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Saved by the pantry (Recipe: pasta salad) {vegetarian}


Guest post by Arlo from Ottawa, Canada

We're moving again, and at a time when life couldn’t be busier. It’s the last week of school so all kinds of year-end activities to attend, a graduation ceremony for my potential daughter-in-law, St. Jean Baptiste Day, and somewhere in-between I have to pack.

I don’t know about you, but I hate packing.

No, let me correct that. I love packing when it’s just me with a suitcase full of paperback novels and a sunny destination to look forward to. But with a carpenter husband (basement full of tools and wood), two musician sons (instruments, drums, sound equipment), one computer-fanatic son and a teenage daughter who can’t bear to part with anything she’s accumulated since grade five, it's much harder. Not that I have to actually pack for them, but they keep stealing my best packing boxes!

For the past week I've been reducing my grocery purchases and using up all my pantry and frozen food. I had just finished cleaning my refrigerator, a preferable chore to scrubbing the oven, when a friend called to remind me of our “Healing Aboriginal Women” group potluck for the next night.

How could I have forgotten?

I was so stressed I had to watch the Food Network for the next two hours to chill out.

There is nothing as calming as watching robust women cook. It’s like they actually eat the meals they prepare, as opposed to surviving on the tiny spoonfuls they taste. But even Nigella and Ina could not inspire me. That day, their recipes all required a trip to the butcher shop or the ocean, and I had barely enough time to look for my favourite lucky potluck bowl (packed, somewhere). Plus my dish had to have NO meat, seafood, eggs, cheese or peanuts (just to be safe). We healing Aboriginal women are a fussy bunch.

In my newly cleaned vegetable bin, I had one lonely small red onion, a garlic bulb, very ripe cherry tomatoes, a greenish green pepper, a sad bunch of parsley and half a lemon. Compost bin stuff, really, but I was determined to use everything. The next day was full of appointments and no time to shop, so I thought -- Arlo, just improvise!

I went to my trusty (and yet un-packed) pantry, and dug out:

  • Seashell pasta
  • Can of chopped artichokes
  • Can of black Spanish olives
  • Small jar of capers
  • Jar of roasted red peppers
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Lemon juice in a cute squirt bottle
  • Teensy sample jar of Dijon mustard
  • Balsamic and red wine vinegars
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Italian and Greek seasonings
  • Chile flakes, black pepper, sea salt

I was cooking for seven, many with dietary issues. I did secretly pack some feta cheese, on the side and covered, so the vegans wouldn’t be offended. Tofu would have worked, too.

Although I couldn’t think of a traditional Native dish that met everyone’s requirements (Deep fried rosehips? Fiddleheads? Boiled mountain water?!), I did come up with a dish we all thought was delicious.

Saved by my pantry, once again.

Healing and moving on pasta salad

A great dish for healing, packing, moving, and potlucks. Improvise from your own pantry. Serves 8.


2 lbs dried pasta
1 small onion
1 small green pepper
Cherry tomatoes, as many as you wish
Small handful of parsley
3-4 cloves garlic, to taste
1 lemon
1 can each, drained: artichokes (hearts or chopped), black pitted olives, roasted red peppers, capers
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp Greek seasoning
1/4 tsp crushed chile flakes
1 Tbsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 large squirt lemon juice
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
A few sunflower seeds, for garnish


Cook pasta according to package directions. When al dente (just about cooked), drain and rinse. Place in large bowl.

While pasta is cooking, dice onion, green pepper, tomatoes, and parsley (save a few pieces to garnish). Finely grate the garlic. Zest the lemon (I use the same tool, so the lemon cleans the garlic out of the grater). Drain and roughly chop the artichokes, black olives, roasted red peppers, and capers.

In a jar, shake a tablespoon each of Italian and Greek seasoning, a quarter teaspoon crushed chile flakes, tablespoon sea salt, half teaspoon black pepper, big teaspoon Dijon mustard, juice of the lemon, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar,  one quarter cup red wine vinegar, and two thirds cup olive oil. Shake to combine.

Mix everything together, and present in a pretty dish. (This is easier if remember where you packed your pretty dish. I used an ice bucket with handle to transport and second-choice lucky potluck bowl to serve). Garnish with sunflower seeds and parsley.

I wish I’d remembered to add that can of chickpeas on the counter. You won't forget, will you?

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Clean-the-fridge chicken soup
Twisted three sisters soup
Curried pasta salad
Curried orzo chicken salad
Fregula sarda with leeks and sausage

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How can you go wrong??? This sounds like heaven on a platter.

We do need to use what we have on hand at any given moment. Great save in this dish Arlo. To Lydia I have passed on an award to you so pick it ip if you care to. Nice to visit with you again in between my summer job.

Ugh, packing in the worst! I think that is why my husband I and I stay put in places...no packing. :)

It feels really good to clean out the pantry and use it all up. We have been doing this for the past few weeks and our guests never knew they were getting the "summer cleaning" dishes! I love how you secretly packed away the feta...love it!

beautiful photo!

I am always impressed by those who can, at the last moment, dig out a great meal from their pantry. Great job, Arlo.

I too am in the process of moving. I say process because even though I've moved all the boxes to the new place I'm still working on the energy to unpack said boxes, lol.

Lovely photo and recipe!

I hate packing. Actually, I think I hate unpacking more. I'm not really sure... I love decluttering, and that typically only happens when we move ;)

I love what you created with your pantry items!

Imagine you have to do an international move...that'll be worse. I had to forego some stuff in my pantry in my last move :(

Mmmm. That sounds delish. I just made something almost similiar to this about a month ago. I added some black olives and tiny tiny bits of fresh pepperoni. I like pepperoni if it's not overwhelming, so I cut it up into tiny bits. And, I'm like you, I love to mix diff. types of salad dressings.

Now that's a cooking challenge. Great dish!

I'm with you with the moving. We usually move every 2-3 yrs. Next year we're moving again. Just thinking about it makes me sick.

Anyway you did good on the pasta. Hard to make something with some many restrictions.

I like to move so I can throw out or donate all the stuff we think we need and really don't. The pasta sounds great - love artichokes!!!

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