A pot of pasta is the basis of fast and fancy meals

August 21, 1994|By Dotty Griffith | Dotty Griffith,Universal Press Syndicate

Pasta can be the basis for an unlimited number of quick meals -- for dinners with an Italian twist, or with the tastes and accents of the Far East.

One example is a traditional northern Chinese dish of noodles, with a few chopped vegetables and a light sweet-and-sour sauce.

"It is what the common people are eating in northern China," says Cammie Vitale, who teaches both Italian and Chinese cooking.

The recipe "is not traditional in the sense that you'll find it in a restaurant," she explains. "It is something the common people eat."

The key is to keep things simple, use one pot for everything whenever possible, and combine steps every chance you get.

That can be as easy as throwing a few cut-up vegetables into the pot with the pasta during the last few minutes of boiling, instead of using a different pot for each. While the pasta is draining in the colander, prepare a simple sauce in the pasta pot, put the pasta back in and toss. One pot, one meal.

Here are some staples for quick pasta meals.

In the pantry:

* Artichoke hearts

* Cannellini beans

* Capers: Sold in small jars, these tiny, tart spheres are the pickled buds of a Mediterranean shrub.

* Garlic and onions.

* Olives: black and green.

* Olive oil: Extra-virgin is the best for salads, when the oil isn't cooked. Pale yellow or green is usually the mildest in flavor; darker green is more intense.

* Peanut butter: Diluted with chicken stock and seasoned with a touch of cayenne pepper, it makes an easy satay sauce for Oriental peanut noodles and vegetables.

* Roasted red peppers: Buy 'em by the jar.

* Sun-dried tomatoes: For shortcut rehydration, add to pasta the last few minutes of cooking, then drain along with pasta.

In the freezer:

* Pine nuts: Toast in a dry skillet just before using.

* Tiny peas: Defrosting not necessary; they go straight into cooked rice, pasta or salads.

In the refrigerator:

* Roma tomatoes: Firmer than other tomatoes, they keep longer and give you a rich, full flavor.

* Parmesan cheese: Buy a piece, wrap well in plastic film and grate as you need it. When you've grated down to the rind, freeze for Italian bean or vegetable soups.

* Parsley: Store in a plastic bag wrapped with a paper towel. If you con't use it all in a few days, chop it and freeze for cooked dishes.

* Pesto: Buy it or make it yourself. It's a traditional Italian paste of basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

Oriental Noodles

With Snow Peas

and Ginger Chicken Breasts

Makes 4 servings

1 cup water

2 slices fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter (divided use)

6 to 8 black peppercorns

1 clove garlic, peeled

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

4 ounces medium egg noodles, uncooked

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 green onions, thinly sliced (white part only)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed

soy sauce mixture (recipe follows)

Place water, 1 slice ginger, peppercorns and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Gently slide in chicken breast halves. Allow water to return to a boil. Cover and remove from heat. Chicken breasts should stand in hot water about 18 minutes or until cooked through. Meat should appear white throughout and juices should run clear.

Meanwhile, prepare noodles according to package directions; drain. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat vegetable oil in wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add green onions, chopped garlic and 1 slice ginger. Cook and stir until the garlic and ginger are fragrant, about 15 seconds. Discard ginger.

Add the snow peas and toss just until they begin to change color, about 10 seconds. Add the noodles and toss with the seasoned oil. Stir in the soy sauce mixture.

Stir well until the sauce is thickened and the noodles are evenly distributed.

Remove chicken from liquid and place over noodles. Spoon sauce over chicken to coat.

For soy sauce mixture: Stir together in a measuring cup and set aside: 1/4 cup water; 2 tablespoons soy sauce; 1 teaspoon vinegar, rice wine or sherry; 1 teaspoon sugar; and 1 teaspoon cornstarch.

Per serving: calories: 321; fat: 8 grams; cholesterol: 99 milligrams; sodium: 588 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 23 percent.

Chinese Noodles With

Tomatoes and Peppers

Makes 2 servings

1/3 pound dried egg noodles

sweet-and-sour sauce (recipe follows)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 teaspoons peanut oil (divided use)

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain. Rinse with cold water and drain well.

Combine ingredients for sauce in a small bowl and reserve.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in bottom of pasta pot over medium heat. Add egg and scramble quickly, just until firm. Remove from pot with slotted spoon and reserve.

Over high heat, add 1 teaspoon of oil to pot and stir in green pepper. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add chunks of tomatoes and cook for about 1 minute longer.

Remove from heat and return egg to pot. Pour in sauce, adjusting to taste with salt and pepper. Add noodles and toss.

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