We leave for Sicily tomorrow and I have to admit that despite new-route potential on 300-meter-tall Mediterranean seaside cliffs, I’m almost as excited to eat and drink wine. I read in the Lonely Planet guide that, “Most Sicilian dishes fall into the category of cucina povera (cooking of the poor), featuring cheap and plentiful ingredients.” Sounds like a perfect dirtbag diet to me!
I’ll no doubt come home with some great new ideas for dirtbag cooking, but until then, here’s another favorite of mine that is simple, tasty, and most importantly, uses only a couple of dishes.
Exploding-Freezer Beer Pasta Recipe
It’s a common occurrence at our house in Salt Lake City; a guest goes to the liquor store to get “real beer” (non 3.2 grocery-store beer), discovers that it’s impossible to purchase chilled “real beer” (yet another convoluted Utah liquor law), buys it anyway, brings it back home, becomes too impatient to wait until it chills in the refrigerator, puts it in the freezer, pilfers our liquor cabinet in the meantime, knocks back a few fingers of our best tequila, forgets about the beer in the freezer, and I find said beer in freezer the next morning when I go looking for the coffee.
By now it’s an exploded mess of frozen foam, resembling a 7-11 cola-flavored Icee. The beer our guest du jour has chosen is usually some overrated, over-priced, over-hopped, over-tinted beer from overseas. Being a born and bred Pabst girl, even in the most extremely desperate situation when I come home from a hard day’s climbing and the fridge is void of the familiar red-white-and-blue cylinder of remedy, I will NOT drink these types of beer. They give me a hangover. Because I am my mother’s child, however, I am also incapable of wasting food. Yes, beer is food.
Here’s the general recipe and technique I’ve created when such a situation occurs.
- Boil two liters of water with a spoonful of salt. Add 3/4 box of pasta, (make sure it’s a chunky kind like penne, farfelle or rotini) and prepare it three minutes undercooked.
- In big cast-iron skillet, add about two seconds of some olive oil and a pat of butter.
- As the pan heats up to medium, mince an onion. Put onion in skillet.
- As the onion cooks, peel and mince some garlic (tonight I used five cloves because it’s what I had).
- As the garlic cooks (don’t burn it!), open a pound of organic ground beef or, my favorite, bison (I always have one of those frozen squares of it in my freezer). If needed, defrost, then add it to the pan, put in some thyme, too. I have fresh thyme in my garden, but I’m too lazy to pick the impossibly small leaves off the stems, so I just lop off a few inches of the plant and throw it in the pan, stems and all. Or dried thyme is fine, too. Grind about 10 turns of fresh black pepper.
- Turn up the heat to medium high and cook the meat for about five minutes. When meat is still a little pink in the middle—the pan will be getting kind of dry now—pour in that posh beer and say a little toast to the guest who is now finally out of your house or at least out buying a bottle of nice wine. Ah, that brown beer will sizzle and emit the most delectable aroma. Let the liquid reduce.
Here’s my next trick, in an effort to reduce the amount of dishes created in cooking, I’ve developed a technique to make gravy in the same pan the meat is in.
- Turn heat back down to medium. Use something (fireproof!) to prop up the skillet and push contents up to the elevated side of the pan, leaving half the pan to make a roux (fancy word for gravy).
- Let the juices and fat drain to the downside of the pan. Add half cup of milk and a then a quarter cup of flour.
- Whisk immediately. (This is NOT the time to multitask.)
- Pre heat your oven to 400 degrees… which is almost multitasking. In about two minutes the milk/flour mix will begin to thicken.
- Dredge the mixture up the pitch of the pan, letting it brown slightly, for about two more minutes.
- Level skillet, pick out thyme stems, and stir.
- The pasta should be about ready now so take a slotted spoon and fish it out of the pot of water and add to skillet. I don’t drain the pasta in a colander since I want a little extra water to help thicken the dish and then I don’t have to wash it! Toss the pasta, sauce and meat.
- Spread two cups of shredded jack cheese on top. Since the food processor was already used for grating the cheese, I threw a stale sour dough dinner roll I found in the freezer in there and made breadcrumbs. Spread those on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and some paprika if you have it. Mine looked a little dry so I also poured a half-cup of milk over the top.
Not too many dishes… B.A.G.
- Throw it in upper third of oven for about 15 minutes.
This recipe makes enough to serve four really hungry climbers. If there are leftovers, they keep in the fridge for a couple of days, or you can, as I do, freeze them in single serving aluminum foil pouches so that my husband has something besides Dots and Annie’s macaroni and cheese to eat when I take off on month-long road trips in the Gypsy Van without him.
Nice ATARI sweatpants.