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Prepare pantry-friendly meals from the refuge of the kitchen

Pantry Cooking
Courtesy of Christine Moore
A comforting Italian-inspired stew draws on interchangeable pantry staples.

Thank you for reading this article – we are connected through the conversation that takes place on the pages, both web and paper, of the Los Altos Town Crier.

Should you choose to make any of the recipes I share here, we’ll be connected through our cooking, too. These dishes are on repeat in my home. Odds are good that your family and mine might sit down to the same meal one evening. That’s a relationship I’m very grateful for as we all test how we can connect in a time of isolation.

The kitchen has always been one of my happy places. My mom, an accomplished cook, remains my role model. Her kitchen was a buzz of endless creativity, comfort, love and fun. As we stay home to protect the good of all, I also see the kitchen as an opportunity for mindfulness. Our world can be one of distraction. Now, we’re being asked to slow down. If you’re struggling with how to fill new chunks of time, or looking for a way to ward off anxiety, look to the kitchen. Recall the Zen saying: “After Enlightenment, there is still the laundry.” By focusing on the simple acts of everyday chores, we can give our day comforting structure and ease stress.

Walks in our neighborhood are another way we’re managing anxiousness. It’s reassuring to me to see how spring is arriving throughout our neighborhood. I found myself thinking of the process the flowering trees have gone through. Through the darkness of winter, with each sunrise, the trees were collecting sunlight. It is the collection of the light in the darkness that readies the buds. We too must work to collect a little light each day. For me, a place of light collection is the kitchen. Here are a few recipes that take advantage of a well-stocked pantry and hopefully bring some light into your life.
Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.

Spinach, Thyme and Feta Chicken Pot Pie

I like that I’m less wasteful because of sheltering-in-place. This recipe – which feeds four – came about from an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new approach to reorganizing my freezer for maximum storage. Despite its humble beginnings, the meal was a hit, feeling more like a weeknight luxury than a make-do dinner. Doesn’t puff pastry always have that effect?

• 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, diced
• 2 celery stalks, diced
• 1 cup water or broth
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 9-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
• 1 package frozen puffed pastry, thawed
• 1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt
• 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
• Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Place chicken breast on baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When oven comes to temperature, roast chicken 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remainder of olive oil in cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When oil begins to simmer, add onion and celery and cook 5-7 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add salt, pepper, thyme and water and simmer until reduced by half.
Add thawed spinach, yogurt (can substitute crème fraiche or sour cream) to blender and blend until smooth. Remove chicken from oven and set aside 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 375 F.
Add spinach-yogurt blend to skillet and bring to a simmer. Dice and add chicken.
Scatter feta cheese over top of chicken mixture and cover with puff pastry, cutting off excess dough and adding a few cuts to top. Brush with milk and scatter salt and pepper over top. Bake 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Let sit 5 minutes before serving alongside tomatoes dressed with olive oil and vinegar or something similarly briny.

Cauliflower, Walnut and Yogurt Spaghetti

Odds are you have all the ingredients for this dish lurking in your fridge and pantry already. It’s as tasty as it gets – seconds were had by everyone around our table. It’s going on repeat around here. It feeds four-six.

• 1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
• 1 shallot, diced
• 1/2 teaspoon thyme
• 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
• Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
• 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
• 1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
• 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
• 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• Zest and juice of one lemon
• 1/2 teaspoon flake salt
• 1/2-3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
• 1 pound spaghetti

Preheat oven to 425 F. Put cut cauliflower onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, thyme, red pepper and shallots. Toss to combine and roast in oven 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil. In medium-sized bowl, mix together yogurt, Parmesan cheese, chopped herbs, lemon zest and flake salt.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Remove cauliflower from oven, squeeze lemon juice over and toss gently. With oven still on, place walnuts into pan and toast 3 minutes – watching to be sure walnuts don’t burn.
Drain pasta and toss with yogurt mixture. Toss cauliflower through and top with walnuts.
Serve immediately.

Pasta e Ceci (Italian Chickpea Stew)

This meal is comforting on multiple levels. It offers vibrant flavors, nourishing ingredients and variety in textures – all while appealing to my love of feeling resourceful and making use of ingredients likely hiding in the pantry and produce drawer.
Don’t have carrots, celery and greens languishing in your fridge? Swap out the fresh vegetables for frozen ones such as peas, spinach, lima beans, etc. Serve with sausage if you wish to include meat in the meal. The recipe feeds four-six.

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
• 2-3 celery stalks, diced
• 2-3 medium carrots (I even include carrot greens)
• 3 cups mixed greens, chopped (I used a mix of parsley, spinach, kale and escarole)
• 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (more if you like a kick)
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 cup short macaroni
• 1 15-ounce can chickpeas
• 1 cup marinara (store-bought or homemade)
• 3 cups water
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or similar pot set over medium heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add chopped onion, carrots, celery, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Allow to simmer 5-7 minutes.
Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add marinara, chickpeas and water. Bring to simmer and add macaroni.
The pasta will absorb a good deal of the liquid. Add more water if you prefer a brothier end result.
Check for seasoning and adjust to suit tastes of your diners. Ladle stew into bowls and serve with Parmesan cheese.

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