The Bare Cupboard: Nothing There-a Primavera

This blog has gone through a few revamps, the most recent being the implementation of various segments. I get ideas for new segments all the time. Some make it, others do not. This particular segment was thought of days ago when I was rummaging through my kitchen, trying to whip up something healthy, yet filling, with the few ingredients I could find in the house. The question was not if I could do it - I recently spent 6 weeks cooking meals that had no more than six or seven ingredients total - but if I could find a way to do it inexpensively. There was not going to be any fun in finding a steak or rack of ribs and whipping that up... that would have created all sorts of problems.

I was on the prowl for something cheap, quick, and easy, but something that wouldn't make me feel like I was cheating*. And I found it. Combining a few carb-cutting tips from a friend with the PROTEIN! PROTEIN! HE'S OUR FRIEND! mantra I learned in my six week program, I threw together a filling and healthy meal with a total of 2 ingredients that I just found in my freezer/cupboard.

Cheap. Quick. Easy. Perfect.

However, while it was perfect for my tummy, it wasn't quite what I wanted for my blog. There are enough people out there telling you how to make easy and quick meals with whatever it is you can find in your fridge... I wanted something with a little more kick. So I began to brainstorm, and realized that the time I had the most fun cooking was not in the eating, but in the creating. Food is food, but cooking is art. Like any good form of art, it is done best when you give it your own twist.

I began to put together everything I knew:

  • Money is not endless, therefore whatever I was going to make should keep that in mind. Cheap ingredients.
  • I spent 6 weeks creating meals based around 12 foods. I was given recipes, but spent those 6 weeks teaching myself that the recipes were more like guidelines and, if the spirit moved me, I could tweak them as much as I liked. In short, I knew how to combine aspects of meals to make something amazing.
  • I had recently learned the beauty of canned food.
  • I loved experimenting and trying new foods.
  • We live in an era of instant gratification, therefore, if it takes more than 30 minutes, people probably won't pay much attention.
With this in mind, I decided to set the bar a bit higher. I would create a segment on my blog about cooking... not step-by-step strict cooking, but art cooking; experimental cooking. But that wouldn't be the only thing... no... the segment would look toward preparing meals that take a bit more effort than require for say, making a sandwich, but would still be quick, cheap, and easy. I would try as hard as I could to use ingredients one normally has in their house, or practical ingredients that are no skin off your back to pick up.

Thus, The Bare Cupboard was born.

Every TBC recipe will be open for interpretation and free for the taking, but not every recipe will be a success, so I implore you to read the entirety of each entry before attempting it on your own. I will do my very best to keep these ingredients cheap and practical, and use as few as possible, so as to keep your own bare cupboards in mind.

I do not claim to be an amazing cook, I simply claim to be a creative fan of food with a small wallet and a large sense of adventure.

If you're expecting strict guidelines, organized steps, and always delicious results, your best bet would be to stop by The Dirty Spoon. The Bare Cupboard does not have those things. It has nothing... nothing but imagination.

The recipe I created today is one that I can actually label a success... at least, that's what my taste buds keep telling me. I've been craving Italian food for a while, mostly due to my overexposure to Ezio Auditore de Firenze and the lush landscape he calls home.

In my brain, Italian means pasta... however, pasta with any type of substance requires a large chunk of your day and a ton of ingredients, right?

Wrong. You can get a fairly satisfying result using almost nothing at all.

Nothing There-a Primavera

This recipe got its name from the fact that it uses 4 solid ingredients - Pasta, Diced Tomatoes, Broccoli, and Parmesan Cheese - and that's all. It's as if there's nothing there... likewise, it holds the same concept as the name of the segment: you can whip this together if there's virtual nothing in your cupboards.

Pasta of your choice (about 9 oz)
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
1 cup broccoli
Parmesan Cheese (added to taste)

(optional ingredients)
Extra vegetables, diced or minced.
Extra seasoning
Olive Oil
Wheat Bread
Garlic salt

This is the fun part. The Nothing There-a Primavera is prepared not unlike a typical pasta primavera. I started with my pasta of choice: Buitoni 100% Whole Wheat Three Cheese Tortellini. Not exactly the cheapest pasta in the world and, if you're cooking for a whole family, I advise against using it. But, if you're only preparing the meal for yourself, one package will give you about 3 servings. Not to mention, it's healthier than a processed pasta**. I was able to find it at my local supermarket for 2/7$, it's freezable, and easy to prepare. Bring a pot of water to boil on the stove and then add the tortellini, letting it boil for about 7-9 minutes***, after which the heat should be reduced to low or warm. Next, throw a touch of olive oil in a pan (if you so desire) and add your broccoli, sauteeing it for about 3 minutes. Next, add your can of diced tomatoes... undrained, of course.

This is where you can get creative. Add in whatever seasonings or vegetables you like! You don't need to add any, as the tomatoes, broccoli, and olive oil should be enough, but subtle seasonings are okay, as well as yellow or red peppers. I added a touch of italian seasoning (a mixture of basil, oregano, thyme, sage, and something else) and some crushed garlic. Mix well, then cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. While this is cooking, drain your pasta. It doesn't have to be completely dry, but see if you can get out as much water as possible. Once the five minutes is up, stir your pasta into the mixture, top with some Parmesan cheese, then cover and let cook for 2-3 more minutes.

And - WHA-LA! You've put together a rather tasty, flavorful meal with 4 ingredients! It's healthy, it's filling, and it took no longer than 20 minutes.

If you wish to also make the cheap garlic bread that goes along with it, simply melt a half a tablespoon of butter (seeing as I am not a supporter of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, I can't condone the use of more than that and really, you don't need much) in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Add a pinch and a half of garlic salt, mix, and paint onto a slice of whole wheat bread. Cook at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes****.

And there you have it! It is actually quite tasty, and very filling. What I made today came out to about 3 servings but, depending on how you tweak it, it could make more or less. And my brother ate some of it, so it isn't just me that likes it. ;)

So, give it a try... and you may find your cupboard isn't quite as bare as you thought. Till next time!

*ON MY DIET. Get your head out of the gutter.

**For one thing, it's 100% whole wheat so, yes it's a carb, but it's a good non processed carb. Also, it's cheese tortellini, which means it comes with its own nifty little protein to balance out the carb ingestion. 2 birds 1 stone, in my opinion.

***These directions are actually the ones on the back of the Buitoni brand tortellini. They will definitely differ from pasta to pasta and, seeing as you are not required to use the pasta I did, you will probably want to make sure you follow the preparation instructions on the pasta you choose, and not those used for my tortellini.

****This can be done as the pasta drains in the collinder, that way the bread finishes shortly after the rest of the meal.

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