cheffed up

KING of the Can

Update the one-pan, all-processed classic

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My wife used to travel for business quite frequently. Sadly, this would NOT make me the legendary wild and crazy bachelor. You know, the old stereotypes of the husband left to fend for himself: eating take-out food all week, never washing a dish, dirty laundry scattered about, empty liquor bottles on the counters ... in other words, completely disregarding all things considered to be "woman's work." Then there's the other version: wife leaves poor helpless husband home while she travels. In this version, the wife would work for days to prepare meals and freeze them for the incompetent, clueless husband. These meals were inevitably the classic casseroles.

Ahhh, casserole ... just saying thy name sends chills down my spine, and not in a good way. This one-dish-wonder meal was extensively promoted by the processed food industry the 1960s and '70s to save poor overworked housewives from the drudgery of preparing labor-intensive meals. How thoughtful. Then she could concentrate on more important projects like ... watching soap operas? And what's more important than dinner?

See, most commercials during the soaps (which I watched while home sick-I swear) were sponsored by companies like Campbell's, Jolly Green Giant, Del Monte, etc. These were the decades when food manufacturers figured out that if you included simple recipes with their highly processed products, the consumer would buy even more of their products. Brilliant!

Say hello to tuna casserole! This classic really gave an electric can-opener a workout, with a can of Star-Kist, a can of peas, a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of fried onions and some canned bread crumbs. Have no fear-you can actually use fresh cheese-but why bother when there's canned Kraft parmesan? It's rather hard to believe people actually consumed this stuff, but they did and some nostalgic folks still do.

The casserole craze is still with us and I, for one, am all in. In the modern version, we embrace the convenient one-pan concept but utilize fresh, thoughtfully prepared ingredients to fill it. Now here's the rub: Though the dish is baked in one pan, several pans are used to prepare ingredients. Hey, that's the only way to Chef-Up a casserole.

If your partner is leaving for a few days and you can't guilt them into making a few casseroles beforehand, this modern pasta salad will keep you happy while you scatter empty liquor bottles all over the counters.

Lemon Confit & Orzo Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 10 oz. uncooked orzo pasta
  • 3 tbsp. lemon confit, very small dice
  • 1 small onion, small dice
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, small dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3/4 cup soppresatta, small dice
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp. lemon confit juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra to
  • moisten pasta
  • 4 tbsp. chopped herbs
  • 3/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Cook the orzo to al dente. Drain and lightly toss with olive oil.

2. Combine the Dijon, lemon juice, vinegar and garlic in a bowl. Whisk together. Continuing to whisk, slowly add olive oil in a gentle stream.

3. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

4. Mix cooled pasta with all ingredients.

5. Adjust seasoning.

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Until we cook again,

Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina's Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at cheffedup@folioweekly.com, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up! 

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