Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fast, Fast, Quick, Quick..... While The Pasta Cooks!

We all have our little short-cuts for those times when we're running out of time yet still need to get dinner on the table and we actually want "real" food to eat that's also good; we don't consider take-out, delivery or fast food as "real" food, so on lazy days here are some quick dishes you might consider.

In our busy, active lives it is now considered that the ultimate luxury is "time". Our time is gobbled up by work, family activities or duties and extra curricular sports or whatever so any time that is left over (left over? I need more hours every day just to keep up!)- is sheer luxury to have. Just being able to sit and read for a while is one of my favorite luxuries which I used to take for granted until I was no longer able to do it and I firmly believe that everyone, especially young people, need to plan on setting aside some time every day to "do nothing". Everyone seems to be TOO scheduled / structured so that each and every minute of their day is planned. Not good. Remember daydreaming on a summer day?

There goes a tangent. Oops! So let me get back on track to the subject I wanted to address, fast yet "slow" food. I've spoken of the "Slow Food" movement before (food good for people who grow it, good for the people who eat it and good for the environment), if you're interested please be sure to look it up. Basically it's going back to basics and doing things the best way possible. Slow food is compatible to great eating, lots of flavor, health and some quick dishes too!

Today we're talking about Fast and Quick- While the pasta cooks and gives me lots to pick from while presenting amazing meals! You can pair the dishes with a lovely fresh salad (make fresh vinaigrette or cream dressing) or some veggies and you're done! You can have a meal on the table in under 30 minutes, how's that for fast? Ok, what equipment will you need?
  • A pot large enough to cook pasta in
  • A colander to drain the pasta
  • A pair of thongs
  • A large cooking spoon
  • A large pan to make the sauce in that will accommodate the pasta as well
That's it and you probably have these things already, no need to have any special equipment, in fact I firmly adhere to the fact that anything that only does "single duty" is useless; everything should do multiple things, think about it and don't fall into the "thingamabobby" syndrome of having lots of utensils that only work for one single specialized action. Not good.

Also, always remember: Pasta is best when it's added to the sauce (not the other way around) and gets a chance to absorb (which is why it's cooked "al dente" so it will finish cooking in the pan) while you're tossing it. This is why a large pan is needed. Fabulous!

You also don't need lots of ingredients to get these done. Simple, good ingredients will do. One thing though, you will need GOOD Olive oil. I buy mine at the International Marketplace by the 5 ltr. tin and we use it up quickly, but if you don't then don't buy large quantities so it will stay fresh.

Here are some wonderful examples of what I'm talking about: (you can also look under the "Labels" tag on left side of the site for Italian Foods for more)- You can make these ahead too.

Pasta Aglio e Olio (Pasta with Garlic and Oil).- This is simplicity itself, quick and great! Plus you can use it as a base and add other ingredients and if you went ahead and made my "Mojo de Ajo" you can use this as a base and you're all set!

1/4-1/3 cup Mojo de Ajo (look under Mexican Food) -or-
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
2-4 tbl butter
4-5 tbl olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
basil leaves or dry
grated cheese (Parmesan, Cotija, Myzithra... choose)
1 lb Pasta

Once you've cooked the pasta in salted water and is nearly done, in a large pan on med-high heat add some of the butter and oil, red pepper flakes if using (you could use 1/8 tsp just for taste and not heat), salt and pepper and stir until nice and hot and very fragrant. Drain the pasta. Add the basil leaves and stir. Now add the pasta to the pan and using your thongs (or similar) toss well to combine and cover all the noodles. Serve and top with grated cheese. Enjoy!
NOTE: You can add, after the red pepper flakes, shrimp or chicken, fish, meat, sausage, veggies or shellfish at this point if you desire or simply done.

Quick Tomato Sauce for Pasta.- No long simmering time for this, just lots of flavor:

2-3 tbs olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, pressed
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 can whole tomatoes with juice
1 tbl tomato paste
1-2 tbl sugar
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 lb pasta
grated cheese

In a sauce pan put the oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, oregano and basil over med-high heat and stir until very fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir fry. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands really well and make sure it's all combined. Add the wine, sugar and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to med or med-low and partially cover so your stove doesn't get splattered all over and let it simmer while you cook your pasta. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings to your taste.

Once the pasta is done, drain. In a large pan add some of the sauce over med-high heat, if it needs more oil then add a tbl or so. Add the pasta and add as much sauce as needed to combine and cover well. Serve and top with grated cheese.
NOTE: If you want to make a more complex sauce you could add some sausage at the beginning or ground meat. You could also add mussels or any seafood or any kind of pre-roasted veggies into the sauce if you like.

Tuna - Lemon Sauce and Pasta.- You can make this lighter version, very easy to make.

2-3 cans tuna (if in oil then you can use it instead of adding, if in water, drain and add oil)
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
olive oil as needed
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
juice of 2-3 lemons as needed to taste
1-2 tsp capers (optional)
1 lb pasta
grated cheese to taste

Cook your pasta and have it ready to drain as soon as the sauce comes together. In a large pan with some oil and over med-high heat add the garlic, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant. Add the tuna and capers and stir. Add the lemon juice and taste to insure you have a good balance of flavors and acidity and add more seasonings if needed. If it tastes great then drain and add the pasta, toss to combine and then serve topping with grated cheese.

Lemon Cream Sauce.- One of our favorites because it's wonderful, plus you can add whatever you have and make it more complex. Just lovely!

3-4 tbl butter
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup heavy cream
1-2 inch thick, long lemon rind pieces
2-3 tbl lemon juice
1 cup grated cheese (your choice)
1 lb pasta

Have the pasta almost done and ready to drain. Save some of the pasta water. Heat the butter, lemon rind, garlic and lemon juice in a large pan on med heat until the butter is melted. Add the cream and mix but don't cook for a long time or it will curdle. Drain the pasta and add to the pan and mix with the sauce. Add the grated cheese and 1-2 tbl of the pasta water and mix well until the water is gone. You can also add some olive oil if you like. Serve at once as it's best eaten hot.
NOTE: You can top with some chopped parsley. You can also add bacon, pancetta, sausage or mushrooms at the beginning and before adding the cream or whatever you feel like but make sure it's cooked since this is not a long cooking sauce, but you can reheat any additional ingredients. Peas, asparagus, zucchini, crab meat, artichokes are fantastic here!

Pesto.- From Northern Italy comes this practical and easy dish, super flexible!

1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried (about 2 cups)
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
1/2-3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

This is the traditional Italian method: Rough chop the garlic along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Once this is loosely chopped add more basil, chop some more, add the rest of the basil, chop some more. I scrape and chop, gather and chop. At this point the basil and garlic should be a very fine mince. Add about half the pine nuts, chop. Add the rest of the pine nuts, chop. Add half of the Parmesan, chop. Add the rest of the Parmesan, and chop. In the end you want a chop so fine that you can press all the ingredients into a basil "cake". Transfer the pesto "cake" to a small bowl (not much bigger than the cake). Cover with a bit of olive oil, it doesn't take much, just a few tablespoons. This is the regular every-day method I use and takes mere minutes:Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese. You can now add the drained pasta and mix to combine.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese to use later.

More about Pesto.- If you're not a fan or haven't had too much to do with this paste like sauce, let me give you some variations and options that might get you to "come into the light".... If you think this has a limited use, just get a load of these photos, plus you can have this made ahead either in the fridge or frozen and from a quick sauce then becomes an almost "fast food", right?

-Parmesan cheese or traditional Pecorino for a milder taste. Crumbled feta cheese also works well for a different taste. Cheaper version? Use Mexican Cotija Cheese, it's great!
-A common change to the recipe is to replace some or all of the pine nuts with sunflower seeds, walnuts, pistachios or almonds (a favorite). This significantly reduces the cost of the sauce. Besides being cheaper, it is also necessary for people with nut allergies.
-For a creamy sauce, take two tabl of the pesto in a pan and heat on medium-low. Add one cup light cream and bring to a simmer. Use for pasta. Serves two.
-The pine nuts can be replaced with an equal quantity of sun-dried tomatoes.
-You may change the taste by changing the base of the pesto from basil to other easily obtained herbs/vegetables. Some variations include using cilantro, for a more aromatic taste or spinach, as spinach is much cheaper than basil, yet still has its own distinct flavor.
-Try to mix up the standard basil/garlic combo by introducing shallots (sweet onions) into the mix, as it adds a slightly sweet taste to the paste.
-Mix fresh chives, marjoram and thyme with the basil to produce something akin to Valdostano-style pesto.
-Another variant replaces the basil with equal parts of leaf parsley and spring onions.
-Arugula may also be substituted for basil with surprising, spicy results.
-For another variation of a creamy sauce, add cream cheese to the recipe.
-A vegan variation can be made by mixing walnuts, fresh basil, olive oil and small amounts (such as a table spoon per cup) of white miso paste.
-Great on potatoes, gnocchi, fish, chicken or as a condiment on sandwiches, wraps, etc.

So there you go, some ideas to work on and I hope you do give these a try and let me know, ok? I'm sure you will find they help you in your busy day to day. Always good to be able to save a minute or two (not to mention that they can also be budget friendly as well) while adding more flavor, good foods and variety to our diets, right? Plus with the warmer weather heading our way it's a natural to desire lighter fare that leaves us more time to enjoy lovely Spring and Summer nights. Hope everyone has a great Spring Day! Ciao everyone......

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