Even the best prepared cooks can occasionally run short of fresh ingredients and inspiration, and this is when a well-stocked pantry comes into play. A couple of cans of sardines, some dried pasta, a lemon and a bit of butter become a fabulous main dish, while cocoa powder, cornstarch and milk transmute into a simple and sensational chocolate pudding.

Sardine Pasta with Fresh Parsley

Canned sardines are an underused, underrated delicacy that should not be limited to New England pantry shelves. How comforting to know that those beloved flat tins are at the ready – not just for sandwiches and snacking but as emergency dinner rations. The chopped parsley adds a fresh grace note, but this dish is delicious even without it.

Serves 4

Salt

12 ounces linguine or spaghetti

2 (33/4-ounce) cans small sardines, do not drain

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 cup bottled clam juice

½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 lemon, cut in 8 wedges

Freshly ground black pepper

Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 10 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain pasta in a colander.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of sardine oil (discard the rest) and olive oil. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the pepper flakes. Add the clam juice and pasta cooking water, bring to a boil and cook uncovered until slightly reduced, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and butter, swirling until the butter melts.

In a serving bowl or platter, toss about two-thirds of the sauce with the hot pasta. Arrange the sardines over the pasta, spoon remaining sauce over the top, toss gently, garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

At the table, pass salt and pepper for a final seasoning and cheese, if desired.

Real Chocolate Pudding

Packaged chocolate pudding has very little chocolate flavor, and the individually packaged shelf-stable puddings taste terrible, but if you have a few baking staples in your pantry and milk in the refrigerator you can whip up a delectable homemade version in just a few minutes.

Serves 4

2/3 cup sugar

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2½ tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups whole or low-fat milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon butter

Whipped cream and shaved semi-sweet chocolate for garnish, optional

In a heavy medium-sized saucepan, whisk the sugar with the cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in about half the milk until smooth, then stir in remaining milk. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and butter. Pour into four individual dessert bowls or one larger bowl. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming and chill for at least 45 minutes. Serve with whipped cream and shaved chocolate, if desired.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula and can be contacted via Facebook at:

facebook.com/brookedojny


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