It’s official, the Emberlit Stove is my favorite camp stove (so far)! It’s not as hi-tech as the Bushbuddy I used to have but it’s a lot more practical in terms of packing and feeding the flames. You can find many reviews for it on the internet so I won’t get into all it’s virtues here. I just want to share some of my techniques for cooking with it or any other camp stove you care to use. I do not recommend alcohol burning stoves although some swear by them because they do not get hot enough to cook pasta properly and nobody like chewy rubbery pasta, right? When my Bushbuddy got lost in the Adriatic Sea I tried gas cartridge stoves for a while and although I think they’re nice to cook with I don’t like worrying about how much fuel I have and accumulating a collection of half used cartridges at home that have no use except in case of some natural disaster.
The way I cook is not at all practical for backpackers unfortunately but it works very well for kayak or bicycle touring where you can afford the extra weight of fresh ingredients plus some cans and jars. It also helps to be touring a relatively civilized region where you can stop for fresh supplies every few days at towns/ports with real food stores, especially for fresh Italian bread! I have tried adapting my techniques to freeze dried ingredients with mixed results. Fresh is the way to go if you can swing it.
One thing I want to point out is that the Emberlit will get as hot as you want it to as long as you feed it liberally and continually. The more wood the better. Depending on the type of wood I can usually get enough into the front port to maintain the internal inferno but when that doesn’t cut it I like to drop a few extra sticks down inside from the top. It’s important for the sticks you’re feeding it to angle up through the port into the stove. You may need to dig a little hole in the sand in front of the stove to facilitate this or just put the stove on a flat rock.
Simple Beach Pasta
- Pasta (of course)
- Fresh onion or garlic (one or the other, don’t use both!)
- Olive oil
- White wine
- Fresh ground black pepper or red pepper flakes (one or the other, don’t use both!)
- Dried Pasley, Oregano, or Basil (again, only one, not all)
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese
- Fresh vegetable
- Canned tuna
- Small jar of clams
- Dried sausage or salami or ham
To make this I use a 2 liter Snow Peak titanium pot and a non-stick MSR frying pan. Any measurements I mention are very approximate.
In the pan add a tablespoon of olive oil or more and crushed garlic or chopped onion. Saute the garlic until it starts to change color, but don’t let it get brown! If the stove is burning very hot this will take less than a minute. You can just hold the pan above the flame and swish it around without actually resting the pan on top of the stove. You’re not really trying to cook the garlic, you just want to permeate the oil with the garlic flavor. If you use onion then saute until translucent which will take a bit longer. If you’re not sure which one to use then go for the garlic, it’s more versatile, portable and everyone loves it, but don’t use too much, you don’t want to over power the other flavors in your dish.
When the garlic or onion is done cool things off in the pan with a few tablespoons of white wine. If you’re on a longer tour then just carry a whole bottle though I use a little plastic squeeze bottle for shorter trips. The pepper of your choice goes in now too. You could add a tiny bit of salt now also though you could do without it since the pasta should be well salted and the cheese is pretty salty also.
You can add either a jar of clams or some fresh vegetable (not both) at this point and cook until tender. If you’re using green beans this will take a long time though if you use leafy greens or brocoli it will only take a couple minutes. If you’re not adding anything else at this point then just simmer the wine/oil mixture until the smell of alcohol is gone, usually after a couple minutes. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pan keep simmering to boil some of it off, you don’t want your pasta to be swimming later. Set the pan aside with a cover on it to keep junk from falling in there. Nobody likes sand in their food!
Now place the pot with water on the stove. You should have more than enough wood ready to get it up to a boil and keep it there long enough to cook the pasta. When the water starts to boil add a very generous amount of salt. Don’t worry about this since most of it will stay in the water. We’re talking a few tablespoons here, depending on how much water/pasta you have. The idea is that that pasta should taste salty itself before adding sauce. You can use a spoon to taste the water. It should taste as salty as a light soup. After the salt throw in the pasta and the put the lid on the pot. Keep it covered until it starts boiling again. It’s very important that the water keeps boiling as much as possible until the pasta is done so that it turns out properly ‘al dente’. Stir often to ensure even cooking and to avoid pieces sticking together.
When the pasta is still very ‘al dente’ drain it, anyway you can! Using a lid is normally the most convenient thing but it can be tricky. Use some kind of rag or something to avoid burning yourself. Drop the pasta into the frying pan and add the parsely or basil and the cherry tomatoes sliced in half. You can add canned tuna here if you want also. Put the frying pan back on the stove and cook for another minute or 2 until the pasta is ready. The tomatoes should remain intact, you just want them to get hot, not turn them into a sauce.
At this point you’re done unless you have some cured meat to stir in. I don’t like those things to get cooked, just warm, so they go in at the end. Also I would add oregano now if you didn’t use parsely or basil. I think that dried oregano is better when not cooked while dried parsely and basil really need to be cooked just a little to reconstitute them. If you can get fresh herbs feel free to use those instead. In many parts of the Mediterranean you can find wild herbs growing in abundance.
Last but not least top with cheese, but leave it off if you used tuna, they don’t mix. If you have a grater then that’s great! Otherwise just shave off thin flakes with your knife. Pre-grated cheese is never a good idea, especially when you’re away from your refrigerator because it will go bad very quickly. I solid chunk of hard, aged cheese will keep very well without refrigeration for a very long time, even if it does get a little moldy just cut off the mold and it’s still good, trust me 😉
I want to stress that it’s always best to keep the dish simple and not throw in too many ingredients. If you use both garlic and onion in every dish then every dish tastes like garlic and onions. You get more variety if you use garlic in some and onions in others. Likewise with herbs and spices. Use only one herb (parsley, basil, oregano, etc…) and only one spice (pepper: black, red, white, etc…) in one dish. It’s nice to carry at least 2 different shapes of pasta also for more variety. In Italy they eat pasta every day but manage to have a lot of variety by using different shapes and keeping the recipes simple so that every dish is a different and distinctive combination.
I recommend a meal like this with a lot of pasta in the afternoon. This meal I like to call “dinner” as people used to do before the Industrial Revolution, though you can call it lunch if you want. To me lunch is a much lighter meal you have when you don’t have the time or resources available to have a real dinner. A big meal with lots of carbs in the middle of the day will give you energy for paddling, cycyling or trekking for the rest of the afternoon and then you won’t be quite as hungry at night when you can have a lighter meal that I like to call “supper”, again as in the olden days. I don’t think it’s a good idea to eat a big dinner in the evening just before bed time.
Unfortunately this plan doesn’t always work out, especially in the fall when the days are getting shorter and you don’t have as much time to stop for a big meal in the middle of the day and still make your destination before nightfall, so do what you have to do, but in general I try to avoid feelings of exhaustion on the trail by fueling up well before getting out and on the move.