Freestyle Pasta Primavera is a quick, easy dinner recipe to save you (and your sanity) on busy nights. Make it with whatever you have on hand!
‘Ever have those nights where you are so hungry that you cannot even begin to think of what to cook for dinner? Or nights when you are so tired that the thought of doing anything other than passing out on the couch seems monumental?
Or how about a combination of starving, too tired to think and too exhausted to move? Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a hefty pinch of guilt because the kids have eaten cereal for dinner for the past two nights, and carry-out pizza the night before that. All those variables equate to a night where really delicious, non-crappy food is a requirement. And make it snappy, too!
I feel pretty confident in assuming that I am not the only one who has been there before. It happens to me more often than I care to publicly admit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not much fun to be around when I’m tired, cranky, and hungry all at the same time. I can be downright beastial–I need food, and I need it fast!
When those moments strike, I go to the cupboard and look at my list of Go-To Dinners. The good stuff that I know I can make with pantry staples and other things that usually lurk forgotten in my ‘fridge until it’s almost too late. Yep, I typed up a list so that in the midst of a Savage Beast moment, I can just see what to make for dinner. No thinking required.
This is one of those meals. I’ve been making this Freestyle Pasta Primavera in some incarnation or another for as long as I can remember.
We call it freestyle because it comes together quickly with things I have on hand at the moment, so it’s always a little bit different. It’s a speedy way to get a real meal on the table that I can feel pretty good about serving, while soothing the Savage Beast at the same time.
All you need is a lot of fresh, non-watery vegetables such as broccoli, sweet peppers, carrots, and celery; along with lemon, olive oil, sharp Italian cheese, some pasta, kosher salt, and freshly cracked black pepper.
Bring a large stock pot full of water to a rolling boil, and then toss in a hefty handful of kosher salt. Don’t freak out about all the salt! The secret to great pasta is cooking it in what tastes like seawater.
Add the pasta to the salted water, stirring until it is completely submerged. Cook the pasta according to package directions until almost al dente. You don’t want to over cook the pasta now, because it’s going to finish cooking while simmering in the sauce.
While the pasta is cooking, chop the vegetables into bite sized pieces, and mince the garlic. My baby carrots were on the scrawny side, so I just left them whole.
Then go ahead and juice the lemon. If you are like me & are a little extra-lazy when you’re hungry, you won’t want to fool with a mesh strainer. Just be sure to fish the seeds out of the juice when you are done squeezing the lemon.
But don’t let being a little extra-lazy keep you from freshly grating the cheese. I like to use sharp Italian cheeses like Asiago, Fontina, or Parmigiana Reggiano. By the time you are done grating the cheese, the pasta should be ready.
*Before* draining the pasta, scoop a couple of cups of the cooking liquid out of the pot to use in the sauce. The cooking liquid serves as a base for the very light sauce, so don’t drain the pasta without saving it.
Full-Disclosure Alert: I have drained the pasta without saving the cooking liquid more times that I care to discuss, which results in a very flat-tasting pasta. I’d be lying if I told you that there was no swearing involved when that happens. Don’t be like me–save the pasta water!
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic and vegetables until they are barely crisp-tender–about 5 to 7 minutes. Season veggies with a hefty pinch of kosher salt and a few cranks of the pepper mill.
Pour the reserved pasta cooking liquid into the skillet. Give the whole thing a good stir to combine. Toss in another pinch of salt & pepper, if you’re feeling dangerous. Bring the sauce mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for two minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings. Remember that the pasta will have a lot of flavor after being cooked in salted water, so be careful not to over-season the sauce. The sauce should be simple, fresh and light.
While the skillet is still over low heat, add the hot, cooked pasta to the mix. I love wielding a big wad of pasta across the kitchen with a pair of tongs–makes me feel like a real cook.
Grab tong-fulls of pasta and vegetables, turning to coat and distribute the vegetables. Continue to simmer for another minute until everything is heated through, and the pasta has a chance to absorb a little of the sauce.
Turn off the heat, and sprinkle most of the shredded cheese on top. Turn the pasta with the tongs until the cheese is incorporated and mostly melted.
If you’re once Extra-Lazy Self has now been motivated to a Fancy-Pants State of Mind, then rub the interior of the serving bowls with a peeled garlic clove for a little extra pizzazz.
Serve your freestyle pasta Primavera in sassy bowls, with extra grated cheese on top.
Next time the Savage Beast of Exhaustion/Hunger/Mental Obscurity pays you a visit, feed her some Freestyle Pasta and tell her to chill out.