Easy Pasta

September 20, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

The meeting ran late and now you're late to pick up your daughter from the sitter, your son has to get to soccer practice, the dog has to go to the vet's and Dad is hungry after a business trip. How are you going to get something for dinner?

No problem. If you've got pasta, you've got a meal. A pot of boiling water, a handful of ingredients -- and no more than 30 minutes later, you can deliver a hit.

"I think pasta makes you feel good," said Michele Urvater, author of "Monday to Friday Pasta" (Workman, $12.95 paperback) -- hailed as "the consummate book for the harried cook."

"It's a very basic food," Ms. Urvater said. Plus, "pasta is universally loved by children. You can do a quick meal that appeals to the whole family."

And, with vegetable-based sauces, you can be sure you're serving something healthful. Pasta has significant amounts of complex carbohydrates and adds protein and fiber to a diet.

The ease and versatility of pasta dishes are no secret to chefs, who often whip up a pasta dish to feed themselves or their staff.

"That's how I eat at home all the time," said Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, executive chef at Foster's in Fells Point. "I'm pretty nutrition-conscious. I like vegetables a lot and I like a small amount of meat or fish. Pasta's the perfect way to combine them."

At the Milton Inn in Sparks, it may be a dishwasher who combines vegetables and herbs from the country restaurant's garden, throws in some rock shrimp and tosses it over pasta to feed the staff for lunch one day, said David Rudie, executive chef. Pasta pleases everyone. "It's cheap, it's fun, it's very popular."

Mark Hofmann, chef at Due in Owings Mills, was just "messing around," making something for himself for dinner, when he created his signature Penne Pasta with Peas and Prosciutto in Cream Sauce, a dish he now features at cooking demonstrations.

"It's very easy to do at home," he said. "You can have all the ingredients in the refrigerator and put them together in 10 minutes. All you have to do is put the pasta on. You can even put it in the fridge and have it as leftovers. I probably shouldn't say this, but I've even eaten it cold the next day."

At Sisson's, executive chef Bill Aydlett turns his saute cooks loose to create their own pasta specials for diners. "I let the guys come up with their own pasta du jour," he said. "A lot of it's tomatoes, fresh herbs, whatever's fresh in the market."

"We just had spaghetti the other night," said Mark Henry, chef-owner, with his wife Barbara, of the Chester River Inn in Chestertown. "It was our only day off and we decided to stay home." Barbara prepared the sauce, he said, using sausage in a tomato base. But he also uses pasta in the restaurant. "We use it as a side dish or accompaniment, as opposed to potatoes or rice," he said.

Here's a collection of quick and easy pasta recipes from area chefs and from Ms. Urvater's book. None has more than 10 ingredients and none takes more than about half an hour to prepare.

The first recipe is from Ms. Gulliksen. "We mix pasta and beans a lot," she said.

Pasta with vegetables and beans

Serves 4

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 medium red onion, chopped

8 mushrooms, sliced

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 14-ounce can cannellini beans (see note)

1/2 pound pasta, cooked

Toss vegetables together with oil and sear in a very hot skillet for 5 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

In a large bowl, combine vegetables, vinegar, beans and pasta.

Place in a serving dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Serve warm or cold.

Note: To use other canned beans (kidney or black), place in a strainer and rinse; drain well.

The next recipe is from Mr. Rudie. "What makes this simple dish so appealing and flavorful is the use of the freshest available ingredients," he said. He suggested using sun-dried tomatoes when local tomatoes aren't in season.

Pasta with shrimp, basil and tomatoes

Serves 4

8 ounces uncooked linguine

2 to 3 garden-ripe tomatoes, diced

2 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 pound fresh rock shrimp

12 fresh basil leaves, finely sliced

5 ounces extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

basil leaves, for garnish

Cook pasta in boiling water until tender, 5 to 8 minutes.

Heat a large saute pan, add 1 ounce of olive oil.

Cook shrimp 2 to 3 minutes

over high heat, add garlic and cook about 1 to 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes and basil, let simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from heat and add remainder of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Drain pasta, toss with sauce and serve, garnished with basil leaves.

The next recipe is from Mr. Hofmann. "It has very few ingredients and when they all come together, they work really well," he said.

Penne pasta with peas, peppers and prosciutto

Serves 6

3 red bell peppers

2 tablespoons butter

6 ounces prosciutto, diced

1 cup tiny frozen peas, thawed

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound uncooked penne pasta

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