For me, pasta nights are those when I am tired, don't want to spend too long in the kitchen, can't bring myself to head to the shops and want to use up some bits and bobs in the fridge. For that reason, I very rarely make the same pasta dish twice. It always depends what is hanging around. I should probably treat pasta with a little more respect, putting a little more effort into creating more special dishes, but it is just so quick and easy this way. Pasta nights for me are lazy nights. But don't get me wrong. They are invariably delicious. There is no skimping on flavour.
I try always to keep the cupboards stocked at all times with the following: tinned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, tinned tuna, dried chilli flakes.
And the vegetable rack invariably contains onions of some form, courgettes and garlic.
The freezer ALWAYS contains frozen peas.
And, as for the fridge, I try to ensure there is always something lightly creamy with which to enrich sauces. Usually low-fat creme fraiche or cream cheese. Often there will also be some fresh pesto and some smoked bacon.
With these essentials, I have endless scope for easy-peasy pasta nights.
I make no apology for the fact that my pasta creations have virtually nothing to do with traditional Italian recipes. I love proper authentic dishes, but that is not the point of easy-peasy pasta nights. The point is making something satisfying and nourishing out of (virtually) nothing.
The most common dish I throw together is 'green pasta'. It entails a good dollop of fresh pesto and any mixture of green vegetables that I have around. Usually, courgettes fried in a little olive oil with a touch of garlic, sliced leeks and peas.
A recent triumph was created when I used up some chicken and combined with sun-dried tomatoes, courgettes and peas (of course) and a little Boursin cheese.
Last night was another variation on a theme. Good old tomato and basil sauce with a kick of chilli and a little smoked bacon. So, pasta amatriciana really.Made in the following way and thoroughly recommended -
Ingredients (for 2)
1 large onion
1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic2
rashers smoked bacon or pancetta
a good pinch of dried chilli flakes (or fresh, if you have it to hand)
pinch of brown sugar
small handful fresh basil
a little chicken stock (quarter of a pint approx.)
Pinch dried herbs
Salt and pepper
Pasta of choice
1. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add chopped onions and chopped garlic and fry until translucent.
2. Chop the bacon into small pieces, add to pan a lightly fry until just cooked (but not brown or crispy). If using fresh chilli, finely chop and de-seed and add to pan.
3. Pour over the tinned tomatoes and mix well. Add the pinch of sugar (this softens the acidity of the tomatoes somewhat), a few dried herbs if you wish (basil, thyme, oregano), or fresh if you have them. Add the chilli, if dried. Add a little of the stock and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add more stock as necessary to 'loosen' the mixture as it reduces, but go carefully as you do not want too runny a sauce.
4. Meanwhile cook the pasta.
5. Season the sauce - go easy on the salt as the bacon is quite salty. Be sure to taste! At this point you may want to add a little creme fraiche or a tablespoon of soft cheese if you want a slightly richer sauce (I did, on this occasion). It only needs a little though. Throw in some torn up basil.
6. Now this is important. Drain the pasta and ADD THE PASTA TO THE SAUCE. It has taken me years to learn this simple and obvious fact. The sauce coats the pasta so much better if you add the pasta to the sauce in the warm pan. Never add the sauce to the pasta - it simply sits on top! You probably all know this, but I am just a little slow.
Notes - pasta is horrible to photograph. So apologies if these photos don't look entirely appealing. You'll just have to trust me when I say it was delicious!
No bacon? Try tuna. Or roasted vegetables.