Whether you’re trying to go meatless as a healthy lifestyle decision, or just during Lent, pasta is a lifesaver when mealmaking.
A good sauce over pasta for a weeknight dinner (throw some veggies in, too) can go a long way to make meat lovers not feel so ... deprived.
And, if you’re tired of the same old red sauce, these two recipes are for creamy sauces. That said, I would suggest a couple of substitutions: when recipes like these call for you to use heavy cream, use half and half or part cream/part skim milk; it works just as well. Plus, unlike heavy cream, the alternatives won’t curdle if you add them to hot food too quickly.
Don’t like spinach in the Creamed Spinach Pasta recipe? Omit and go with broccoli, though you may have to cook it longer before adding to the pasta.
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The recipe also calls for freshly grated nutmeg. Really? Does anyone keep that in the house? Go with a pinch of the stuff you have in a jar. Plus, a fresh Parmesan will suffice for the Pecorino cheese.
The Tomato-Cream Sauce recipe is an all-purpose sauce you can use over your favorite pasta. It can be a bit chunky since it uses canned diced tomatoes, but you can always puree the sauce if you like something creamier.
Serve either of these pasta recipes with a green salad full of extras like crispy croutons, dried cranberries and shredded cheese and maybe your family won’t notice they’ve gone meatless.
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Creamed Spinach Pasta
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided
3/4 pound long pasta, such as tagliatelle or fettuccine
1/2 cup pine nuts (or chopped walnuts)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 pound baby spinach leaves
1 cup heavy cream (or half and half)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
In large bowl, combine ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and return to rolling boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup cooking water.
While pasta cooks, prepare sauce. Toast nuts in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally so they do not burn, about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Wipe skillet clean and melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add spinach and cook until it wilts, about 4 minutes more.
Add cream, bring to simmer and cook until sauce begins to thicken slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Scoop pasta directly into skillet and toss to combine. Add pasta and spinach mixture to bowl of ricotta off heat and toss to coat, adding 1/4 cup pasta water or more (up to 1 cup) as needed to loosen up the sauce.
Plate in bowls and sprinkle with nuts. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Pass grated cheese at the table.
Yield: 4 servings.
“Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Fly” by Colu Henry (Clarkson Potter; February 2017; $28)
Tomato-Cream Sauce for Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon white or brown sugar*
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 tablespoon butter
In a saucepan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Make sure it doesn't burn.
Add tomatoes, basil, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and continue to boil 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in cream and butter. Reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes. Serve over your favorite pasta.
Option: If you like a creamier sauce, puree in blender.
*Some sauce lovers prefer a less sweet taste, so add a bit of sugar at first and see if you like it. It can be omitted or adjusted.