When I want comfort food, I typically reach for some sort of pasta. And with a well-stocked pantry (I tend to include my dry storage cabinet as well as refrigerator and freezer), it’s a quick, easy, hearty, and delicious meal.
Any of these recipes can be modified to suit your taste. You can make them more hearty by adding tofu, tempeh, or chicken-less shreds, etc. Add some additional frozen veggies (or fresh or canned or from your garden) for added nutrition. As in the case of the Broccoli and Macaroni Soup, swap out the broccoli for cauliflower; and you have a completely different soup. Or, swap out the pasta for another grain, such as quinoa, farro, millet, brown rice. Add some peanut butter or other nut butter to the Sesame noodles for added richness. Make it your own. Use what you have in your pantry.
Cold Sesame Buckwheat Noodles
When I have a hankering for Asian and want it in a pinch, this is my go-to pasta recipe. Using chop sticks really makes me feel like I’m having take-out, but I have to say that I’ve not ever had take-out sesame noodles as tasty as these. I always make the entire pound of pasta…while this recipe is incredible when eaten immediately, it always parks well. It is even great warmed in a scant amount of oil or broth to loosen the refrigerated pasta and bring out the flavors of the garlic and red chili pepper. After plating, drizzle a scant amount of sesame oil atop the pasta to re-enliven the sesame flavor.
Broccoli & Macaroni Soup
I can’t ever make this robust Italian peasant meal without reminiscing about all those ‘girl’ trips that were taken with my Grandma Mary, my mother, my cousin Debbie, and sometimes other gals down to the Jersey Shore, Wildwood Crest, staying at the Villa Nova Hotel, right on the beach, to be exact.
My mother, in her day, was a beach maven. Every summer, she was known to hop in her Black Cadillac at 8am, heading down to the shore. Her friends knew that the car was leaving then, so be there or be square. If you were there, great, hop in the car. She who hesitates missed out on the beach adventure for that day.
But in addition to Mom’s day-long excursions, there was always the annual week-long jaunts to Wildwood Crest. We always had a room that faced not only the ocean but also the built-in pool that was just off the beach. The room was an efficiency, which meant we weren’t going out to eat much with Grandma Mary in tow. Oh no, she would be in the room cooking while us other gals were out frolicking in either the Atlantic Ocean or the pool, or sun-bathing on the beach (with lots of lemon juice and water or Sun-in soaked in our hair in the hopes that we would return home tanned and with lighter hair). Ok, I digress here. Back to food and Grandma Mary in the kitchen.
Of course, there was always the pot of gravy (some may call it tomato sauce, but hey, we’re Jersey Italians, so gravy it is ) with meatballs. But my absolute favorite meal was Broccoli and Macaroni soup.
Trust me, it doesn’t get any easier than this. While I’ve tweaked it as an adult, it still brings me back to these wonderful memories of my summer youth.
Grandma Mary’s version was simply frozen broccoli and pasta with a drizzle of olive oil to finish, but of course, me being me, I added my own small twist. So, here goes…..
Put either fresh chopped or frozen broccoli in a large pot. Don’t worry if the broccoli isn’t bite-sized, we will address that in a short while.
Add water enough to cover all the broccoli plus an additional two inches, or so. Remember, you can always add water but you can’t take away. Now, if you’ve been following my blogs, you might have gathered by now that I rarely use just water. I typically will add a broth of some sort rather than water as it’s another opportunity to bring more flavor. Ah, but not here. This is all about the broccoli, so only water, please. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the broccoli is very tender, yes, very tender. If your broccoli started out as large chucks, use a potato masher to break up the broccoli. This will also help to bring out the flavor of the soup.
While this broccoli is simmering away and creating your broccoli broth, in a small saucepan add 3-4 minced garlic cloves with ½ teaspoon (or more, depending on the heat profile of your preference) with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bring to a slight simmer, reduce the heat to low, and allow the garlic to sauté until fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Add salt. You’ll be adding the pasta directly into this soup, so use a tad more salt that you would typically use as you want not only the broth but also the pasta to be flavorful. (If you’ve made what you consider to be a double batch of soup, here’s where you’ll want to remove the half that you will be parking to later use. This soup, up to this point, freezes remarkably well. I never, not ever make it without making a double batch).
Raise the heat to bring the soup back up to a boil, then add the pasta (best to use a small pasta such as ditalis or elbows). Cook until still quite al dente, typically 6-7 minutes if using elbows or similar (as the pasta will continue to cook when you remove it off the stove and allow it to cool for a minute or two before serving.
Remove from heat. Just before serving, pour the garlic/red pepper/olive oil mixture into the soup. Serve with Follow our Heart grated Parmesan cheese or your favorite mixture of toasted nuts with nutritional yeast ground up as a grated cheese topping.
Easy-Peasy Pasta with Peas (or Beans or Lentils)
Put a pot of water on for your pasta. Choose a whole grain pasta, such as brown rice pasta. Or, you can get more bang for your buck nutritionally by using one of those pastas that are packed with not only whole grain carbs but also protein—such as, black bean or adzuki bean pasta. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than required.
While the water is boiling and you are cooking your pasta, make the sauce.
In a large (and I do mean large as it will matter later) sauté pan, sauté a chopped onion in olive oil or avocado oil until translucent.
Add minced garlic and crushed red pepper, and sauté until fragrant. At this point, you can add a variety of spices or spice blends of your liking, which will create a different flavor profile depending on the spice(s) you select–such as lemongrass and Thai chili paste; or turmeric, cumin, coriander, curry powder; or Chinese five-spice. Now all this being said, it is also a delicious sauce without adding the additional spice blends. Your dinner, your choice.
Add (optional) some white wine and simmer for 2 minutes to deglaze the pan and to cook out the alcohol. Do not reduce all the way as this broth becomes your liquid for the sauce. If you don’t want to use wine, a vegetable stock or water will work equally well.
Add a can of drained beans, or cooked lentils, or peas to the sauce. Simmer to warm through.
When the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid.
Add the pasta to the sauce pan (this is why I said earlier to use a large saute pan). Toss the pasta with sauce until warmed through. If you need additional liquid, add some of the pasta water.
For more versatility, you can use whatever vegetables or combination you like. Have leftover veggies, use them. Toss in vegan chickenless strips or beef cubes. Have some vegan yogurt or nut crema, add that in for a creamy sauce. Toss in some nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.
A healthy and delicious meal need not be laborious, costly, or boring. Be creative. But most importantly, enjoy the fuel that you put into your body.