Jun 30 2009

Fast Food My Way: One-Skillet Pesto Pasta

You’re hungry, you’re tired, and you want dinner now. Pasta would fill the bill nicely. It’s inexpensive, delicious, and satisfying. But you don’t want to go to the trouble of boiling a big pot of water while you simmer sauce in another pot. Is there an alternative? Yes. Skillet pasta. It won’t take you much more time to prepare than it takes to read this article. If you’ve got a well-stocked pantry — some sauces and sauce mixes, along with a good selection of pastas — dinner can be on the table inside half an hour.

Here’s how it’s done. By way of illustration, I picked a packet of Knorr Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto sauce mix and angel hair pasta.

Meal in the Making

Why angel hair? Easy. It cooks quickly. And the Knorr sauce mixes cook up in a flash, too. By combining the two you’ll get dinner on the table about as quickly as it can be done without resorting to a microwave meal. Speed like this comes at a price, though. You can’t put your pasta on the stove and walk away. You’ll have to keep a close eye on the skillet at all times. If you don’t, the pasta will burn and the sauce will stick.

And be sure you follow the first rule of cookery: Always read the instructions. Luckily, they don’t come much easier. Begin by assembling your tools: a 10-inch covered skillet, a fork, and a measuring cup. Now collect your ingredients: half a pound of angel hair (this will satisfy two hungry people — or three folks with light appetites), one packet of Knorr pasta sauce, and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. No olive oil? No problem. Leave it out. Pour a cup of water into the skillet, then open the sauce packet and sprinkle the contents over the water. Add the olive oil (if you’ve got it, that is) and …

Meal in the Making

Stir till water, sauce, and oil are thoroughly mixed. Next, break the pasta in half so it fits neatly inside the skillet. Do this by gathering the pasta strands together into a tight “log,” bringing your fists together at the center, and snapping the log in two. (Imagine that you’re breaking a dry branch for the wood stove. And watch out for flying bits of pasta!) Once you’ve broken the pasta to size, drop it into the skillet, pressing it down with your fork before adding a second cup of water.

Meal in the Making

The water should just cover the pasta.

Meal in the Making

OK. It’s show time. Fire up your stove and bring the sauce to a boil on high heat, then throttle back to a simmer. Cover the skillet and assemble a salad while you wait for the pasta to cook, stirring frequently. You’ll have to work fast to put that salad together. In just four or five minutes the pasta will be done and the sauce will have thickened. (If the pasta is still a crunchy when the sauce is thick, add a little water and simmer for a couple of minutes longer.)

Meal in the Making

Maybe you’re wondering how you’ll know when your meal is ready. It’s not hard. When the sauce is no longer watery and you can twist strands of pasta around your fork, you’re done.

Meal in the Making

Turn off the burner and set the skillet to one side while you finish the salad. When you’re ready to serve, just lift the pasta and sauce from the skillet with tongs and put it on plates. I sprinkle a little grated Parmesan and a few pine nuts over each plate, but that’s not necessary.

Dinner is served! (You may want to bring a loaf of good bread to the table, too, if only to mop up any sauce remaining on the plates.) And you probably haven’t spent more than 15 minutes in the kitchen.

Pasta Pronto

Tired of burgers and takeout? Me, too. This is fast food my way, and from time to time I’ll be suggesting other quick meals that anyone can make. A lavish dinner with family and friends that takes forever to prepare is great as an occasional treat, but why spend hours in the kitchen every day when there are roads to ride, trails to explore, and rivers to run? There’s more to good living than eating, after all.


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