- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Nancy Silverton is the California chef and trendsetter who brought better bread to many tables. She raised the meager sandwich to an art form. And now, she’s cooking from jars, cans and packages.

What gives?

“I never used boxed ingredients because it wasn’t what I stood for,” says the Los Angeles chef and cookbook author.

Recently, though, Miss Silverton took a second taste, and some convenience foods impressed her.

“I was surprised at the wide variety of canned beans. I didn’t realize how good they are,” says Miss Silverton, author of “A Twist of the Wrist” (Alfred A. Knopf).

Another newcomer to her repertoire is mayonnaise in a jar.

“I had mayonnaise in the fridge, but that was for the kids’ sandwiches. I turned it into aioli for chicken salad. I would never have done that before,” she says.

She’s open to convenience foods because it’s easier than ever to find high-quality packaged products.

“In every supermarket, there are shelves of great imported condiments. You can have a meal with complex flavors and restaurant accents,” Miss Silverton says.

The chef’s combination of prepared and from-scratch cooking makes perfect sense for smaller households. Home cooks can blend a tablespoon of various seasoning mixes or sauces and have a meal without a lot of cooking or leftover ingredients.

The following recipe, which is adapted from Miss Silverton’s book, shows how easy it is to turn canned tuna and vegetable juice into a zesty entree.

Spaghettini with tuna and V8 sauce

Water

Kosher salt

8 ounces spaghettini

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ small onion, finely chopped

½ celery stalk, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, minced

Pinch of crushed red chili flakes

1 cup V8 Juice

1 6-ounce can oil-pack tuna, undrained

1 tablespoon capers

3 tablespoons small pitted green or black olives, coarsely chopped

High-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and season generously with kosher salt. Stir in the spaghettini. Return the water to a boil. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until it’s al dente.

While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil and onion together in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion for 4 minutes or until translucent. Add the celery, garlic and chili flakes.

Cook until the garlic is softened and fragrant, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the V8 and bring to a simmer. Stir in the tuna with the packing oil, capers and olives. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce until the pasta is cooked.

Remove and reserve 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Use tongs to lift pasta out of cooking water and add to sauce. Stir in reserved pasta cooking liquid. Cook sauce over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened and pasta is coated with sauce.

To serve, spoon pasta and sauce onto 2 plates. Drizzle lightly with oil. Makes 2 servings.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

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