It’s said that Americans love to talk about food but that we actually do little cooking. Which, well. Life is busy. And tiring. Takeout can save a bit of sanity.
But so can the ability to, with a few ingredients, feed ourselves and the ones we love in a pinch, in a snowstorm, or when the dinner hour sneaks up on us.
And that’s where a stocked larder, or pantry, can help. And always has. Pre-refrigeration, the larder was a cool, dark space, often underground or behind a staircase, where rich foods were stored. The word comes from the Middle English (laridum) and Old French (lardier), meaning a place for meats. Today, it’s more like a place where ingredients wait for you to claim them.
We recently called up author, cook and New York Times columnist Melissa Clark, a woman who knows her way around a larder and actually also our Larder. A Brooklyn native, she lives just a few blocks from the shop and wrote the franny’s cookbook along with Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, the husband-and-wife co-owners of franny’s and Bklyn Larder.
“There’s this dish I make that I couldn’t make without the ingredients from the Larder, because it’s all about the ingredients,” said Clark. “If you’re not getting the good stuff, the dish isn’t going to taste good. And really the thing is, when you use high-quality ingredients, you only need a few of them.”
Minus the pasta water, the recipe is a short shopping list from our shelves: Calabrian chili flakes, anchovies, Pasta Gentile, olive oil, flaky sea salt and garlic.
“I make it once a week,” said Clark. “It’s the thing I make when I have nothing else to make. It’s just so delicious and restorative.”
What makes her version special, she noted, is a technique she picked up while writing the franny’s cookbook.
“When I sauté the garlic with the anchovy, I let it become really deeply colored. That caramelization adds an incredible depth to the dish. You can make the same dish and keep the flavors bright, but I like that really deep flavor,” she said.
If anyone can make something from nothing it’s Clark. But she reiterates, that’s not what this is about.
“There are dishes where, the first time it takes you maybe 25 minutes, because you’re kind of figuring it out and measuring things. The second time it takes five minutes less. But the third time you make it, it takes exactly 2 minutes longer than it takes to boil the pasta. Because you’re in a rhythm. And developing that rhythm is the key to being able to set yourself on auto pilot and cook something delicious for dinner,” she explained.
“It’s a really important dish to have in your repertoire — that one dish you can make from your pantry, no matter how tired and cranky you are. No matter what else you’re thinking about. You just do it,” she said.
“I really think it takes three times, and then it’s yours. You can say, ‘Oh, I have kale! I have leftover broccoli I’ll throw it in.’ That dish is your dish and you can do whatever you want to it.”
Key takeaway: “Invest in quality,” said Clark.
And finally, the one ingredient that’s always in her larder?
“I’ll break out into a sweat if I don’t have anchovies,” said Clark. “It just makes me really uncomfortable.” •
A version of the recipe is available on The New York Times site.