If you're the kind of cook who looks through the pantry and then puts together an entire meal based on what's on hand, "From Pantry to Table" (Aris Books, $26.95 hardcover; $15.95 paperback) is your kind of cookbook.
Marlena Spieler, a cookbook author and food writer published here and in Great Britain, shows how to couple fresh ingredients with what's readily stocked in the kitchen. It's the combination that makes for some rather distinctive cooking.
Spieler's book has more than 400 recipes representing dishes from around the world. Some can be prepared using only pantry staples.
Spicy Chicken Thighs
8 chicken thighs or legs, or a combination
1/4 cup Red Chili-Citrus Paste (recipe follows)
8 thick-cut bacon slices
Coat chicken with spice paste. Wrap each coated piece of chicken with a slice of bacon. Let sit at room temperature, covered, for up to two hours or longer in refrigerator. Roast in a 375-degree oven until bacon is crisp and chicken is tender, about 45 minutes to one hour, or pan brown in fat rendered from bacon. Makes four servings.
Red Chili-Citrus Paste
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons California chili powder OR 4 tablespoons commercial chili powder mixture
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin (omit if using chili powder mixture)
Mix all ingredients. Paste keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Makes about one-quarter cup.
Texas Barbecued Brisket
1 beef brisket, about 5 pounds
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups beer
3 cups good, spicy barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
Oil for browning
Place beef brisket in a large non-aluminum pan and add all remaining ingredients except the oil. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for two days, turning it in its marinade from time to time. Remove meat from marinade, reserving marinade for cooking. Pat brisket dry, then heat a heavy skillet and cook brisket in a little oil for five to 10 minutes on each side or until browned.
Place browned meat with its marinade in a large baking pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, then bake in a 300-degree oven for 10 to 12 hours. Slice brisket thinly across grain and serve it dipped into its pan juices. Makes eight servings.
Spicy Asian Peanut Dip
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
About 2 tablespoons brown or white sugar
1 piece fresh ginger, about 1/2 -inch, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped, or chili paste to taste
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
In a blender, combine garlic, peanut butter, sugar, ginger and chili. Blend well. Add water and soy sauce, and when well mixed, add lemon juice, cilantro and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with raw vegetables, chicken wings, etc. Makes four to six servings.
When garlic is cooked until soft, it is not sharp at all. The roasted whole cloves of garlic in this dish have a mild fragrance and sweet earthy taste that pull together the flavors of the tomatoes and the mushrooms.
Capellini with Tomatoes
4 whole garlic heads
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (cultivated, shiitakes, chanterelles, oyster, etc.)
5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons tomato sauce (optional)
12 ounces dried capellini
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or oregano
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off just enough of tops of garlic heads to expose cloves inside. Rub all over with some of the olive oil, and place cut side down in a shallow baking pan. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, or until bulbs have softened. Turn occasionally if they begin to brown.
Remove from oven and let cool. When cool, hold uncut end and, with your fingers, squeeze out soft flesh. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet and lightly saute mushrooms until golden but still firm. Remove from pan and reserve, then add tomatoes to pan and lightly saute them in remaining olive oil, stirring occasionally until they thicken. Add tomato sauce.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for just three or four minutes, or until al dente. Drain.
Meanwhile, add reserved mushrooms and roasted garlic flesh to tomatoes and heat until piping hot. Add hot drained pasta and toss together. Season to taste. Serve immediately, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and thyme or oregano. Makes four servings.