Back when I was a freshman, the Evanston dining scene was all the rage. Between Joy Yee’s, Flat Top and Lulu’s, I couldn’t get enough. But my affinity for the restaurants in our lovely suburban college town has faded.
I now find that I’d much rather cook for my friends than go out to eat. And even if I don’t have an abundance of ingredients to whip up a gourmet feast, I know that I can always fall back on these last-minute recipes using ingredients I have in my fridge and pantry. They’re guaranteed to please my friends and save us all a pretty penny.
1. Pasta Carbonara
Pasta Carbonara is a classic Italian dish that is essentially pasta with ham and egg. The dish is traditionally made with guanciale, or cured pork jowl, but I can guarantee you won’t find pig jowls just lying around in any college kitchen. Luckily, bacon is an easy substitute for the guanciale and the dish will be just as delicious. Pasta Carbonara is a real crowd-pleaser because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love bacon? Well, me. But that’s a story for another column.
- What You’ll Need:
- 1 lb. pasta (I prefer to use spaghetti, fettuccine or egg noodles, but any pasta will do)
- 6 slices bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¾ cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- While the water is coming up to a boil, heat a medium skillet over high heat and add the bacon, continuing to stir so that the pieces do not burn.
- Once the water is boiling, add a generous amount of salt and the pasta and cook for the amount of time listed on the box.
- When the bacon starts to render and begins to crisp, add the garlic and reduce the heat very slightly.
- Add the beaten eggs, a generous sprinkling of pepper and ½ cup of the grated cheese to the bowl you will serve the pasta in.
- Right before the pasta is done cooking, add the garlic and bacon mixture to the bowl and then immediately drain the pasta and add it to the bowl.
- Mix all of the ingredients together. The heat of the pasta will cook the eggs and create a creamy sauce.
- Finish the dish by garnishing it with a bit more pepper and the remaining ¼ cup of cheese.
2. “Method” Salad
I believe that learning to cook is much more about learning methods than memorizing specific recipes. This is especially true when it comes to making salads. There are a million different ways to make a salad, but you can’t go wrong when you combine something crunchy, something crispy, something chewy and something cheesy. And no iceberg lettuce!
- Lettuce: Leafy greens are the way to go. Field greens and baby spinach are a safe bet, but if you want something with a spicier kick, try baby arugula or watercress.
- Crunchy: Toasted nuts are always great. Walnuts and pecans will definitely work, but you can experiment with sunflower seeds or pistachio nuts.
- Crispy: I prefer to use something that is slightly sweet, such as sliced crispy apples or pears. If you want something more savory, try sliced bell peppers or sliced red onions.
- Chewy: Dried fruit is a lovely complement in any salad. Raisins or dried cranberries work well, but you can also try dates or dried figs.
- Cheesy: For creamier cheeses, go with goat cheese or bleu cheese. If you want something saltier, try feta, ricotta salata or shaved parmesan.
3. “Method” Dressing
You can really take this dressing in any direction you want, depending on what vinegar and oil you use, what herbs you add to it and whatever else you might throw in. Here’s my recipe for the most basic version, but you can dress it up any which way you like.
- What You’ll Need:
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
- ¼ cup vinegar (red wine, white wine, champagne and cider will all work well, but I would avoid using balsamic)
- 2/3 cup oil (olive oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and walnut oil will all do)
- Mix the mustard, honey and vinegar together.
- Whisk vigorously as you slowly add the oil so that the dressing emulsifies.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.