By Karla Jones Seidita, Home Economist
Don’t know what to serve for dinner? Need something fast that everyone will eat?
Pasta is the original, toss-together, comfort and convenience food that gets dinner on the table in no time flat. It’s quick. It’s easy. Everyone loves it and no one ever complains that you serve it too often. What could be better than that?
Pasta comes in a never-ending variety of fun and yummy that is so irresistible it should be its own food group. Spaghetti, lo mein, haluski, pasticcio, mac and cheese, pasta is a staple in every kitchen around the world.
Dress it up. Dress it down. Make it into a salad. Serve it hot. Serve it cold. Serve it by itself or add it to a recipe. Pasta can take center stage at a fancy dinner party or be a budget-friendly family meal that uses up a fridge full of leftovers.
When you need dinner on the table fast or don’t know what to make, just grab a box of pasta and start cooking. Pasta. It’s what’s for dinner.
Here’s a pot full of ideas for quick pasta entrees. They are all very freeform so exact ingredient amounts are not necessary. Use what you have on hand or what you like in amounts that work for you. Improvise. Vary the vegetables. Use different pasta shapes. Toss in leftover meat, fish or poultry, bits of vegetables. You can’t go wrong with pasta!
Vietnamese main dish soup. Chicken, beef or vegetable broth, uncooked spaghetti or rice noodles, julienne carrots, snow peas, and a few mushrooms. Toss in some cooked meat, seafood, or tofu. Gently boil till the pasta is cooked. Serve in big bowls.
Heat a can of mushroom soup with a half can of cream. Toss with hot, cooked, fettuccini, fresh parsley, and some cooked salmon separated into large flakes. Serve with parmesan cheese. (Cooked chicken works well, too!)
Top cooked pasta with salsa and your favorite cheese. Microwave till hot and cheese is melted. Optional add-ins: cooked ground or sliced beef, pork, or sausage, chopped bell peppers, and cooked or canned kidney beans.
Parmesan and Butter
Toss hot, cooked pasta with generous amounts of butter and parmesan cheese. Add some dried garlic or fresh parsley if you’d like.
Red Bell Pepper Sauce
Puree roasted red bell peppers with cream to taste. Season with salt, pepper and optional red pepper flakes. Serve over hot cooked spaghetti.
Thai Peanut Noodle Salad
Toss cooked spaghetti or fettuccine with bottled Thai peanut sauce to coat. Add whatever raw salad veggies you happen to have on hand. Garnish with a handful of salted peanuts. Serve at room temperature.
Toss hot cooked pasta with prepared pesto to taste.
Herb and Olive Oil
Toss hot cooked pasta with a drizzle of robust olive oil, a bit of grated lemon zest, and a handful of fresh parsley. Top with a few pine nuts or walnuts if you have them.
Pappardelle & Farmers Cheese
Toss hot cooked pappardelle (wide noodles) with ricotta, cottage cheese or pot cheese. Sweeten to taste. Brown some bread crumbs in butter and sprinkle them over the top.
Pasta and Greens
Cook garlic and onions in butter or bacon fat till soft. Stir in your favorite greens and cook briefly to wilt. Toss with cooked pasta for serving.
Easy Mac and Cheese
Stir 16 oz. of smooth melting cheese (like Velveeta) and about 1 cup of pasta cooking water into 8 oz. of hot cooked pasta. Heat on low till cheese melts and pasta is well coated. Add additional pasta water if needed for a consistency you like.
Soften some veggies in water or oil and stir into hot cooked spaghetti. Toss with bottled stir fry or Hoisin sauce to taste. Add a handful of peanuts if desired.
And the best for last….
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Heat cooked meatballs in your favorite tomato sauce and serve over hot, cooked spaghetti.
Ten-minute, Better-for-you Fettuccini Alfredo
A hurry-up, one-pan, creamy-sauce pasta that rivals any classic recipe but lightened up for healthier eating.
1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk
3 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
6 cloves garlic (or to taste – chopped)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
8 oz. thin whole wheat spaghetti, uncooked
8 oz. fresh portabella mushrooms, quartered or sliced
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- In a large skillet, whisk together coconut milk, broth, garlic, and soy sauce.
- Stir in the uncooked spaghetti and mushrooms.
- Cook at a gentle boil until the pasta is done and sauce is reduced to the thickness you like – about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in parsley. Serve.
Cook’s Tip: Use regular white spaghetti instead of whole wheat, if you prefer. Thicker spaghetti may require longer cooking. Add additional broth, if needed. Some specialty spaghetti, especially gluten-free, may disintegrate so cook them separately according to the package directions then fold them into the cooked sauce for serving.
What is Al Dente?
Don’t overcook your pasta! Most Italian cooks agree that pasta should always be cooked “al dente” – to the tooth. This means it’s cooked but still firm to the bite. Pasta that’s cooked al dente is said to be better tasting and more hunger-satisfying. The recommended cooking time on most pasta packages generally yields al dente.
Should You Rinse Your Pasta After Cooking?
“Always!” say gourmets. Rinse away the excess starch or it will ruin the sauce. “Never!” say purists. The excess starch helps the sauce cling to the pasta. Which is right? Both! It’s a personal preference. Try your pasta both ways and see which you like best.