Cooking for People Who Don’t : Half-Homemade

My friend Commodorified is holding another of her occasional festivals of Cooking For People Who Don’t, and this month’s theme is Half Homemade.

I have to say, this particular theme has caused me quite a bit of difficulty.  There just aren’t that many things I buy that come in packets and tins other than pasta and tinned vegetables – and when I do buy something from a packet or a bottle, I feel terribly, terribly guilty about it.  (To be fair, this is mostly because I am neurotic.  I wouldn’t dream of applying this standard to anyone else.  Because that would be unfair and unreasonable and generally mean.  Why yes, it is like this in my head all the time, thank you for asking…)

Thinking about it, though, there are a few things I buy ready-made with the intention of using them creatively.  So, while I’m not going to tell you how to use béchamel from a bottle in a pasta bake (largely because I think you probably know how to do that already), please find below…

  • Three recipes from tins
  • Three things to do with a rotisserie chicken (minds out of the gutter please. I’m not even sure that’s possible), plus stock
  • Three ways to jazz up a basic tomato pasta sauce from the shops

Three Recipes Out Of Tins

These are basics that I use all the time with no guilt whatsoever.  You should not feel guilty either.  They are positively virtuous!

Basic Tomato Sauce for Pasta

In a smallish saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add 3-6 cloves of garlic, crushed, and oregano to taste (maybe a teaspoon).  Let cook for  a minute or so over medium heat, until you can smell the garlic.  Add 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes in their juice and half a cup of water, and season to your taste.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  And… you’re done!  Well, you can add a little basil at the end if you like (from a tube, to be in keeping with the theme – basil in a tube is a wonderful thing), or some pesto, but you don’t have to. How easy was that?  This works with most kinds of pasta and canneloni, and of course you can add all sorts of things to it to make it more exciting.

Basic Re-Fried Beans, suitable for Nachos, Enchiladas, etc

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add 1 chopped onion, a couple of teaspoons each of oregano and cumin and chilli to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon if you are timid), and cook, stirring a bit, until the onion is soft.  Drain 2 tins of black beans or red kidney beans and add to the onions.  Stir around to heat them, and mash fairly well (depends how smooth you like your beans).  Add a tin of chopped tomatoes with their juices and mash some more, then cook for 5 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a consistency you like.  Serve in enchiladas with cheese and salady things, or with nachos, or any other way you like.  This is worlds better than refried beans from a tin and really only takes about five minutes of your time.

Cannelini Bean Mash

This is where you become an absolute paragon of culinary virtue, because not only are you cooking, you are making a fast alternative to mashed potatoes that is *much* better for you!  How great are you?  Start with 1 tbsp of olive oil in a smallish saucepan, and add 1/2 a teaspoon of dried rosemary, the zest of half a lemon and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic.  Cook until you start smelling the garlic, then add 2 tins of cannelini beans.  Stir them around until they are heated through, then mash them as well as you can.  Add a little salt, and enough lemon juice or olive oil (or both) to get a consistency you like.  This makes enough for four, served with your protein of choice (steak, veggie burger, whatever) and a vegetable or two.

Six Things To Do With A Rotisserie Chicken

Aside from eat it as is, of course.

Italian Picnic Bread

Get a big loaf of pasta dura bread, and cut off a big slice from the top (like a lid).  Pull out the center, so that you have a crusty shell.  (Stick all the central part of the bread straight into the food processor to make breadcrumbs, and freeze them for later.  Believe me, you will be very pleased with yourself next time you need breadcrumbs for something)  Layer the inside with pesto, shredded roast chicken, marinated or grilled veggies of your choice, ricotta or bocconcini, fresh tomatoes and basil, baby spinach or rocket, or anything else you like, until the shell is full.  Put the lid on top, wrap the whole thing in foil, and put in the fridge with a weight on the top for a few hours or until the next day.  Cut into wedges and serve.  If you play your cards right, you can make this without even using a knife, apart from the one you used to slice the top off the bread.

Easy Chicken Pasta for Summer

Put a pot of water on to boil for pasta.  While you are waiting for that to happen, shred some chicken (about half a rotisserie chicken) and put it into a large bowl.  Chop up one punnet of cherry tomatoes, and two capsicums.  Add any random antipasto vegetables you feel like, or some baby spinach or rocket, as well as some salt, pepper, two tablespoons of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Cook 350 g pasta until al dente, drain, and toss with the chicken while everything is hot.  Serve hot or warm.

Vaguely Spanish Chicken Salad With Chickpeas and Oranges

Slice up half a red onion, and put in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar.  Shred about half a rotisserie chicken and put in a large salad bowl.  Add a tin of chickpeas (drained), 150 g rocket (those supermarket packets which come pre-washed are just right here), two roasted capsicums (from a bottle or the deli), sliced, and two oranges, divided into segments.  Add a handful of sliced green olives with pimento, a small handful of raisins, and maybe a handful of toasted pinenuts.    You can jazz this up further with marinated artichokes.  Pour in the sherry vinegar and onion, and add a few tablespoons of olive oil – toss, and serve with bread.

Chicken Stock

Get all the bones, skin and other dodgy bits from your rotisserie chicken into a large pot and put over medium-high heat.  Add a couple of roughly chopped carrots and onions and a couple of celery sticks, a bit of parsley and saffron if you have it, as well as seasonings and herbs of your choice.  But honestly, this will work with just the chicken if that’s all you’ve got.  Sauté as is for a minute or two (the fat from the chicken skin will prevent things burning too much), and then slosh in half a cup of white wine if you have it, or just go straight to adding water.  Pour over enough water to cover (a litre or two), bring to the boil and simmer for an hour.  Strain, and either use, or pour into 500ml containers to freeze or refrigerate (and use within three days).  If you are ultra good, refrigerate the stock overnight and use a spoon to skim off the solidified fat before freezing what you won’t be using immediately.

Three Ways To Jazz Up A Basic Tomato Sauce From The Shops

Catherine’s Extremely Basic Vegetarian Version

Chop up a red onion and a couple of capsicums, sauté in olive oil, add your tomato sauce, simmer for ten minutes and off you go.

Puttanesca, which Catherine doesn’t like one bit, because anchovies are evil, but apparently others do not share her prejudice

Sautée some crushed garlic, chilli flakes, 50 g pancetta and 3-4 anchovies in olive oil, add your tomato sauce and simmer for a bit.  Chop up some kalamata olives, parsley and basil and add to the sauce just before serving.

Vaguely Sicilian Eggplant and Ricotta Salata Sauce

Chop up an eggplant or two into cubes, salt and set aside to drain for ten minutes.  Rinse off.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and add 4 cloves of crushed garlic, a sprinkling of dried mint, and the eggplant.  Cook over high heat (the eggplant will absorb a bit less oil this way, but I am not in any way claiming that this recipe is low-fat) until the eggplant is squidgy and a bit golden.  Add the sauce and simmer for a while.  Chop up 100 g ricotta salata or baked ricotta or feta and sprinkle it over pasta and sauce when serving.

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2 comments for “Cooking for People Who Don’t : Half-Homemade

  1. May 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    These are great ideas! I’ve done pasta sauce with tinned tomatoes because a lot of people think that Italian tomatoes are better 🙂

    • May 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

      Thank you! I don’t know if you went and checked out the whole ‘Cooking for people who don’t’ carnival, but I think it’s a fabulous idea in general.

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