Dinner Tonight: A Springtime Pasta Ad-Lib

I’m trying to come back to blogging on the regular. I keep falling into the mental trap of waiting until I have something BIG to say before I post something. My oven has been broken for a month, and I’ve been working my tail off, and I’ve been using those as excuses not to get on here and write. Well, no more! Here’s a post about my favorite at-home pasta dish!

As a late-20-something who works full-time and side-hustles often, it’s not that unusual, despite my love of cooking, for me to order out upwards of twice a week or to simply sit in front of my computer for six hours, snacking on Oreos and Red Vines instead of making dinner. This behavior has become much more common since my boyfriend started splitting his time between Chicago and New York. In my mind, it’s just easier to cook a meal for two people than it is to cook for one.

But this dinner I’m about to share with you is pretty dang easy! And you can customize it according to your mood, what’s in season, or how many people you want to feed.

I think I prefer to have an audience for my food, so when I’m cooking for just myself I tend to get bored. So I’ve picked up a few tricks to make eating alone more exciting:

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  1. Eat off of pretty dishes! I found these blue plates and bowls on sale at Crate & Barrel and now they’re my favorite things in my kitchen. Plus, they’re really photogenic; I feel like they make every food look prettier.
  2. Keep it simple, keep it small. Honestly, if it takes more than 20 minutes to make, chances are I’m going to give up right off the bat and end up browsing Grubhub for the same amount of time it would have taken me to cook. So having a few simple ingredients around that work well when you throw them together is the easiest way for me to make sure I get back in that kitchen.
  3. Play with your food. Find foods that make you laugh, that pop with color, that look new and strange to you! You might be the only person eating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make every meal an adventure.

So now to the main event: my weeknight pasta surprise!

 

I’m currently obsessed with campanelle pasta. They look like little ruffle-y trumpets and I love it! I’ve been buying multiple boxes of it every time I hit the grocery store.

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Next, I pick a protein. For tonight’s dinner, I’m using Aidells Cajun Style Andouille sausage (it’s not even close to authentic andouille, but it’s smoky and has a little kick), but you can use whatever you want. I also really like using chopped pancetta or some prosciutto. Bacon will do the trick, too! You can leave out the meat, if you prefer. I like having something that’s maybe a little salty, or smoky to add an extra layer of flavor to the dish.

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Veggies come next. Right now my refrigerator is pretty sparse, but I have some nice asparagus and green beans hanging out in there, so that’s what I’m using. Frozen peas are also nearly omnipresent in my kitchen, and are super easy to pop into almost any meal.

Put an egg on it! I like to add a poached or fried egg to my pasta. I just love the way a runny yolk looks, feels, and tastes. Of course, if that’s not your jam I’m not judging. You do you, Boo!

I also like to add some aromatics to my pasta, whether that’s a little lemon zest, some basil, or a little crispy fried garlic. Tonight I am without herbs or lemons so fried garlic it is! If I’m frying garlic, I like to keep the olive oil I fried it in to fry up an egg with later. That oil gets infused with all the garlicky goodness my little heart can stand.

Now that you’ve chosen your players, it’s time to get cooking.

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box, but if you’re only cooking for yourself, don’t make the full box. I make sure my pasta water is really well salted. That saltiness will transfer to your pasta as it cooks so you don’t have to add much more when you’re adding the other ingredients later.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, prep your veggies. If you’re using asparagus or green beans, throw them into the pot when your pasta is about one minute away from al dente. If you’re working with something that takes longer to cook, like broccoli, add it to the pot when you add your pasta. Strain the pasta and veggies together, but make sure you reserve about 1/3 cup of the pasta water for later.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, you can set it aside for a minute. I like to prepare most of the dish in one pot so I have less to clean up later. In the pot I just used for the pasta, I melt a couple tablespoons of butter or olive oil over medium heat. Then I add my meat, and maybe some garlic or chopped shallots. You can even throw some mushrooms in if you’ve got them!

Once everything looks nicely browned and tender, add your pasta and the water you reserved before draining. That water, and the starch that it contains from the pasta will help to bind everything together. Turn the heat down a little and start stirring. As I combine all the ingredients together, I also start adding a hefty sprinkle or two (or five) of parmesan cheese. I keep stirring and adding cheese until the dish looks slightly creamy, but not super saucy. You can also add more butter and olive oil to help facilitate the process.

Next, I plate my pasta and prep an egg to go on top. If I have fresh eggs, I poach one (it’s actually pretty easy to do). If not, or if I want more diversity of texture, I fry one up in olive oil.

Jamie Oliver gives a pretty nice tutorial on a few ways to poach eggs.

And Bon Appetit has everything you need to know about making the perfect fried egg.

Now tuck in and enjoy!

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Again, you can make as much or as little of this dish as you want and you can use pretty much whatever ingredients you have in your kitchen. It’s easy, it’s pretty, it’s fun, and it keeps me fed even when I don’t think I have the energy to cook.

Let me see what you’re cooking tonight and how you make your perfect pasta!

 

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