Easy Pasta

I was cooking pasta last night and thought how easy it makes meals so decided to share my musings!

If you keep pasta and a few other ingredients in your store cupboard, you always have interesting and tasty meals at hand and here are my favourites.

Vary the pasta shapes. The twisted ones actually hold sauce better than the long ones but experiment and find your favourites. Fresh or home made pasta is lovely but not necessary. It’s for special occasions. Serve any of the dishes with side salad.

As usual, the quantities will depend on what you have and how hungry your family tends to be. Never abandon a recipe because you haven’t got the exact amount of anything. You can always serve extra salad, bread, whatever, and you can substitute favourite ingredients to your heart’s content.

Pasta Putanesca

Finely chop onion and garlic. Fry gently till soft then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a jar of putanesca sauce, and a packet of ready-to-use black lentils. Incredibly easy and delicious. You can just spoon it onto the pasta (I use fusilli) or mix the pasta in the pan. You can add grated cheese at table or you can put the mixture in the oven with a grated cheese topping. And yes, the putanesca name refers to the prostitutes of Naples who apparently needed a quick dinner at times. Freezes well and is vegetarian.

Pasta Creme

Finely chop red onion, red pepper and garlic – fry gently then add halved cherry tomatoes and continue to fry on a very low heat till the tomatoes are soft. Add a good tablespoon of cream or plain yoghurt (or creme fraiche) then add to pasta as with the putanesca recipe. This also freezes well and is vegetarian.

Mock Carbonara

Fry finely chopped onion, garlic and bacon or pancetta lardons. Add a small amount of tomato puree for colour unless you are using chorizo lardons which will add colour anyway. Add cream or yoghurt (as in the pasta creme recipe) and mix well with tagliatelle though other pasta would work. Sprinkle with black pepper and grated parmesan at table. This lacks the egg component of true carbonara but you can add an egg which will cook whilst being mixed with the hot pasta and sauce. I’m not sure there’s a vegetarian version but I imagine you could use fake ham or bacon. .

Lasagne

Buy lasagne sheets that are ready to cook but be careful. Break them to fit your dish – if they overlap they tend to be tough. Layer lasagne, cooked mince (any recipe including vegetarian) and lasagne sauce (from a jar) finishing with a sauce layer and a topping of grated cheese (a mix of parmesan and cheddar is good). Put in a hot oven for half an hour.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Note that this recipe references the Italian Bologna rather than the French Boulogne… I’ve seen people spell it incorrectly and wonder aloud what it has to do with the French coast. Answer: nothing. Do anything you like to cook the mince, adding mushrooms, carrots, peppers, herbs or whatever you have handy. Use spaghetti to be traditional but this works well with e.g. fusilli because the spirals catch the sauce. Serve with black pepper and grated cheese. Traditionally, this should be parmesan but personally I prefer a mix of parmesan and a hard cheese such as cheddar. Vegetarians can use vegetarian mince which is easily available in UK but I don’t know about anywhere else.

Spaghetti a la mama mia.

The title: the original recipe was one my mother-in-law got from an Italian mother when she did an au pair plus cookery stint in Italy (pre war). The name stuck. Again, spaghetti is in the title but other pasta shapes work well.

Cook chopped bacon and cook (but don’t overcook) pasta. Mix half a pint of milk with two beaten eggs and season but go easy on the salt if you suspect your bacon is salty. Layer the bacon and pasta plus some tomato puree. Pour the milk mixture over, slowly so that it seeps into all the spaces and spreads the puree, then grate a lot of cheese on top and put it in a hot oven for about 45 minutes.

This is great the next day if you have leftovers – fry it to reheat it.

A variation is to add kidney beans in chili sauce which gives it a nice kick. If you have vegetarians around add the beans, with or without chili, instead of bacon anyway.

Pasta news

I have just read in this week’s New Scientist that a firm has developed pasta shapes that are flat (needing less packaging) which then swell to normal pasta shapes when cooked. I don’t suppose they’ll be in a store near you next week but look out for them!

The header pic is a somewhat photoshopped version of last night’s mock carbonara.

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