I don’t have time to make elaborate meals every night. Neither do you. After all, life isn’t the food network. We don’t all have the luxury of professional grocery shoppers running around, looking for the freshest, highest quality ingrediants. I can assure you that Rachel Ray doesn’t include her shopping list as part of her 30 minute meals…or the cleanup after dinner for that matter. Reality is that we all work and have more important things to do besides worrying about what will grace the dinner table on a given night.
This is no excuse not to cook. On those last minute nights, life calls for a pinch of creativity mixed with a cup of frugality. Blend that together with a little basic know-how in the kitchen, and you can come up with what I like to call a “makeshift meal”.
This pasta primavera was my makeshift supper a week ago, after a long day of work. Whatever vegetables are lying around work just fine. No need to run to the store. You have carrots? Add em’! Brocolli? Perfect!! Asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, bell pepper, cauliflower, tomatos? The list goes on and on.
I use a set of guidlelines I’ve come up with over the last few years when making homemade tomato-based pasta sauce. First, saute FRESH garlic in olive oil. This is key. Make garlic a staple in your kitchen. Nothing can beat fresh garlic in adding an intense, underlying level of flavor. The garlic permeates the oil as you saute it, which sets the tone for every other flavor you add. Besides, preparing it is so much fun! Simply peel off one clove. Lay the flat side of your knife over it. Make a fist. Aim and…………..SMASH!!!! The papery outer skin will slip right off, which means that you are now able to mince your garlic. Congradulations!
Wasn’t that fun?!
Ok, next step is to add the tomatos. Fresh or canned both work. In fact, I sorta like the canned stuff better if it is low sodium and doesn’t contain added flavors. I usually use canned whole plum tomatos, which break down as they cook leaving an interesting smooth vs. chunky contrast. If you use fresh like I did for this particular recipe, roma tomatos are the best, but any will do. Leave this to cook at medium high as it is important to let everthing mingle and meld together.
This is the point where I usually add a glug (looove that word) of red wine for good measure! I’m pretty sure I once read that wine reveals a flavor in tomatos that otherwise goes unnoticed. Well, it sounds good to me! I’ll jump on any excuse I can find to cook with the stuff 😉 Do it. A little wine turns any meal from drab to fab!!
Ok, that was totally corny. Moving on!!!…..
At this point, the sauce would be great as is if you add some oregano, parsley, and/or basil. Fresh herbs are best. Truthfully, I use dry most of the time. It’s less expensive and quicker. Don’t forget the salt and pepper added to taste! We aren’t stopping here though. After all, this is pasta primavera! Bring on the veggies!!!
I used carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower in my pasta creation. Your best bet is to blanch these vegetables. This simply means to drop them in boiling water for a couple minutes. The carrots (or any root vegetable) will take longer. I’d say at least eight to ten mins. Yes, you could cook them right in the pasta sauce. However, that would take at least a good hour of cooking low and slow over the stove as you wouldn’t want to boil away your precious sauce. After blanching, add in the veggies!
Now I would like to take a moment to talk about pasta…..
I am a self- diagnosed pasta nazi, and proud of it!! Now that I’ve successfully caused you to think I’m totally off my rocker… let me clarify. Pasta is seemingly easy as boiling water. That is not true. It takes more loving care than that. Pasta should be cooked al dente. Not underdone. Not overcooked. Al dente is an Italian phrase that means “to the tooth”. (English please!?) Sorry, sorry…..that means “with a bite” or just after the point where the noodles are no longer raw in the middle. Soggy, mushy noodles are not welcome on my table! So when making pasta, first add salt to the water. This lowers the boiling point and is the only way to directly flavor the pasta. Oil is unneccesary. The idea that it actually prevents the noodles from sticking is a myth. If it still makes you feel better to do so, by all means, no one’s stopping you. The package your noodles come in should have a time for al dente, but I usually bite into one of the noodles two mins before they are done to see how they’re coming along. My biggest pet peeve is the act of rinsing all that glorious starch off the noodles after they are done. Why? Because that starch causes the sauce to stick to the noodles, which means your sauce won’t be watery! Also, I added the pasta (penne) right to the primavera sauce and let it cook together for a couple minutes. Try this. It tastes way better than just spooning the sauce over the top.
This was delicious. The garlic, the wine, the fresh vegetables…decadent yet healthy. The best part…it was easy!!! Make your dinner all fancy schmancy by sprinkling toasted pine nuts and parmesan (of course!!) on top. Don’t forget to serve with buttery garlic bread to sop up all the good sauce at the bottom of the bowl! Besides, dinner is not dinner without a little butter 😉 One must balance out the healthy….just a little bit.