Good morning, pandemic companions, you who are still serving up hope and joy and food to each other in these long hard days.
The first recipe you will read below contains a timely conversation thread. Most of us, limited in accessibility to groceries and without party plans, are looking for uncomplicated recipes. So now, this:
What are your favorite five-ingredient-or-fewer recipes?
What is your best uncomplicated menu?
What did you cook, out of necessity, that turned out to be a great combination?
MEATLESS MEALS 1
Margaret McNeil, a food expert, begins the conversation with a four-ingredient favorite. "I saw the request for meatless meals and thought I'd share a recipe for Baked Ziti. This dish only uses four ingredients, is easy to prepare and, at 67 cents a serving, it's budget-friendly too." (When I investigated this recipe on her blog, margaretsmorsels.blogspot.com, I also found this tip. "An easy way to stretch your grocery budget is to prepare one or two meals a week without meat. Vegetables are a good choice, but so is pasta, especially when the pasta doesn't require a lot of additional ingredients.")
1 (8-ounce) package ziti
1 (26-1/2-ounce) can spaghetti sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook ziti according to package directions; drain. Combine ziti with spaghetti sauce and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Pour into a greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover ziti; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and the remaining mozzarella. Return to oven until cheese melts.
MEATLESS MEALS 2
Gabi S. sent a favorite family recipe, fit for the well-stocked pandemic kitchen. She found a roasted red pepper ravioli recipe on yourhomebasedmom.com. From that recipe, Ms. S. added more onion, garlic and cheese and came up with this colorful version.
Roasted Red Pepper Ravioli
1 to 2 red bell peppers
1 to 2 yellow bell peppers
1/2 yellow or white onion, chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped or sliced
A few tablespoons olive oil — enough to coat the pan well
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh or frozen ravioli
Heat broiler. Cut the peppers in half, and remove stems and seeds. Lightly coat both sides in olive oil, and place face down on a baking pan. Broil until the skin is blackened. Place in a paper bag or glass dish with a lid to steam for 10 minutes.
Remove the skins from the peppers, and chop. If the skins don't all come off, it's OK.
Sauté the peppers, onion, garlic and basil in olive oil for 10 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, prepare your ravioli according to the directions on the package.
Thoroughly whisk together half-and-half and cornstarch, and add it to the vegetable pan.
Blend the ingredients with an immersion blender until they reach the desired consistency. If you prefer, you can blend the vegetables in a standard blender or food processor before adding the half-and-half mixture. Simmer to thicken slightly. Stir in cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over ravioli. Makes 4 servings.
Mr. and Mrs. Sunday echo the comforts of tuna fish casseroles. And yes, the noodles were once a crucial part of this comfort. They wrote, "One of our mums was a working woman and had little time to feed the family, so this was a staple dish in the rotation. It became a comfort food but fell into disuse as everyone grew older."
Aside to the Sundays: That reminds me of a professor at Cleveland State Community College whose wife ladled a portion of tuna noodle casserole — thenceforth known as "Tuna Surprise" — into his lunchbox.
Remembering the days of his youth, when children opened their lunchboxes at school and traded, say, a MoonPie for a Little Debbie, he admonished his wife. "That Tuna Surprise was hard to trade."
Here's the introduction to their simple and variable tuna dish. "During a fit of illness (cold or some such) we decided to have this for dinner. If you've looked at the recipe, you've noticed that it's heartlessly plain, so we couldn't resist adding wine, onions, celery seed powder and any number of other tricks to kick up the flavor."
Despite the Sundays' authoritative use of embellishments, they added, "Never forget (as we did that day) that a food is comforting because it's well-known. Period."
And this is the recipe as printed on the Campbell's Soup can.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup or condensed 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento (optional)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cans (about 5 ounces each) tuna in water, drained
4 ounces (about 2 cups) medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Stir the soup, milk, pimientos if desired, peas, tuna and noodles in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Stir the bread crumbs and butter in a small bowl. Bake the tuna mixture for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Stir the tuna mixture. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 5 minutes or until the bread-crumb mixture is golden brown.
Tip: For a crunchy, flavorful onion topping, substitute 1 can (2.8 ounces) canned french-fried onions (about 1 1/3 cups), crushed, for the breadcrumb and butter mixture.
The Sundays adapt. "We now make a minor variation of the original sauce recipe and serve it as pasta sauce, forgoing the casserole, peas, bread crumbs and extra hour of cooking. Makes 2-plus cups of sauce, enough for up to 12 ounces of pasta (your choice of shape)."
Sunday Tuna Sauce
2 (5-ounce) cans water-packed chunk light tuna, drained (the cat is fond of tuna water; don't waste)
1 (10.5-ounce) can golden mushroom soup concentrate
1/2 can (about 5 ounces) milk (whatever you have on hand is fine; we've even used water)
Bring to a simmer, stirring well to break up the tuna and simmer until the pasta is ready.
The sauce reheats well, and we often cook it in the microwave (watch out for boiling).
Thank you for your consistent down-sitting at this online dinner table (We ARE getting used to online repasts in all contexts, aren't we?)
* Minimal ingredient recipes
* Uncomplicated menus
* Delicious surprises
TO READ US
Fare Exchange is a longtime meeting place for people who love to cook and love to eat. We welcome both your recipes and your requests. Be sure to include precise instructions for every recipe you send.
Mailing address: Jane Henegar, 913 Mount Olive Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750