Weeknight dinner: Pantry Pasta

It is nice to have a few recipes in your repertoire that you can whip up in a minute’s notice, without going to the store. They are great for busy days, evenings when you just can’t face another restaurant meal, or nights when it is pouring and 40 degrees and you don’t want to step foot outside to go to the store. We have been making variations on this pasta dish for years. In the summer this can showcase fresh veggies from the farmers market or your own garden. Be sure and check out the variations at the end of the recipe to adapt the pasta to your own family’s tastes. Add a salad, some steamed veggies and some garlic bread and you will have a dinner to rival a restaurant meal, right from your own kitchen. Be sure and post your variations in the comments section.

Pantry Pasta
Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers. Easy to double.
½ pound dried angel hair, spaghetti or other pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot or onion, diced finely (optional)
1 clove garlic, diced fresh or from a jar
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes (unsalted or low-sodium preferred)
1-2 teaspoons dried basil, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 tablespoons white wine, optional
Ricotta cheese, optional
Mozzarella cheese, diced into small cubes, optional
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat until it comes to a full, rolling boil. While water is heating, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion or shallot, if using, and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes, until you can smell the garlic. Start pasta cooking when water boils, being sure to set a timer so you don’t forget about it. Drain the tomatoes if you want a drier dish, or use all the liquid if you want more of a sauce. Add the tomatoes. Add the basil, crushing it in your hand as you drop it in, to release more of the flavor. Add a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir well and simmer for a few minutes. Add a few splashes of white wine, if desired. Drain the pasta when it is done and add it to the sauce. Toss with tongs. Add dollops of ricotta cheese or cubes of mozzarella, if desired. DON’T STIR after you add the cheese. Remove skillet from heat and let stand for several minutes to melt the cheese. Serve right from the skillet, adding grated Parmesan at the table.

Variations: Add other vegetables, after you sauté the garlic. You could add zucchini, green or red sweet peppers, eggplant, yellow squash or even carrots. Be sure to sauté them until they are done, so you aren’t eating crunchy vegetables, unless you like them that way.

Feel free to use fresh tomatoes, in season. We love to make this in the summer with garden tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. But I was going for a pantry recipe here, hence the canned tomatoes.

If you want more protein, you could add a can of drained cannellini beans or garbanzo beans when you add the tomatoes. Or you can add a cup or two of cooked chicken or even cooked ground beef, if you want a heartier dish. Use your imagination and be sure to share your variations in the comments section.

Download the recipe here.

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