Sometimes the washing machine breaks and floods the basement with sudsy water. Sometimes the heel of your favorite black leather ankle boot breaks off as you’re walking up the stairs to your office. Sometimes a jagged pebble on the interstate bounces up and cracks your windshield. Sometimes, all of these things happen on the same day.
And at the end of a day like this, simple, unfussy food can feel so, so good.
There was a time when the more exotic ingredients a recipe had, the more desperately I wanted to rush out and buy every single one. I would lock myself in the kitchen for hours, emerging triumphant, elaborate concoction in hand, anxiously awaiting oohs and ahhs. And every so often I still get the urge to flex some culinary muscle.
But these days, I fully appreciate the basic beauty of a quick, easy, tasty and healthy recipe.
Quick. Easy. Heathy. It’s the holy grail of weeknight cooking. I used to think that simple was boring – a cop out. But the truth is that simple is elegant, sophisticated. Kind of like my favorite black leather ankle boots were before that six-inch heel bit the dust.
But back to the food.
The thing with simple food is that each ingredient matters. Good pasta, fresh celery, and the very best cheese you can find turn some simple pantry staples into a pretty delicious dinner. Assuming that, like me, you have a thing for cheese, you might even have all of the ingredients for this deceptively basic dish in your kitchen right now. And if you don’t, well, make this pasta once and I promise you’ll start keeping anchovy paste and wedges of parmesan on hand at all times.
This pasta takes all of 10 minutes to make, is full of flavor, and is ultimately comforting. If you think you aren’t a fan of anchovies, I don’t blame you. Neither was I. Until I tried melting down anchovy paste in plenty of fruity olive oil. When cooked, the anchovy paste imparts a deep, rich, salty flavor to the pasta that is frankly addictive. And if Jeff, the consummate fish hater, asks for this pasta on a weekly basis, then there really has to be something to this anchovy business. As for the celery, well, I use it because it’s always in my fridge. Why do I buy celery every week? I honestly have no idea. But I do it. And I’m always looking for ways to use it up. Go figure. I suppose that you could elevate this dish by using a bit of sliced fennel and some fennel fronds instead. But the humble celery works just fine. It’s lovely, actually, and pretty underrated.
The real star here, though, is the cheese. Which means you should spring for good cheese. And no, good cheese does not come in a shaky can. I’m not actually sure that stuff is cheese at all. What you want is a nice wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And a good grater.
Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan
1 13.25 ounce box of whole grain linguine
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons anchovy paste
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped celery leaves
In a large pot of boiling, well salted water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Be careful not to overcook. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in the oil, stirring often, until the garlic starts to brown slightly. Add the celery, oregano and red pepper and continue to cook until the celery is soft, about 5 more minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. When the pasta is done, drain and reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet with the celery mixture, along with one cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the sauce, along with half of the cheese. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes, adding additional cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the celery leaves and the remaining cheese.