Picking and Choosing
One of the keys, I think, in the craft and finesse of eating solo is developing a variety of favorite flavors by creating a rotation of fresh and shelf stable ingredients. The excitement of finding those ingredients has turned me into a food sleuth. As you become a strategic shopper and build the useful items on your kitchen shelves, you will investigate the intricacies of the departments of your favorite food stores, and seek out specialty shops like an Italian grocer, bakeries and delis.
Taking a tradition like Italian antipasto and making it your own can initiate the process. There are those evenings when dinner doesn’t have to involve any cooking at all, in the midst of a busy work or school week. Antipasto is traditionally the first course in a large Italian meal but its palette of ingredients can become a meal in itself.
Just like antipasto ingredients will vary depending on the region of Italy, you can create your own evolving rotation of ingredients, many of which will be useful as parts of other meals. Stop at your favorite bakery for a thin, long French bread, a baguette, or a batard, which is a shorter wider loaf. Some bakeries will make a demi-baguette. Demi means half sized.
The combinations of antipasto are many. The result is different flavor options on each bite of bread: pesto and parmesan, sausage and provolone on olive oil dipped bread, tuna and olives, hummus and fresh red pepper, feta and olives, artichoke hearts and pepperoni, roasted garlic and white beans, and on and on. All on this list are certainly not necessary each time but can become rotating options:
- Cheeses- diced or sliced chunks ofparmesan, provolone, mozzarella or feta;
- Olives- grocery store salad bars often have an olive bar where you can buy as few as you want, preferably pitted, could be served whole or slightly chopped;
- Sausage- diced or sliced salami, pepperoni, or summer sausage;
- Pesto in a jar or other spread such as sundried tomato;
- Fish, canned- tuna, anchovies, sardines or herring;
- Fresh vegetables- crunchy peppers, cauliflower or onion;
- Preserved veggies like artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini hot peppers, roasted garlic cloves or giardinera which is Italian pickled veggies sold in a jar in the pickle aisle;
- Beans, such as Italian white bean or garbanzo bean, marinated in vinaigrette or in the form of hummus spread;
- Bread from your favorite bakery;
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- for dipping bread.
These ingredients can evolve as many will keep well in your refrigerator or on your shelf. The ingredients, including chunks of bread, can be diced and tossed with a vinaigrette dressing for an excellent antipasto salad to put in a container and pack for lunch. Have some spinach on hand and the antipasto salad can be tossed with it the next day.
A frustration of cooking solo, having leftovers that might get wasted, can be solved by utilizing the rest of the loaf of bread for a future meal. You can either make your own crispy, oven baked crackers or croutons.
Turn oven to 350 degrees. For crackers, slice the bread into slices then lightly dip into olive oil and place on a flat baking sheet. When the oven is warmed, place sheet with bread in for 5 minutes. If bread has become light to medium brown, remove and cool.
Otherwise bake for 2-3 more minutes. The process is the same for croutons. But, dice the bread and lightly toss with oil, then spread in a single layer on a baking tray. When they are completely cooled, store in an airtight container and use within a week.
The croutons will be waiting for your next salad or soup. Your revolving array of antipasto ingredients will be available for pasta, a sandwich, or a simple snack. And you will have become more familiar with the shops friendly to your tastes.