions.
To transform bland and boring canned beans into a flavorful side dish, start by sauteing some aromatics, such as shallots and herbs, in extra virgin olive oil. Be generous with the oil because beans love oil and will absorb all of its flavor.
I like to use a simple blend of fresh garlic, fresh sage, dried Sicilian oregano and dried red pepper flakes. Fry the aromatics on medium heat, just enough so that they start to toast in the oil but don’t turn bitter or burned.
Some other options are onions, shallots, ginger, scallions — whatever you happen to have. Once this base layer is added, wait until they turn translucent (six to eight minutes) and then add your aromatic spice blend.
Once your oil is flavored with spices, add the beans. If you are using canned beans, make sure you wash the beans in some water so that their starchy canned liquid is cleaned off. Once the canned beans are added to your flavored oil, just toss it together with salt and the dish is finished.
One optional step, which I highly recommend, is to add any greens you have in your fridge to this mixture. I like using spinach, which you can add at the end once you’ve finished cooking. The spinach will slowly wilt from the leftover heat of the beans in the pan.
The second canned dish is a basic marinara tomato sauce. Instead of buying pre-cooked tomato sauce, try canned whole and peeled San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. Cento is my favorite brand, if you can find it.
To make this marinara sauce, simply saute diced yellow onion in butter and olive oil for six to eight minutes, until translucent. Once that’s done, add as many cans of whole tomatoes as you’d like. I usually use one whole onion and two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes.
Now, you are going to let the sauce simmer on medium heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently so the tomato doesn’t burn at the bottom. It’s best to use a flat bottom wooden spatula to scrape the bottom of your pot.
After 30-45 minutes, your sauce should be sweetened and thick. If you can see the bottom of the pot as you move your spatula around, that is a telltale sign that you’ve achieved the desired consistency.
I wait to season with salt until the very end because the sauce reduces and concentrates as it cooks. This way, the sauce won’t become irreversibly over-salted.
Serve the marinara sauce with whatever you prefer. I like spaghetti or rigatoni pasta shapes, but honestly will serve it with whatever variety of pasta you have. It also goes great with roasted vegetables, mussels and other seafood, chicken or eggplant cutlets, eggs or just served over some buttered garlic bread.
The reason I chose to not include exact ingredients and amounts in these two dishes is because you really have the option to customize them yourselves, depending on your pantry selection. You can use your own spice blend to saute beans, or may want to add basil, bay leaf and oregano to your marinara sauce.
These dishes are meant to serve as the technical foundations for cooking in quarantine, and it’s up to you to play along with the ingredients as you cook. There’s truly no better feeling that putting a smile on someone’s face by serving them a good dinner. This is especially true with the current pandemic going on.
I hope everyone in the NYU community finds these recipes calming and nourishing, as COVID-19 threatens our mental and physical health. Feel free to contact me about any questions you may have relating to these two recipes!
Email Alex Christiano at [email protected]