If you have pasta in your pantry and one or two vegetables lurking in your crisper, there’s no reason not to make a filling and healthy dinner. This is one of my ‘go-to’ recipes when I’m short on time, energy or creativity. Using this basic blueprint, you can pretty much make any pasta dish you want, including such classics as Pasta with Mushrooms, Pasta with Broccoli, and Pasta with Beans and Greens.
First, prepare the vegetables. Figure on 1-2 cups total vegetables per serving. For simplicity’s sake, I usually make this dish with only one or two vegetables.
Some vegetables will need to be blanched before sauteing. (To save time, blanch vegetables in the same cooking water that you will use for the pasta; boil 1-2 minutes, until they brighten, and then remove with a slotted spoon.) Others just need to be sliced or diced before hitting the saute pan. Use this rule of thumb when prepping the vegetables:
- Blanch firm vegetables with low water content, such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, green beans, new potatoes and sugar snap peas
- Saute tender vegetables with high water content, such as cherry tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach and other tender greens, summer squash and zucchini
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil per serving over medium-low. Add 1 tsp. garlic per serving and saute until golden. Then, add the vegetables — either raw or blanched — and cook until they are crisp-tender.
Meanwhile, start the pasta cooking. Figure on ¼ pound of dried pasta per serving. Boil pasta in several quarts of well-salted water until al dente, which simply means, “to your taste” (loosely translated). Drain and return to the pot.
Chef’s tip: You may want to retain some of the pasta cooking water to build the sauce. Make a practice of draining the pasta over a large measuring cup, so you have extra liquid on hand if you need it.
At this point, you may want to add some substance to your dish. I have found that keeping my pantry well-stocked with pasta-friendly items makes it easy to build a complete one-pot meal. My favorites include dried mushrooms and chiles, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, good-quality tuna, canned clams and beans, especially cannellini and chickpeas. Add to the pan and heat through.
Add ½-1 cup liquid to the pan to build the sauce. I usually use pasta cooking water, stock or the water from reconstituting dried mushrooms. For a richer sauce, mix with half heavy cream or white wine. Let bubble over medium-low heat to reduce a little.
Toss the vegetable mixture with the cooked pasta and add ¼-½ cup cheese. Parmesan is traditional, but soft cheeses like goat cheese, feta and gorgonzola also work well. Toss over low heat until the cheese melts and the pasta absorbs some of the liquid. Remove from the heat and garnish with fresh herbs, toasted pine nuts or walnuts, red pepper flakes, capers or whatever you like.