Learn to Cook What You Got (even when it’s not a lot)

Sebastian Maniscalco had an entertaining bit about eating out. He mentioned how there are people who will send shit back to the kitchen, and others who would never even dream of it.

Those who wouldn’t dream of sending a dish back are the Italians, who simply grab the seasonings on the table and say “Let me see if I can fix it!”

That spoke to me so deeply. It’s true. Most of the time, things taste wrong because they’re unbalanced. Worst case scenario, it’s cooked wrong. More often than not, a little salt and pepper go a long way.

The same goes with your own kitchen. I look at recipes for inspiration and to learn some technique. After that, I just gather up what I have in the fridge and try to make a sweet (and savoury) symphony.

I improvise, adapt, overcome. And still make triumphant meals.

You just have to use a little common sense, food science, and flavor profiling to makes something work. It’s not that hard, yet there are many people, and restaurants even, whose food I wouldn’t dare touch.

Overdone pasta? Getouttahere.
Too much (processed) cheese? Puh-leeaaase.
Or, worse yet, straight up burnt?? What is wrong with you?

Pay a little attention, give your food some loving, and you’ll get it back in return.

Let fragrance be your friend.

Step into heat of the kitchen fearlessly.

You got this.

“Italians, we don’t send food back…” (4:30)

IN FACT, I’ll get you started.

Let’s play a little game called “Make what you have in the fridge.”

This is one of my favorite games, because it requires zero trips to the market, $0 on takeout, and often yields very exciting results.

ART, people. Food is ART.

In my fridge, right now, I have spinach, cherry tomatoes, italian sausage, cheese, milk, and mushrooms.


Learn your ingredients. Love your ingredients. And balance them.

So what would I do with this selection of ingredients? I’d start by cooking the sausage. Sausage, you want to make sure is cooked through, but you can do it in many ways. You can:

a.) sizzle the whole thing in a pan

b.) cut it into slices, and cook it like that

or my personal favorite

c.) take it out of its casing and make a sausage crumble.

So I do that. Then I take it out of the pan and (here’s the most-used phrase in recipe books and cooking blogs) set aside.

Doesn’t look like there’s much in there… but oh the possibility!

In a separate pot, boil salted water. Cook your pasta until al dente.

I don’t care if you’re Italian, German, Senegalese, Chilean…

Whatever you are, wherever you come from, overcooked pasta is mushy nastiness.

Al dente, people. A slight resistance “to the teeth.”

(*A note: if you don’t have pasta, use rice. Don’t have rice? Keep the sausage whole and make a sandwich. Seriously, just think about every menu you’ve ever looked at and emulate it.)

Here’s a little-known fact for home-cooking novices. The water in which you boiled your pasta is an ingredient, too. Don’t dump it out.

Drain the pasta when it’s (say it with me) al dente, and reserve some of that starchy salted water.

It’s gonna go into your pan, but only after you’ve sauted your spinach and cherry tomatoes. Let the leaves wilt and the tomatoes soften. You got some white wine? Add some wine here.

When it looks good and you’re happy (also, usually wise to let some of that wine cook off a bit) add your pasta. Add a few spoonfuls of that salted water. Then, add your sausage.

Sauce too runny? Put a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch. This thickens it.

Stir it all up, and by God, season. Season lightly, season heavily, but season to your heart’s desire.

Top with cheese–parmesan, pecorino, mozzarella; something nice–and enjoy.

I really did this, and it was really good. You can swap almost anything. For a deeper, darker sauce, use red wine. For a vegan option, use tofu or mushrooms for meat and nutritional yeast (or whatever else vegans use) in place of cheese.

Surely, there’s something in your fridge, or in your pantry, that’s begging to be made. In times of crisis, the worst thing you can do is make waste. Be creative and impress yourself!


  1. […] Not only is the simplicity of it somewhat refined, but it can also transform to take on any form you like. I often make it with arugula and put it on an English muffin. You can add spinach or sprouts to yours. Try it on a brioche bun or pita pocket. In the end, there’s no wrong way to do it, and this is the ultimate meal you can make with whatever you have handy. […]

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