Homemade pasta. Soft, silky, delicate strands of flour and egg. Constructed with your bare hands, images of Italian grandmothers sifting through your thoughts.
Red sauce. Simmered over low heat for hours. Built on a foundation of carefully chopped onions and pork fat. Lovingly brought to the perfect balance of acid and savory sweetness.
This is not what we’re talking about today.
Today is about kitchen sink pasta; that is, everything but the kitchen sink pasta. This the meal you make to stretch your wallet, expand your stomach, and clean out your fridge. The beauty of kitchen sink pasta is that you can make all those odds and ends in your fridge turn into a semi well balanced meal, thus utilizing food that may have gone to waste and saving you a trip to the store.
The basics you’ll need for kitchen sink pasta are a protein, a vegetable or two, and something to concoct a sauce with. As this is kitchen sink pasta, any and all ingredients can apply, but try to accord some rule of order on your food. Like bacon and mango might be out of the range of possibility. Actual that sounds delicious. Moving on…
Protein: leftover roast chicken, bacon, yesterday’s steak, chopped breakfast sausage, or omit this step all together if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion or just out of this ingredient.
Vegetable: broccoli odds and ends, tomatoes that have gone just a bit squishy, leftover roast squash, frozen peas from the back of the fridge, spinach – really any vegetable will work here.
Sauce: olive oil, heavy cream, pesto, butter, white wine, parmesan or any combination of these items.
Pasta: Any shape will do as this is an ‘of the moment’ meal; however, if you have options, consider the size of your protein and vegetable and shape your pasta accordingly. Chunks of broccoli are going to be easier to consume with short pastas like penne or shells. Spinach or asparagus might do better with linguine or spaghetti. Just pretend this is a match the block to the corresponding shaped hole game and you’ll do just fine.
Extras: fresh herbs, pine nuts, olives, poached or fried egg
Get your prep work (if any) done first. Chop the veggies, portion the protein – any knife work should be completed before you put the pasta in to boil. Most commercial pastas take as little as 7 minutes to cook, and you need to have your mis en place ready to attack that freshly cooked pasta. Letting your cooked pasta sit in a colander to air out and stick together is a cardinal sin of pasta cooking. Remember this. You will thank me later.
Get the water boiling, and salt it real good. I mean like several teaspoons of salt. Wait until the water boils (salted water takes longer to come to a boil), but once it does go to town. It is a worthwhile endeavor. Add your pasta and make sure it all folds in accordingly, because let’s be real, no one has a pot big enough to take an entire strand of spaghetti in at once.
Proteins: If needed, throw your bacon in the pan or start reheating your protein. If you’re starting with a protein like raw chicken, well, then I hope you read through these instructions before starting because you’ll need to make sure that cooks in plenty of time before the pasta is done.
Either way, if you end up with a sauce pan of bacon fat or chicken-y goodness, save this. You can either sauté your veggies in this concoction with the addition of some butter or oil, or add your pasta at the very end for a totally basic but delicious sauce.
Vegetables I recommend sautéing: peppers, spinach, tomatoes, or any previous cooked veg that needs to be reheated. Most veg will do well with a quick sauté of salt and pepper in olive oil or the above leftover meal juices. Don’t overthink (or overcook) it.
Vegetables I recommend adding to the pasta water: Broccoli, anything frozen like peas, or other very solid vegetables. This is a great method to save time and pans. Simply add your vegetable to the boiling pasta water (with the pasta still cooking inside) 2-3 minutes before the cook time is up. Strain everything together and you’ve just saved yourself enough time to re-watch half an episode of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Sauce: If you have the holy trinity of butter, cream, and parmigiano-reggiano (or the like), you can make a deliciously unhealthy alfredo sauce. Melt 2-3 tablespoons butter, add a half of a cup to 2/3 cups of cream to heat, and then add about a cup of shredded cheese and stir until melted and slightly reduced. This is as close to heaven as a cream sauce can get.
Pesto can make a great sauce as is, or can be amped up by melting it into some heavy cream or butter. A splash of white wine will add some good acid to your sauce as well.
If you are really bare bones, just some olive oil heated with some fresh garlic or chili flakes can make an amazing sauce. Cook for long enough to become fragrant, and bless your pasta with its shimmery goodness. Even just a splash of cream to your finished pasta can help make it feel more like a meal and less like you’re cleaning out your fridge.
Once everything is in place, you’ll want to drain the pasta, return it to the pot (but not on the heat), mix in the sauce, and then add your veg and protein. Depending on your pasta shape, you may end up with many of the heavier items (chicken chunks, broccoli bits) stuck at the bottom of the pot. I just kind of handle this as I serve, making sure to delegate enough pasta and other components per plate. It’s not perfect or always pretty, but trust me, it’ll taste just fine.
In terms of extras, throwing some freshly chopped basil or parsley can really elevate your meal, as can pine nuts or some good olives. A sprinkling of fresh cheese never hurt anyone (except the lactose intolerant, my deepest sympathies to you), and when all else fails throw a fried or poached egg on top. No one has ever complained about the addition of a fried egg to food. Trust me. I’m a rookie, semi-regular food blogger. I would know.
Take your creation and plop down in front of Netflix alone, or at the table with a loved one. Drink cheap wine, or break out the bubbly to celebrate your thriftiness. If you’ve got pasta in the house, you’ve got dinner. All it takes is some creativity and enough wine to make your creativity taste delicious.