With a bag of pasta in the pantry, dinner is just minutes away

9780553459746Dried pasta isn’t very sexy, unless it’s 5:30 p.m. and you’re running on empty.

Colu Henry, the author of a new book called “Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly,” grew up in an Italian-American household where pasta was the go-to meal many nights a week. She learned to look at a box or bag of dried pasta with new eyes as she became an adult who worked in the food industry with Bon Appetit before becoming a food writer and cookbook author.

With the right approach — a well-stocked pantry, some seasonal veggies and a pot of boiling water — you can make quick, easy and cheap meals that she calls back pocket pastas. Henry will be in Austin next week to talk about this laid back approach to dinner at two events on March 9. The first is a lunch and Q&A at 11:30 p.m. Thursday at Jeffrey’s, 1204 W. Lynn St. The buffet lunch costs $50 and includes wine and a copy of the book. From 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Henry will host a book signing at Metier Cook’s Supply, 1805 S. First St., that will feature wine and a sample of the pasta in the book.

You can see more of her cooking through #backpocketpasta on Instagram.

This pasta puttanesca is from Colu Henry's "Back Pocket Pasta," which she will be promoting in Austin with two events on March 9. Contributed by Peden & Munk

This pasta puttanesca is from Colu Henry’s “Back Pocket Pasta,” which she will be promoting in Austin with two events on March 9. Contributed by Peden & Munk

Pasta Puttanesca

The name of this pasta cries shelf dinner (and plenty of other scandalous things). After researching the origins of this Italian dish, I still couldn’t find a straight answer, but I think we all can agree that it uses many items that one should always have on hand: olives, capers, anchovies and tomatoes. I’ve made this for a group of fourteen when traveling through Provence as well as for many a dinner party in Portland, Oregon. It works everywhere, for every palate. If you don’t have anchovies, use tuna or sardines, or skip the fish altogether! No oil-cured black olives? Use whatever jar of cocktail olives that are hanging around in your fridge. What’s important here is a red, salty sauce with some funk — get down and dirty with it.

— Colu Henry

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more if you like extra heat
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One (28-ounce) can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup pitted and halved oil-cured black olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed well if salt-packed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt
3/4 pound linguine
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley, plus more for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

While the water comes to a boil, prepare the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and set aside.

Reduce the heat under the skillet to low. Add the anchovies and red pepper flakes and sauté until the anchovies have melted and the red pepper flakes are aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir until dissolved. Return the cooked garlic to the pan and stir in the tomatoes. Add the olives, capers, and oregano and allow the sauce to simmer while you cook the pasta.

Add 2 tablespoons of the salt to the pot of boiling water and return to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Add the pasta directly to the sauce and toss to coat, adding ¼ cup of pasta water or more (up to 1 cup), as needed to loosen up the sauce. Add the parsley and toss again. Plate in bowls and garnish with additional oregano and parsley, if desired. Serves 4.

— From “Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly” by Colu Henry (Clarkson Potter, $28)

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