There’s more to pasta than spaghetti and tomato sauce

When I think of easy weeknight dinners, the first thing that comes to mind is pasta.

Often when we think of pasta, we imagine spaghetti in tomato sauce, topped with meatballs or maybe sausage. Delicious and easy, but even the biggest spaghetti lover can get tired of this combo.

CIA San Antonio: Rick Bayless to Present at CIA Latin America Summit in San Antonio

What’s great about pasta is that – pardon the pun – the pastas are seemingly endless. In addition to a myriad of shapes and sizes, including cute little strings and squiggles that make any meal more kid-friendly, pasta is the perfect vehicle for almost any ingredient combination.

One-pot pasta is quick and delicious. And it works, the starch in the pasta thickening the water just enough to coat the pasta.

Culinary Institute of America

A hug in a bowl

A staple of Italian-American cuisines around the world, pastina is the quintessential comfort food, perfect for kids and parents alike. Part meal, part cuddle in a bowl, pastina is made by boiling tiny little pieces of pasta (little stars, tubes, or rice-like shapes) in a rich chicken broth until soft. tender. Add a generous helping of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a knob of butter for a simple dish that eats (and heats up) like a cozy porridge. It also happens to be ready in minutes.

Set it and forget it

For something more hearty, I love this “set it and forget it” griddle mix tossed with curly ziti or cavatappi. Make a simple dressing with red wine vinegar or lemon juice (3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or citrus juice is a good place to start). Use some of your favorite flavoring ingredients, like minced garlic, Dijon mustard, or prepared basil pesto, to coat bite-sized vegetables like broccoli florets, cauliflower, sprouts brussels or chopped peppers. For protein, add cooked beans, jumbo shrimp, or Italian sausage — either links or ground — broken into quarter-sized pieces. Roast in a hot oven, about 425, until cooked through and golden brown before tossing with the cooked pasta for a convenient dish that’s ready in about 30 minutes. Use that half hour to catch up on your day or watch an episode of your favorite show.

wonder of a jar

For an evening when you’re short on time, we have a tip. One-pot pasta may sound too good to be true, but it really works. With the right amount of water and oil, you can cook dry pasta, mixes and sauce at the same time in the same pan. The pasta starch mixes with the water to thicken it just enough to coat the pasta and keep it from feeling dry. And it only takes about 10 minutes.

This is one of my take-out pastas, but you can experiment with all sorts of ingredients, like marinated artichoke hearts, sweet cherry tomatoes, and anchovies. Don’t forget the finishing touches like dollops of ricotta, toasted nuts and lots of fresh herbs to really make your dish stand out. Easy food can be exciting food!

One Pot Mediterranean Pasta

  • 12 ounces of spaghetti
  • 16 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped roasted red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 cups of water
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Instructions: In a large saucepan or shallow skillet, add the spaghetti, olives, garlic, shallot, red peppers, oregano, lemon juice, salt and oil. Pour in the water and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente and the water is absorbed, about 8 minutes. Divide portions into bowls and sprinkle with feta before serving.

Makes about 4 servings

April Goess is director general of the CIA San Antonio.