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Keep a few staples on hand

Sometimes all you need is an idea. I know many people who don’t mind putting a meal on the table for family or friends, but the inevitable question always pops up: ‘What am I going to make for dinner tonight?’ Or, you can do what we do: let the refrigerator speak for itself by always having a supply of just a few key items that have a long shelf life, that most  people like, and go with just about anything.

That list for us begins with some kind of bacon, such as double smoked, pancetta, prosciutto or even some salami.  This is your base for a ton of different sauces and soups. Next, the lemon. A squeeze of fresh lemon is an instant sauce to chicken, pork, fish or vegetables. Third, something seasonal, which you eat in abundance for two weeks and then wait again until the next season when it is at its flavourful peak, is always on the shelf or in the fridge.

Right now we’ve got tomatoes, zucchini and green beans; coming around the corner in September we can look forward to crisp kale (oohhh, just thinking about frying some of this with bacon is exciting!), squash and even apples.

Finally, we rely on the pantry staples: pasta in its various forms, rice, orzo pasta (my new favourite: small pasta that almost looks like rice), chickpeas, black beans or even couscous can form the base, the substance.

Now all you need to do is start cooking: fry your bacon, add the seasonal vegetables, squeeze with the lemon, toss with the pantry staple and get creative with the garnish. Maybe it’s some leftover grilled chicken chopped up, or a big handful of fresh herbs from your garden, or some grated old cheddar cheese.

Here is a ‘recipe’ to get you started, but be sure to play around with what you’ve got in the refrigerator!

Orzo pasta with tomatoes, bacon and cheese

  • 1 450g package of Orzo pasta
  • 1/2 lb  bacon or pancetta, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped tomato
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • 1 cup grated old cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste (be generous with the pepper)

Cook pasta in boiling salty water until al dente; drain and cool on a large baking sheet;

While pasta is cooking, fry bacon in a pan;

Remove with slotted spoon and place in a large salad bowl;

Toss bacon with olive oil, lemon juice, tomato, green onion, and parsley;

Toss gently with cooled pasta and grated cheddar; season with salt and pepper;

Serve at room temperature, warm or cold; great with grilled meat or fish, on its own or even on a bed of chopped romaine lettuce.

More and more backyard herb gardens are in bloom: use lots.

Chefs Kirstie Herbstreit and Jody O’Malley are both Red Seal certified chefs. Together they run the company YouCanCook2, specializing in interactive dinner parties. You can also find them cooking at Entertaining Elements in St. Jacobs, where they hold private dinners for eight people. To contact the chefs, visit their website www.youcancook2.com.


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