Something that was difficult for me while I was thru-hiking and that I hadn’t really prepared for was the feeling of being constantly on the move. I had mixed emotions about my extremely nomadic lifestyle; sometimes, I appreciated it for its simplicity and for the independence it gave me, but other times I just longed to sleep in the same place two nights in a row.
When my feelings tended toward the latter, I would rehydrate some comfort food. Since I was a child, my family has been big pasta eaters, and our default meals at home always involve pasta noodles. As a result, when I wanted to feel like I was safe or home on the trail, I would reach for pasta with marinara sauce.
This freezer-bag dinner is only slightly more difficult to prepare than the trail mix I wrote about last week. (We’ll get to the more complicated and fun stuff in time, I promise!)
1) Choose your favorite variety of noodles. Spaghetti noodles tend to break in a backpack — or, worse, poke holes in the freezer bag. If you’re as hungry and impatient at the end of the day as I am, you might prefer something with a lot of surface area, since those noodles seem to rehydrate faster. Rotini was my noodle of choice on the trail.
2) Choose your favorite variety of prepared pasta sauce. (You could make your own, but it’s far more economical to just purchase one of those huge plastic jars at the grocery store, since you’ll be consuming hiker-sized portions of it.) I’d recommend something with lots of vegetables, like Ragu’s Garden Combination.
3) At home, prepare pasta according to package directions.
4) Dehydrate pasta for 6+ hours or until completely hard and dry, both to the eye and to the touch. I always taste test whatever it is I’m dehydrating to ensure that it’s dry all the way through.
5) Pour pasta sauce on lined dehydrating trays, spread it very thinly, and set the dehydrator to the “fruit leather” setting — somewhere around 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate food on a low setting in the oven, but I’m not really familiar with how to do that — and I love my dehydrator.) The variety of the sauce and the thinness with which it was spread on the trays will influence how long this step takes, but you’ll want to let the sauce dehydrate until the thinnest parts are brittle and flaky and the thicker parts are leathery. Midway through the process, I always peel the sauce off the sheet, turn it over, and break it up a bit to speed the drying.
6) In a pint-size Ziploc freezer bag, add 1/4 lb. of pasta. (Who ever ate just one serving of pasta?!) Since I put the noodles into the sauce bag in the end, this wouldn’t need to be a freezer bag, but freezer bags are just less likely to rip or leak.
7) In another pint-size Ziploc freezer bag, add roughly three or four servings of sauce. You’ll appreciate the flavoring of more sauce than you’d eat at home.
8) When you get to camp, just add the noodles to the sauce bag and boil some water. Add enough water to the bag to cover the pasta and sauce. (At this point, I never measure out my water anymore; I just eyeball it. You’ll get the hang of it! You want the food to be comfortably submerged but not drowning, if that helps at all. Trial and error are good teachers here, since the worse case scenarios are that you have soup or that you need to add more water.) Keep the bag warm until the pasta rehydrates in about five minutes. Enjoy, and think of home!