How To Pull An Incredible Meal Out Of Your Back Pocket

The secrets to life-changing pasta are probably hiding in the back of your pantry, just waiting to become an inspired dinner. Just ask Colu Henry, who started her #backpocketpasta series on Instagram when she found herself in a predicament that we can all relate to: coming home after a long, draining day and wanting to cook something healthy, delicious, and satisfying, without laboring for hours over the stove. She played with easy-to-find pantry-ingredient combinations and gave the project a clever hashtag — and the rest is food porn history.   
Photo: Courtesy of Molly DeCoudreaux.
We celebrated Colu’s Back Pocket Pasta cookbook-to-be at an intimate dinner at the gorgeous Scribe Winery in Sonoma. For a dinner party of 25 of wine country’s best, brightest, coolest wine and food personalities, Colu cooked up one of her simple, yet totally to-die-for-delicious, recipes: fusilli with toasted walnuts, caramelized onion, oregano, feta. Who knew just five ingredients could taste like magic?! This crowd was tough to impress, but everyone dug in for seconds (and thirds) — proof that this woman knows her way around a noodle and a pantry. Of course, we just had to learn her secrets, so we asked Colu to give us her 10 pantry must-haves and tips for making the perfect #backpocketpasta. 
Photo: Courtesy of Molly DeCoudreaux.
Worth The Splurge

Really Good Olive Oil
"Good olive oil is really essential. Look for the word unfiltered, and try to find a Sicilian olive oil. When I can, I go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to buy it from this store called Teitel Brothers. More widely available is Filippo Berrio and California Olive Ranch, which work great, too."

"I like to toast them and throw them in to give the pasta another layer of texture, kind of a crunch. In the book I include a recipe that combines walnuts with San Marzano canned tomatoes (more on these in a moment) and basil. Toasted walnuts also work great with some ricotta."

Anchovy Paste
"I’m a big fan of anchovy paste. It adds a lot of saltiness and depth that I love. Two great dish ideas are winter greens, anchovies, garlic, and breadcrumbs, or a traditional pasta puttanesca. I know some people might be turned off by anchovies, but I promise you they are not too fishy — they melt beautifully in olive oil and add a salty umami flavor that is addictive!"

San Marzano Tomatoes 
"I always have two or three cans on hand all the time. The whole-tomato cans are the best, and then I crush them with my hands. I usually add three quarters of a can full of water, too, and reduce it on the stove. You can make a marinara sauce with just olive oil, onion, garlic, and lots of flat-leaf Italian parsley, or a puttanesca. You can add chili to it and make it spicy, or you can add seafood to it."

Chili Peppers 
"My mom dries her own, or I buy whatever I can find freshest. I include My Cousin Jon’s Spicy Red Sauce in the book, which is killer and uses tons of chili. It contains olive oil; two to three chili peppers (fresh or dried); onion; carrot; freshly chopped herbs such as marjoram, thyme and/or rosemary; Hungarian paprika; red wine; and a can of San Marzano tomatoes." 

Colu is a big Pecorino fan and recommends a simple "caccio e pepe with butter, pepper, pasta water, and Pecorino. Or, an even simpler plate of pasta with just Pecorino and flat-leaf parsley."    

Panko Bread Crumbs
"I’m a firm believer in store-bought bread crumbs because you can season them yourself. They last a long time — just keep them in the fridge. In general, I use them as toppings. I’ll plate the pasta and then add it as a garnish. I love using Panko bread crumbs as a topping for some pastas for added texture. I flavor my own with citrus that I have on hand, such as lemon or oranges. One of my favorites is linguini with sardines and raisins topped with lemon-zested bread crumbs." 

Canned White Beans
"I always have a few cans around to pull together a quick pasta, either Progresso, Goya, or Eden Organics. All are perfect for pasta fagioli, or pasta with little meatballs, white beans, and greens — a take on Italian wedding soup!" 

"Throw it in at the end so it wilts. I’ll buy the prewashed arugula, or any kind of green, and it wilts nicely and gives a little crunch."    

Flat-Leaf Italian Parsley  
"Parsley is a great garnish and adds a lot of flavor to any pasta dish. Here's a fun tip for how to store your fresh parsley: Rinse the parsley under water, wrap it in damp paper towel, and put it in the fridge — it will stay fresh for about a week!"


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