The only option: make something from nothing . . .
This is a huge question that plagues a lot of cooks, and one that I hope to elaborate on moving forward. But to start the process I took a look in my own pantry, to see what I can make.
Staring blankly into my pantry, the first thing that strikes me is that, as much as I cook, there are items in my pantry that my eyes just look past. Cans of tuna, bizarre spices, grains, canned beans and some veggies. This bag of Fregola Sarda has been hiding out, in plain site, in my cabinet for almost two years, shuffled between the pasta shelf, it even survived a move to Brooklyn. It is a toasted pasta nugget, similar to Israeli couscous. It's made from durum wheat and originates from Sardinia. It takes a while to boil, but the result is worth the wait.
So this, as with any pasta or grain, is a great place to start. For this reason I always have a selection on hand. Also, in the fridge I found a lemon, a shallot, some garlic, basil and, strangely enough, a small Spanish Mackerel fillet. (leftover from an event)
Obviously, you have to consider the congruency of flavor in whatever you're going to make, but manage to keep your preconceptions about flavor in check when you're improvising. These items go together fairly well, though in my opinion basil isn't exactly ideal. I would have preferred a nice strong parsley, and if I had had them, some capers would have been nice - but the whole point here is that we're making do with what we have. Be prepared to botch this process from time to time, things will not always work out, but it's the practice that's important.
To toss this together, I browned the fish chunks and then I sauteed the shallots along with the garlic, I stirred in the pasta and added the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, basil and almost too many chili flakes.
The final product made for a pretty good impromptu meal. I would absolutely make it again, but I might just take the leap again and hope to pull a great meal out of an empty cabinet.