Project Pantry Waste Not, Want Not: Roasted artichokes and pasta casserole

My horribly disorganized pantry.
Check out the 20 cans of crushed pineapple.

It’s tax season and report-running time in the Malvini-Redden household. When my household CFO informed me how much I spent on groceries last year, I was a bit flummoxed. The sum seemed astronomical for two people and I quickly rationalized that a hefty portion of the total must include household items (pure gold among them, possibly) and not just food. Still, it got me thinking about resources and waste and just how much of the grand total I end up throwing out each year. And then I thought about how much of the haul I hold on to, stockpiled in the cupboards. You see, I feel happiest with a full pantry. Partly it’s to ease my completely irrational childhood fear of hunger. Partly it’s to applaud myself on the ability to create a survival kit* for nuclear apocalypse at the drop of a hat. Mostly, it’s because I like a deal. When I see a good canned or dry good item on sale, I buy it. A lot of it. And we shop at Costco. That may be why I have 10 cans of light coconut milk, 13 packages of various noodle shapes, five pounds of quinoa, etc. etc. The thing is, I often forget about said items until they go bad and all of a sudden, I’m throwing out 17 packages of microwave popcorn circa 2006 or seven used-to-be-good** cake mixes. It’s problematic for the landfills, for my budget and definitely for my conscience.

So, for the new year, I’m curbing general household waste (fingers crossed!) and planning to use up the majority of the surplus before buying more. I’m calling it “Project Pantry Waste Not, Want Not” and instead of skimming food blogs for dinner ideas, I’m going to peruse my pantry for need-to-use items and build our meals around them. First up, three cans of artichokes just about one year past their due dates. I was nervous to use them at first but they smelled and looked fine, and I proceeded to roast with garlic and toss them in a pasta casserole. Delish!

Roasted Artichokes and Garlic with Balsamic Glaze
NSFD Ranking: *

Ingredients:
3 cans artichokes, packed in water (hearts or bottoms, either or both!)
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped in half
Couple few tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Couple few tablespoons olive oil
Salt, Pepper, Red pepper flakes

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Toss all ingredients in a plastic bag, shake until well-coated
3. Arrange on a foil-covered baking sheet
4. Bake for 45 minutes or so, stirring a couple times and making sure the garlic doesn’t burn
5. Serve on slices of French bread, add to a casserole, drop into a pasta dish, eat straight off the baking sheet (just don’t burn yourself like I did!)

Pasta Casserole with Roasted Artichokes, Sausage, and Sauteed Mushrooms, Bell Peppers and Onions (aka everything-in-my-fridge casserole)
NSFD Ranking: **

Ingredients:

1 pound penne, cooked almost al dente
1 pound Italian sausage (I use hot but sweet is also tasty. Omit for a vegetarian dish.)
1 large onion, chopped
3-12 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped
2 cans tomato sauce
2 cans diced tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano or a couple teaspoons dried
2 large bell peppers, chopped
10-16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cups shredded cheddar
Grated parmesan or Asiago
1-2 cups shredded mozzerella
Fresh basil, torn in big pieces
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning

Directions:

Cheesey pasta goodness aka my happy place.

1. In a medium pot over medium heat, saute half of the chopped onion in a bit of olive oil for 2 minutes or so. Add a couple cloves chopped/pressed garlic. Cook for a minute, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn.
2. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano. Bring to a bubble, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until you are ready to assemble casserole. (Feel free to add a generous splash of red wine, if you like.)
3. In a large frying pan, cook the sausage until it’s done. (I squeeze the sausage out of its casing because Mr. T doesn’t care for big chunks.) Add cooked sausage crumbles to tomato sauce.
4. In the same frying pan, saute the mushrooms until brown and happy, with a splash of wine if you feel like it once the mushrooms released their liquid. Cook until the liquids have been absorbed. Add mushrooms to tomato sauce. (The pan should have plenty of oil from the sausage. If it’s dry, heat up a bit of olive oil prior to cooking the mushrooms.)

Sometimes I make this casserole with just sauce, meat, cheese, olives and
garlic. It’s hard to go wrong. Adding veggies feels a bit more virtuous though!

5. In the same frying pan, saute the second half of the chopped onion for a minute, then add the bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes then remove from heat.
6. In a large casserole dish, start with a half cup or so of tomato sauce. Cover with a layer of noodles, then follow with a handful of roasted artichokes and some bell peppers. Sprinkle them evenly throughout the dish. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, garlic powder (or fresh!). Top with a sprinkling of the basil leaves and your cheeses.
7. Repeat- Sauce, noodles, artichokes, bell peppers, seasonings, basil, cheese. End with mostly sauce and cheese but leaves some noodles poking out. They get crispy and you must prepare to fight for them.
8. Bake uncovered at 375 for 30-ish minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.
9. Serve with vegetables or a salad.

Notes:
– The leftovers taste better the next day, of course, and also freeze really well.
– I typically add black olives, too.
– Make sure your pasta is just barely al dente and still has a little crunch to it. It gets more cooking in the oven and will turn mushy if you start with over-cooked noodles.
– If you’re feeling creative, arrange noodles artistically on top. We like hearts and smiley faces.
– Swap out vegetables and cheeses with your favorites or whatever is on hand. Most anything works including green beans, broccoli, fresh tomatoes, mascarpone instead of mozzerella, etc. You can be like T and make “Super Awesome Pasta Casseroid” and throw in anything and everything in the fridge, but only if you’re brave.
– Feel free to reduce the workload and use pre-made sauce. I usually do!

xoxo,
shawna

* Kidding aside, I do think it’s important to have some non-perishables on hand in case of emergency! And water, too. And batteries. And chocolate. 🙂

** Okay, I totally err on the side of caution when it comes to expiration dates. While I am practicing pushing the boundaries on things that are not obviously rotten e.g. cutting iffy parts off of a cheese wedge, using my sense of smell to guide the use of milk products, etc. I am hesitant to consume items that are way way beyond their use-by dates. It might have to do with some news report I read a couple years ago about how expired cake mixes and bisquik can kill you, or maybe it’s that I’m just not a fan of botulism. Either way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *