Whenever I am cooking pasta, as I was last night, I ponder why people who say they can’t cook don’t embrace pasta. I know these days it is possible to eat quite well and at reasonable cost without ever entering your kitchen. Fast, cheap food is no longer just the domain of Maccas and the Colonel; so many options are now freely available.
I suspect if I was single and kidlet free I would do little, if any, cooking. For me cooking and eating is pleasurable as a social and nurturing activity and these days it’s part of the fabric of my life and of how I view my own identity. But I can remember how the other side of the coin looks.
Getting back to last night… as I was cooking I was thinking that pasta is virtually indistructible and can be used as a base for just about anything you have lurking in your pantry and fridge. A 99 cent packet of pasta plus 3 or 4 other ingredients can make a meal; once you get your head around the basic flavour principles you are away. A family of four or five can eat for under $10 easily; or a single person make enough for four work lunches for the same cost.
The good thing is, while your pot of pasta is boiling you can gather and prepare your other ingredients, drain the pasta and throw together as quickly as your chosen ingredients will allow.
A drizzle of olive oil, some gently fried garlic, a handful of sliced mushrooms and ham or bacon. Tomatoes going soft in the fridge? Peel and chop, soften in the pot with oil, onion and garlic, some fresh or dried herbs. Finish with some crumbled feta or ricotta or a splash of cream and some parmesan. Go a little fancier with some sliced chicken thigh fillets or green prawns, some grated zucchini, a little chili and some olive oil or cream to finish off.
From the simplest bowl of freshly cooked pasta with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan (as my kids love it) to a dinner party dish of home made pasta (try it, if you have a gadget to help with the kneading it’s easier than you would think, and very satisfying) with a delicately constructed sauce… pasta is something everyone should know how to make and experiment with.
Last night’s half hour wonder was:
Pasta with Smoked Salmon Tomato Cream Sauce
500g dried pasta shapes or spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced or crushed
1 small onion, finely sliced or chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder (chicken would be fine)
dried herbs (as available or to taste, or use fresh parsley, thyme… whatever you have/like)
8 small or 4 large tomatoes (I used Roma tomatoes because that’s what I had), peeled, chopped chunky style
Large handful of baby spinach leaves, torn or sliced
200 ml cream
8 slices smoked salmon, chopped as you like
Salt, pepper, chili (if you like) – all optional and all to taste
2-3 Tablespoons of parmesan, grated or shaved
1) Cook pasta as instructed, drain, set aside.
2) In the same pot heat olive oil on low heat, add onion and garlic. Cook for a 3-5 minutes until starting to soften.
3) Add tomatoe pieces and a splash of water or white wine and your herbs and stock powder. Cook on low heat, stirring regularly.
4) When tomatoes are breaking down (up to you how chunky or mushy you like them) add the cream and baby spinach and stir through for one minute or so.
5) Add pasta and smoked salmon slices and seasoning (if using) and heat through while stirring. Turn off heat straight away, you want the salmon warm but not cooked and mushy.
6) Stir through parmesan or add to individual plates (I stir through).
Seriously quick and easy (and Marianna had three serves).
The important thing to remember is don’t worry too much about the recipe. Don’t like smoked salmon? Leave it out or add ham or some leftover chicken instead. Don’t have fresh tomatoes? Throw in a can of them. Add frozen peas or zucchini instead of spinach. Go hard on the chili if kidlets are not partaking. Use your imagination and let your vegie crisper dictate what goes in. The best thing about a pasta dish like this is nothing is really “wrong” – unless it tastes bloody awful of course, then it’s your own silly fault. Go back to the drawing board.