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Our easiest pantry recipes for making no-sweat dinners

Canned white beans are warmed in herb oil then smashed on toast for an easy pantry meal.
(Maria Zizka / For The Times)

I don’t know about you, but the current news that one in three residents of L.A. County have been infected with the coronavirus has me more paranoid about going out than I was last March when the shutdown first began. I used to make multiple trips to the grocery store to get what I needed, but now I’m trying to go once a week at most. So, while meals that don’t require a trip to the grocery store are always welcome — pandemic or not — I think it’s especially helpful to refocus my mind on some great meals that require no fresh produce at all. These are easy to throw together on a weeknight and require only that you reach into your pantry, or at most, for that bowl on your kitchen counter piled high with onions, heads of garlic and lemons.

When it comes to pantry meals, pasta and beans are the go-to’s. On the pasta front, there’s this “midnight” pasta made with nothing but garlic, chile flakes, capers and pine nuts (use walnuts or, heck, even almonds, if that’s all you have). For a step up from that, there’s this pasta simmered in jarred marinara sauce thinned with chicken broth — it’s the ideal canvas for any meat or veggies you need to use up. And then there’s this caramelized lemon pasta that utilizes any frozen green vegetables (broccoli, peas, spinach) that you’ve been saving in the freezer since last March (oh, is it just me?).

For beans, enjoy these smashed canned beans on a thick slab of toast, but they’re just as good smooshed on a tortilla, pita or any bread-like carb you have lying around (No sage? Leave it out and use a dried bay leaf instead). And finally, consider a great pot of stewed black beans. Though any beans will obviously work, I particularly love black beans and these are flavored with dried chiles for a smoky back note of flavor. Ladle them into a bowl, top with whatever toppings you want and tuck in on the couch. All five recipes offer a solid base that allows for endless customization, a boon in times when it’s smarter to work with what you’ve already got.

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Midnight Pasta

Time 20 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Garlic, nuts and chile flakes are all you need to make this simple, quick pasta.

One-Pan Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 4 to 6

Jarred marinara sauce (or canned tomato sauce) makes a great sauce for simmering pasta.

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Caramelized Lemon Pasta With Mushrooms and Broccoli

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 4 to 6

Caramelized lemons coat penne pasta in this easy dinner, a great canvas for adding frozen vegetables.

Smashed White Beans and Frizzled Sage Toast

Time 15 minutes
Yields Serves 4 to 6

Canned beans are warmed in herb oil then smashed on crispy toast for the quickest comfort food.

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Smoky black bean stew

Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 6 to 8

A simple pot of beans, here flavored with smoky dried chiles, makes a great foundation for several meals throughout the week.

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Lunch with Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat on Jan. 31

This is a benefit for meal delivery nonprofit Project Angel Food. Tickets are $95 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per household.

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The next installment in the Times’ Dinner Series moves the action to daytime: Chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi of Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat will host a four-course lunch to be picked up and reheated at home. “Ivory soup” (a purée of sunchokes, celery and leeks with winter truffle), sea bream with fennel and olives and a citrus pavlova for dessert are on the menu. The event, on Jan. 31 at 1:30 p.m., includes a virtual live conversation with actors Eric McCormack and Dan Bucatinsky.


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