Eating Wisely: Presto Pasta Meals

Woman cocking at a stoveDebbie Landauer, Enosburg, Vermont

Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the May-June 1998 issue of New Beginnings. We’ve updated and condensed it and thought this would be the perfect collection of quick and easy pasta recipes to share during a season of increased activity for many families. And you are probably not alone if you have a child whose most frequent mealtime request is “Noodles!” Enjoy!

What takes only 10 minutes to cook, is nutritious, child-friendly, has endless possibilities, and is a snap to clean up? Pasta! Many of us grew up thinking that spaghetti went with meatballs, and macaroni’s only companion was cheese. Today there are as many types of pasta as there are weeks in the year, and the range of toppings is only limited by the ingredients found in the pantry and refrigerator. A pasta main dish can be a quick and easy meal for busy families. Most toppings can be made ahead of time and reheated just before supper. Add a green salad and some warm bread, and supper’s on the table in no time at all.

One of the real joys of cooking with pasta and sauces is how easily recipes can accommodate various diets. Low-fat and/or fat-free dairy products can be used to limit the amount of fat in a dish. Instead of boiling pasta with added oil, rinse pasta with hot tap water immediately after draining in order to prevent the pasta from clumping and sticking. Tofu, tempeh (a fermented soy product with a meat-like texture) or seitan (a wheat gluten, stiff dough that is boiled) can all be substitutes for meat in pasta recipes. Soy cheese may be used in place of dairy cheese.

Whole grain pasta is readily available. One tip to remember when cooking with whole wheat pasta is to slightly undercook it; otherwise, it tends to get mushy. Rice pasta is also available in most grocery stores or health food stores for those who have a wheat allergy. Spinach, tomato, and artichoke pasta add color as well as flavor and extra nutrition to the meal. Basic grocery store noodles are available in a number of different shapes and colors that can be fun as well as economical! Making your own pasta can be a fun project for older children and can lend even more variety to your pasta meals.

Pasta can be a convenience food, too. For those picky eaters in the family, plain pasta with a little cheese on top can often fit the bill with no complaint. Sauces for pasta can be just about anything and can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Sometimes the more gourmet sounding the sauce, the more basic and simpler it is! For an example, try the Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Oil Sauce below. A ready-made pasta sauce can be a lifesaver when you need a quick, no-frills supper: one jar of sauce, one bag frozen pasta, a salad if there’s time, and you’re done. Homemade tomato sauce can be frozen in family-sized servings and heated up as needed. Toss a little olive oil with left-over pasta and freeze it in an airtight container or freezer bag. Frozen pasta can be thawed out in the microwave or left in the refrigerator overnight.

The following recipes are all hot main dish suggestions. Don’t forget, however, that pasta lends itself well to salad dishes and side dishes, but that’s another story!

Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Oil Sauce

  • ¾ cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pitted black olives
  • 2/3 cup fresh basil leaves (or one tablespoon dried)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon peel
  • Pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse until blended and coarsely chopped. Stir in ¼ pound grated mozzarella cheese and serve over hot pasta.

Pasta and Chickpeas

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato sauce or one fresh tomato, chopped
  • 12 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • Parsley for garnish

Coat bottom of medium pot with oil. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Add chickpeas (undrained), 1/3 cup water, and tomato sauce. Cook about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook or chickpeas will become too soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix macaroni with sauce and top each portion with chopped parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Pasta With Green Beans

  • 12 ounces green beans (fresh or defrosted frozen)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon summer savory or thyme
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes (or one fresh tomato) sliced thin
  • 12-16 ounces cooked pasta

Blanch beans one minute in boiling water. Drain. Heat oil in skillet and add garlic, stirring for two minutes. Add savory, parsley, beans, and tomatoes. Heat thoroughly. Top pasta with bean mixture and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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