Dress up pasta to get other ingredients to the table

Pasta is my go-to for quick meals. For this Green Gravy Pasta, I used basil and spinach, red pepper flakes, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pound of spaghetti. If you’re cooking for carnivores, top with grilled chicken or shrimp.

You don’t have to have a sauce to enjoy pasta. I prefer to make tossed pasta with whatever I have on hand. I prefer a balance of raw and cooked vegetables tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salty cheese.

Suzanne Hanzl


Green Gravy Pasta

1 handful fresh basil leaves

4 large handfuls fresh spinach or other mixed greens

1 large garlic clove

A pinch of red pepper flakes

1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Extra virgin olive oil

Coarse kosher salt/fresh-cracked black pepper

1 pound pasta

Using a food processor, blend up the greens, garlic, red pepper flakes, cheese and generous amount of oil, enough to allow the ingredients to blend. Blend for about 10–15 seconds adding more oil to reach your desired consistency. It should be thick but well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve some hot pasta water to thin sauce as needed. Drain pasta and immediately add hot pasta to green sauce. Toss well and let rest a few minutes. Thin with hot pasta water as desired.

Excellent when served with grilled chicken, vegetables, pine nuts and more cheese.


■ I make the green gravy sauce often with just spinach with unanimous family approval.

■ Our home is nut free, but if yours is not, add in pine nuts or sunflower seeds to the sauce.

■ For a richer sauce, heat some heavy cream and toss with green sauce and pasta.

■ Top with grilled chicken or shrimp for added protein.

While I find most of the world is running away from pasta and other yummy gluten-filled foods, I still find pasta an excellent vehicle for those of us who can enjoy gluten.

Our family is faced with some food challenges, just as many households are these days. (No nuts, please!) Fortunately, gluten is not one of them so my adoration for pasta lives on.

I confess that pasta in any shape or form is one of my main go-to meals in a pinch. I always have a pound of pasta in the pantry for last minute meals. When time permits, I make my own, but then that’s not a go-to, is it?

If I could get away with it, undoubtedly I would eat pasta every day. It is quick, simple to prepare and can take on any direction or mood you would like to spin on it. Pasta can handle any sauce, any season, vegetable, meat, nuts and fruit even.

Crazy, I know, but one of my favorite summer pastas is a shredded chicken bow-tie pasta with red grapes, toasted walnuts and chives.

The funny thing is, I really don’t recall eating pasta as a child. Without exploring this further, I will go ahead and blame my mom for this. (Hi, Mom!)

It may be because we didn’t have anything growing up that wasn’t packed with wheat germ, flaxseed and yeast. I know you can probably find pasta today with those ingredients, but let’s pretend they don’t exist. So, moving on.

As much as I love pasta, I have no perfect recipe. But what is perfect about preparing a pasta meal is that you can cook some up, look around in the pantry, explore the refrigerator, possibly the yard and create a hearty and satisfying meal.

I always have greens, vegetables, canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, cheese and leftover meat of some variety in the pantry or freezer. A simple sauce of olive oil, red pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs from the garden, and you are set.

The pasta is merely the vehicle that gets the other ingredients to the table.

Or you can take it further by making a sauce. If I plan to make a sauce, I prefer to make a no-cook sauce or one that cooks in the just about the same amount of time as it takes to cook the pasta. Now that is a quick go-to meal.

Puree some fresh (or canned) tomatoes, garlic and herbs in a blender for an uncooked red sauce or make a quick basil spinach pesto sauce and you are set.

Once the hot pasta meets your quick sauce, all that is left is seasoning and savoring.

Typically, I don’t make a sauce. I prefer to make tossed pasta with whatever I have on hand. I prefer a balance of raw and cooked vegetables tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salty cheese.

If hubby is around, I have to throw in some evidence of meat. Ultimately, my goal for a one-pot meal is that it has a little something for everyone in it.

My husband can take it or leave it when it comes to pasta. So when he is away, you can imagine what we are eating.

My son usually wants creamy Alfredo and my daughter wants sausage and marinara. More directly, just sausage.

I don’t run a Burger King so no one other than me really gets their way, but I am willing to take on their requests as challenges.

This past week was crazy with after-school activities. So, on the drive home from soccer practice, I went through a mental inventory of my refrigerator and pantry. By the time I pulled up the driveway, I knew what we were having for dinner. Pasta.

I grabbed a few leaves of wilted basil from the past week, some lazy looking spinach and other mixed greens, red pepper flakes, one garlic clove, olive oil and what remained of our Parmesan cheese and a pound of spaghetti.

While the pasta water was coming to a boil, I blended up the greens, garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes with generous amount of olive oil in my food processor.

I grated what was left of the cheese into the sauce, blended it a few times and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Essentially, it was a pesto without nuts. Our home is nut free, so true pesto is not an option, anyway.

By the time the pasta water was bubbling, my quick green gravy sauce (as the kids call it) was ready and waiting.

I placed the brilliant green sauce in a large serving bowl. Once the hot pasta was al dente, I quickly drained it reserving some pasta water. I immediately added the hot noodles to the sauce and could instantly smell the aromas of the greens, garlic and Parmesan. Yum.

I tossed the pasta with sauce, and let it rest for a few moments, knowing the pasta would soak up any liquid it could. I tossed it a few more times and drizzled in some reserved pasta water to loosen it up.

Dinner was served. No stress.

I used up some less than desirable ingredients, and pasta was once again my vehicle for doing so.

Suzanne Hanzl is a personal chef, culinary instructor and owner of Tourné Cooking School, tournecooking.com. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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