What's a pantry sweep, you ask? Well, it's a game I play to see how many random ingredients from my pantry I can use up in one meal. You know, those odd bottles of pesto or pasta sauce, those bizarre spices that seemed like wise purchases, and those almost-expired cans of whatever that I bought because either (1) I went to the grocery store too hungry (always a no-no) or (2) they were on some kind of crazy sale. Okay, I'll be honest: it's usually a combination of (1) and (2). Plus, my pantry consists of three small shelves in a very narrow cabinet, so you can understand why the pantry sweep is a necessary game for me.
Anyway, sometimes when I come up with my random ingredients, I'll hop on Google and see if I can find any fitting recipes. But other times, when I'm feeling particularly daring, or when the Barefoot Contessa or Giada haven't quite dumbed it down enough for me and I don't feel like following complicated instructions, I just give it my best shot. (Who am I kidding? I pretty much always take the latter route, just throwing ingredients in a pot all willy-nilly and keeping my fingers crossed that the results will be edible. Willy-nilly cooking may be fun, sure, but it does make for some mixed results. You just can't expect to win 'em all, but as long as you're having fun, well then, you're having fun.)
And I willingly admit that I've had some colossal failures cooking willy-nilly style, but I'm proud to say that I've also had a few successes, including this week's pantry sweep, which I'm going to share with you now.
First, I pulled half a bag of frozen shrimp out of the freezer and boiled them according to the package instructions. (The other half of the bag of frozen shrimp went into the pad thai I tried to make a few months back. Yeah, let's just say that one fell into the "colossal failure" category.)
Then, I pulled a bag of whole wheat orzo out of my three-shelf pantry and boiled the pasta according to the instructions, remembering to salt the water, of course.
Meanwhile, I grabbed a jar of roasted red peppers that I picked up at Costco a while back and sliced and diced a few of them. (I love roasted red peppers. They go great in any pasta dish if you ask me.) I also pulled out a can of garbanzo beans and drained and strained them until the bubbles went away. (Why do beans bubble like that when you rinse them?) I also gathered a package of crumbled feta, a bag of fresh spinach, and a bottle of olive-oil based Newman's Own salad dressing from the fridge. I combined the beans, the feta, and the roasted red peppers in a glass bowl, like this:
When the pasta finished cooking, I first scooped out a coffee mug's worth of pasta water. (I've found that it's always a good idea to scoop out some pasta water before you drain the pasta in case you need to add it to your dish later to make it saucier.) After draining the pasta, I put it back in the pot and began to stir in the bag of fresh spinach. (I love how a huge bag of spinach reduces to almost nothing in the face of hot pasta.) I added in the hot pasta water that I'd reserved, as necessary, to get the spinach to wilt. I also added in some dried shallots and roasted garlic from two jars of those ingredients that I picked up at T.J. Maxx of all places.
After successfully combining the spinach and the pasta (as well as the shallots and the garlic), I added the ingredients from the glass bowl (the beans, the feta, and the roasted red peppers). I also added the shrimp, some dried basil, some fresh cracked pepper, and a bit more salt.
While stirring everything together, I added the salad dressing a little bit at a time until the dish reached the desired consistency.
I served myself a huge bowl and put the rest in a glass refrigerator dish for later enjoyment. I've now eaten the dish both hot and cold, and I'm honestly not sure which way I prefer it. A dish with options is a beautiful thing, I think.
So what do you think? Have you had any successful pantry sweeps recently? Do share.