Saturday, June 27, 2015

Spicy Arrabiata Pasta

Budget Pantry Meals Series

I have already posted a couple of possible Budget Pantry Meal dishes, but my next two blog posts will feature several budget pantry mealsThis dish is just one of those dishes.  I LOVE Spicy Arrabiata sauce.  Remember, I did not grow up eating Italian food at home outside of my mom's spaghetti from a packet and her simply A-Mazing "little pizzas" which is a total pantry meal, so when I was introduced to "Spicy Arrabiata" at a local Italian restaurant, I immediately fell in love with it. The sauce was on a pizza and it was as if it were made Just for me!  My mom made delicious tasting meals on a nail-biting budget, and this series is an honorable nod to my Mom.  Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to stretch a buck.  I sure have not been good at it in life, but I am "getting it" now!!!

Now, the BIG IDEA for this series is that there are times when you might have to eat for several days, if not weeks, from items you have in your freezer and pantry. Usually, these are items that go with a meal, but they are not The meal.  They might just have to, however, but just because you may need to use mundane, bland pantry items does not mean they have to remain that way.  You can always dress up normally bland pantry items to pair with meat from your freezer or veg and herbs from the frig and garden to create a flavorful and filling meal for a family of four. I have a few tips about keeping your pantry and freezer and refrigerator stocked so, if you run into times when you just cannot go to the grocer, you can make fantastic meals that are not frozen tv dinners. 

First, let's talk pantry. When you are shopping at the grocer, look for sales on your favorite canned vegetables (mine is corn and green chiles) and stock up! I stock up on tomato puree, crushed tomatoes and varied canned tomatoes, such as fire roasted, Italian and with onion, garlic and chiles.  In addition, stock up on your favorite seasonings and spices when they are on sale.  Note:  many spices go on great sales from October through late December. I stock up on more expensive spices, such as fennel, turmeric, Herbs De Provence and saffron. Stock up on meat sales, as well.  I mentioned in my BBQ post a few days ago that my grocer has a fantastic summer sale on meats:  Pick 5 for $5 ea. And as I said, these are not small packages, these are generous servings of meats.  Your grocer may have something similar, so stock up!  I think that $25 dollars for five generous packages of meat is a great deal. And note:  none of these packaged meats would be found for less than five dollars at any given time, which is why this is such a great deal for me!  Mind you, as well, this type of deal will easily feed a family of four! I will tell you, this deal sure has helped me during some very, very tight financial months!  Shopping at stores such as Sam's Club and Costco are also great for stocking up your freezer on meats and frozen veg or fruits!

Do not be afraid to purchase frozen vegetables and fruits!  They are harvested at the peak of their season. The veg are either raw or flash-steamed to retain freshness and the fruits are treated gently for the freezing process so they will be just as fresh as when they were picked or harvested.  Same goes with peaches, blackberries and some other fruits (in light syrup or water). 

Any mundane side, such as corn, rice or beans can be turned into flavorful bases for meats and vegetables. Stock up on some basic sauces.  Soy sauces, both aged Tamari and low sodium soy sauces are great for marinating meats and bringing Asian inspired dishes with vegetables to life. Sriracha or your favorite garlic chili sauce is a refrigerator necessity. Hoisin and Plum Sauce are great for creating on-the-spot bbq sauces or Asian inspired stir fry or for baking meats, such as chicken or poultry. Every refrigerator Must have Worcestershire sauce, the world's most invaluable and versatile sauce. Equally importantly, being one who makes a lot of pasta sauces, I always have on hand both red wine vinegar and white vinegar.  I also always look for sales on good Balsamic vinegars and have one waiting in the pantry and one in use.  Sales on Extra virgin olive oil and your favorite frying oil, such as canola, peanut or vegetable oils are always great times to stock up!  You never know when you are going to need an oil with a high smoke point in a pinch.  

Finally, let's talk dry goods.  My grocer has periodic amazing sales on dry goods, such as rice, couscous, various pastas and quinoa.  Look for these sales and buy two; you can often purchase two for nearly the price of one! Do not forget beans! I had purchased two flats of pinto beans at an incredible deal for a catering job that did not happen.  I have become quite proficient at using beans for dips, spreads and bases for dishes.  More on how I have dressed up bean puree soon! 

I have not addressed things like chips and cheeses.  You can certainly buy in bulk and freeze these items for future consumption!

Now for the refrigerator.  I have already talked about purchasing frozen vegetables and fruits for the freezer, but, there is absolutely nothing better than using fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. I grow several of my own herbs in my potted patio garden, but there certainly are fresh herbs you can purchase in plastic bags or containers that stay fresh for quite a while, such as sage and rosemary; basil does not remain fresh long. If you cut the stems and put the basil, flat-leaf Italian parsley and coriander in a cup of fresh water, they will last for quite a while, especially the flat-leaf Italian parsley.   Place a gallon sized plastic zip lock over basil and leave it near a windowsill and it last for quite a while and maybe even take root! I am an advocate of Farm to Table produce sourcing, but what if you are hit with an enormous car repair or home repair that eats up your grocery budget?  It is exactly this type of emergency that my Budget Pantry Meals are designed for, those tough situations that create tough times; any pantry meal can be dressed up to look like and taste like an award-winning dish that will feed your family with healthy and flavorful pantry goods. 

With That......Let's get to my Spicy Arrabiata Pasta.  

Now, if I were going to make this sauce during non-budget-stressful times, I would use fresh chiles and fresh tomatoes (not canned), but, tough times call for pantry items.  I made this amazing spicy, flavor intense sauce with pantry items and a pound of ground beef. It tasted as if I had spent an hour prepping the veg and spices and did everything from scratch. That was my goal, to make an awesome dish using only pantry items and one freezer item, and fresh aromatics I always have in my bowl.  Here's my starting line-up:

1 pound ground beef
1 28-ounce can crushed tomato or tomato puree
1 14.5 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dry Italian seasoning
1 medium onion, finely chopped or 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 rounded teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I am not a half teaspoon guy)
fresh or dried or ground oregano and thyme
1 pound pasta, your favorite  (I used angel hair pasta)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (not necessary, I just like it)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
salt and pepper

Of course, if you are not into really spicy, or hot, as I am, you can reduce the red pepper flakes.  You could also add two or three red Thai chiles to your sauce to crank up the heat!

Add the olive oil to a high-sided skillet or sauce pan over medium-high heat.  When the oil begins to ripple, add the ground beef. Add a little salt and pepper and break up the beef as it begins to brown, or caramelize. As the red disappears from the meat, add the onion and half of the garlic.  Stir to incorporate.  Allow to cook on its own about three or four minutes.  After that, add the red wine vinegar and stir vigorously. The vinegar will sizzle (watch your nose!), and now reduce the heat to medium. Add the canned tomato products and stir to incorporate well. 

Add the spices and half of the fresh herbs.

Allow to simmer about five minutes.  Next, add the rest of the fresh herbs and garlic.  The idea is the layer the flavors. Add a pinch of salt and pepper at this time, too.  Stir to mix well. The aroma will be incredible!!!

After stirring in the fresh herbs and garlic and half a cup of water, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for one hour. If you do not have an hour, it is done!  Just do not add the water if you do not have an our or even thirty minutes to spare! However, the longer you can allow the sauce to simmer, the more the flavors will have a change to marry and make a sauce to end all sauces!


Add four quarts of water to a large pot and bring the water to a boil.  Once the water is at a roiling boil, add a liberal amount of salt and stir.  This is the only chance you get to season the pasta!  Add the pound of pasta and stir.  Allow the pasta to cook until al dente, just before done, about eight minutes.  Using tongs, if possible, if the pasta is done for sure, remove the pasta and add it to the sauce.  Toss the pasta with the sauce and some fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped.  And Plate!!!

I garnished with fresh herbs, finely chopped, from my potted patio garden. 
Note to self:  I have learned that bouganvilla flowers are a bit poisonous, so please do not follow my example!!!  No bouganvilla flowers!

I hope I have helped someone with my budget pantry meal posts here today. There are a bazillion other tips I could relate, but every household is different, everyone has their own system, but please, if you have Any Questions, please feel free to ask me!  I covered only the basics, here, today. 

Now, Go COOK Something for loved ones!