Right now I have a story running at Zester Daily and MSN about what it takes to throw a fantastic holiday party. After writing that piece, I started thinking about the ingredients that I keep on hand to ensure that, no matter who or when someone drops by, there will be something warm and tasty on the table to eat. Bread, eggs, milk and butter are givens. With these I can fry up French toast, egg-in-a-hole and egg sandwiches or make scrambled eggs and toast. I also like to keep the following items around, things that I dub the ingredients for a happy holiday feast. With them I can pull together a nice meal, one that looks as though I’ve spent hours hovering over a hot stove when, in fact, I’ve thrown the dish together in 30 minutes or less.
PUFF PASTRY: Defrost a sheet or two of puff pastry and in 30 minutes I have everything from breakfast to dessert. I’ve used puff pastry to make a simple pizza— partially bake the pastry, remove and top with tomatoes and cheese, return to the oven and bake until the pastry has browned and cheese has melted. If I have onions and sardines or figs, I make an onion-sardine pissaladière, which I feature in Fish Market, or a figgy pizza.
If I have apples, I slice and sauté them with butter and sugar. I lay a sheet of puff pastry over the apples, pop the duo in the oven and bake until golden on top. Invert this onto a platter and I’ve got a simple apple tart. With cinnamon, sugar and a sharp knife I can also make the French cookies palmiers. These offerings look fancy. They make my guests feel special. Yet, they took very little time to make.
VEGETABLE STOCK: With an onion or few cloves of garlic, sticks of celery leftover from the previous night’s crudite plate, a cup of frozen corn and/or peas, canned chickpeas, beans or tomatoes (see below) or some rice or small pasta and vegetable stock I have all that I need for a nourishing, vegan-friendly soup. Pre-made stock is perfect for soups and for dressing up leftover poultry, meat, seafood and vegetables. To make a sauce or gravy, boil the stock over medium heat until it’s halved in volume. Add some salt, pepper and herbs or spices. If you desire a thick gravy, leave the heat on and further cook and reduce the sauce. Drizzle it over turkey, chicken or roast beef sandwiches and delight your hungry, unexpected guests.
CANNED TOMATOES: Give me a can of tomatoes and I will give you homemade sauce for pasta, a puff pastry pizza, omelettes, a frittata, curry or soup. When friends and family walk into the kitchen, they see those tomatoes bubbling on the stove and think that I’ve been slaving away for hours over my tomato-based creation. You and I, though, know the truth.
SUPER SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 (28-ounce) can diced organic tomatoes and their juices
1/3 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes; you want the garlic to have softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, water, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the ingredients to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring periodically during this time.
Using an immersion or countertop blender, pulse the tomato sauce until you have a moderately chunky sauce. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Toss with cooked pasta and serve.