Well, we’re just now starting the week of Thanksgiving! If you’re anything like me, you’ve been prepping for at least a few days (making shopping lists, chopping and freezing veggies, making space in the fridge and freezer for the food items marked for the big day, etc). If that’s the case, you may feel the way I feel about cooking any sort of meal for yourself or your household, and think that you’d much rather keep your kitchen ready to go as soon as the moment comes to start cooking for the holiday. For me, I try to avoid any and all unnecessary traffic in my kitchen, to ensure that everything is clean and in place for the big push. It just seems to be a bit much, to prepare a big meal for the holiday and still cook meals during the week up until that day. Also, in the event that you need a little something to eat, fast food or takeout of any kind isn’t always very appealing. So, if all of that be the case, what am I supposed to eat?
Well, may I suggest a simple pasta dish, that will leave you satisfied and nourished at the same time!
Now, to be honest, I love pasta! I do, however, abstain from eating it too often, normally just once or twice a month is good with me. When I do make pasta, the sauces are always from scratch, the meats or seafood a good quality, and I absolutely love the use of fresh herbs. Also, there are certain items that I keep on hand–staples–in order to make a simple dish when the mood suddenly hits me:
- Grated Parmesan and Pecorino Romano Cheeses
Favorite pasta noodles
Minced or fresh garlic
Lemons or Lemon Juice
San Marzano Tomatoes
Pancetta or Bacon
Frozen easy peel shrimp
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Let’s talk about 3 of my absolute favorite quick and easy pasta dishes.
This bright and buttery pasta dish is so easy and so delicious that it’s bound to satisfy anyone’s belly! A Piccata dish may have shrimp, or chicken or veal. However for a quick and easy Piccata I always choose to go with shrimp, mainly because quick to thaw and even quicker to cook. Part of the ease that makes this dish a great go-to is the fact that it can be made for one or many. Normally a box of pasta can feed about 8 people, and possibly more, depending on how you prepare it. But, whether you’re cooking for your family or just yourself, you can be ready to eat in about 10 to 15 minutes , depending in whether or not you’re using shrimp that has already been peeled and deveined. Here’s what you’ll need for this pasta:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Your choice of pasta
Salt and Pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
While your water is boiling you can season your shrimp, chop some parsley and garlic (that is if you don’t already have minced garlic) and grab your skillet and turn it on low. Once the water is boiling add a pinch of salt to the water, drop your pasta (I used spaghetti for this pictured dish), crank up your skillet to medium high, add a few tablespoons of a good olive oil, then add your shrimp. Once the shrimp is just about done, add your capers, butter, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, garlic and parsley. Toss everything together, add a pinch of salt and pepper, then check your pasta. The perfect texture is just above al dente (it may look a little too stiff, but you’re going to finish cooking the pasta in the skillet with the shrimp and butter sauce). Take the pasta out of the boiling water and into the skillet, adding a ladle of the pasta water, and toss together. Add another ladle of the pasta water, until the sauce is silky and covering the noodles. As you toss the pasta together, it will continue to cook. Once the noodles are a perfect al dente, remove from the heat, add a little bit of grated parmesan cheese, and give it one more toss. If your pasta looks too dry, add a little bit of the water to smooth it out. Once it’s to your satisfaction, plate it up and enjoy!
As much as I love this pasta, I absolutely hate the name! There are a few theories as to what the name “puttanesca” means, but the most troubling one to me is related to what some would call one of the world’s oldest professions (prostitution, not farming!) A legend says that this dish is what the prostitutes used to make. Some say because the aroma would draw in customers, others say that because of the hours they worked they were unable to get to the market to get fresher ingredients. And, seeing that these elements kept well, they were easily accessible. Regardless, the name may be unpleasant, but the flavors are FABULOUS! For his pasta dish, you’ll need the following:
- San Marzano tomatoes
Pitted Kalamata Olives
Red Pepper flakes (optional)
Your choice of pasta (I used bucatini noodles)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Now, undoubtedly somebody read this list and turned their lip up at the anchovies. Let me say this: if you like a good Caesar dressing, you like anchovies! Some of your seafood pastas could also have anchovies in it, because it yields a salty flavorful layer to the dish. To make it, drop your pasta into a pot of salted boiling water. In a heated skillet, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, your anchovy fillets (or anchovy paste, whichever you prefer), capers, olives, then the garlic. After adding the garlic immediately add the tomatoes (if you wait too long you will run the risk of burning your garlic), red pepper flakes, and some chopped parsley. Mix together, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and check your noodles. They should be just before al dente. Add them to your skillet, with a couple of ladles of the pasta water. Toss together for a couple of minutes, and check to make sure that your pasta is al dente. Once it is you can plate and eat! If you want, top your serving off with a drizzle of olive oil and more parsley if you’d like.
Spaghetti Carbonara: what I call “grown folks mac and cheese!” A quick and yet luxurious pasta dish. Even though this pasta is quick, the process can be very delicate. The reason: the egg. When making this dish, the egg is not precooked or scrambled, but rather is used raw in the sauce itself. Don’t panic: the residual heat from the pasta, the skillet, and the pasta water will cook the egg without scrambling, if it’s done right, that is. The sauce is made of the following items:
- Chopped pancetta (or bacon)
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino romano Cheese
Beaten eggs or beaten egg yolks
Salt and pepper to taste
In the picture above I used angel hair pasta, which of course doesn’t take long to cook. In a separate bowl, crack your eggs and scramble it with grated cheese, parsley, and black pepper. Set it aside for later, because this will be the last thing you add to the pasta. So, while your water is boiling, put a little bit of extra virgin olive oil into a heated skillet (no higher than medium heat) and add the chopped pancetta. Once the pancetta is starting to brown, drop the pasta. Note: if you are using a thicker noodle, drop your pasta before you start cooking your panchetta. Once the noodles are just before al dente, and the edges of the panchetta is browned, add the minced garlic and then take the noodles from the pot to the skillet. Add some pasta water, a ladle or two, to continue cooking the pasta. Toss the noodles in the panchetta oil, garlic and water, and add some parsley. Once the noodles are closer to al dente, remove from the heat. While whisking your egg and cheese mixture, temper the eggs by adding a little bit of the pasta water to it, then slowly pour it into the skillet with your pasta. Quickly toss the pasta to ensure that it’s all coated, then add a pinch of salt, a little more cheese, a little more pasta water if your pasta is too dry, and the remaining parsley. Note that your sauce should be silky, velvety, smooth and without any lumps or scrambled egg bits. Once it’s all tossed, plate your pasta and enjoy!
And so, there it is, three of my favorite simple pasta dishes! One pot, one pan, little fuss, simple ingredients, all bring about these delicious pastas! So, if you’re pressed for time, and you don’t have a taste for any takeout, try making one of these pastas that are great for lunch or a light dinner.
Enjoy the big flavors, smooth sauces, and the warm comforts that come from a bowl of great pasta!
Happy Eating, and Smooches!