If you're someone who appreciates improvisation in the kitchen, Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page's Culinary Artistry is a wonderful resource for the home library. In an attempt to use up old ingredients in my kitchen, I reacquainted myself with this book which I promise to consult more often. For anyone not familiar, Culinary Artistry is not a typical cookbook, although it does include some recipes, but rather a guide to ingredients and the art of composing dishes and meals.
For those of us who like to play The Great Kitchen Clean-Out, I find the section Food Matches Made in Heaven to be extremely helpful. The entry for kohlrabi, for example, lists bechamel, butter, cream, hollandaise, lemon, nutmeg, and parsley as the best accompanying ingredients, while also identifying kohlrabi as a winter vegetable, and one that is best suited to baking, boiling or steaming. A little common sense and intuition is all that's needed to make a wonderful dish.
The book also includes notes from chefs on everything from the way they compose their restaurant menus, to their favorite techniques, their top ten ingredients, and their favorite kitchen tips. Susanna Foo provides a helpful "cross-cultural ingredient substitutions/enhancements list." According to Foo, for example, when a recipe calls for rice vinegar, one could substitute balsamic or cider vinegar instead.
Although my kitchen supplies are dwindling - the tater tots have already been eaten, as have the sardines - I didn't need to consult Culinary Artistry last night. Last night's dinner was the ultimate in delicious pantry eating: spaghetti, bacon, and eggs. The world's tastiest no-brainer.
(adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
1/2 lb. pancetta, cut as a single 1/2" thick slice, OR good slab bacon.
4 garlic cloves
3T. extra virgin olive oil
1/4c. dry white wine
2 large eggs
1/4c. freshly grated romano cheese
1/2c. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
2t. chopped parsley
1 1/4 lb. pasta (we used 1lb.)
Cut the pancetta or slab bacon into strips not quite 1/4 inch wide. Lightly mash the garlic with a knife handle, enough to split it and loosen the skin, which you will discard. Put the garlic and olive oil into a small saute pan and turn the heat to medium high. Saute until the garlic becomes colored a deep gold, and remove and discard it. Put the strips of pancetta or bacon into the pan, and cook until they begin to be crisp at the edges. Add the wine, let it bubble away for 1 or 2 minutes, then turn off heat. Break the 2 eggs into a serving bowl in which you'll be subsequently tossing the pasta. Beat them lightly with a fork, then add the two grated cheeses, a liberal grinding of pepper, and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly. Add the cooked, drained spaghetti to the bowl, and toss rapidly, coasting the strands well. (I also add some reserved pasta water). Briefly reheat the bacon over high heat, turn out the entire contents into the bowl, toss thoroughly again, and serve at once.