It’s been a long week. There’s been too much to do, and far too little sleep. I fell on my head at yoga. The kitchen sink clogged. I’ve been glaring at Turbo Tax in frustrated boredom when I really would rather be in bed with some cheese and a book. I’ve barely kept one step ahead of the need to pick up fast food on my way home. But when I don’t have the time go to the store, nor the mental bandwidth to cook anything new or complicated–or frankly anything that requires more than about 30 seconds of thought—it’s time to put some penne pasta on to boil and clear out the odds and ends in the refrigerator.
You just can’t plan and shop for this kind of meal. It’s composed of scraps, really—a fusion of serendipity and ingenuity. Half a chicken breast, the tail end of a zucchini, mushrooms starting to go soft, a chunk of green pepper, a tomato, a handful of kale. There is always part of an onion languishing in the crisper, and some garlic. It all hits the cutting board for a quick chop, dice or shred. Steam escapes the edges of the pot of boiling salted water, and I throw in the penne. Everything else gets sautéed quickly before adding the drained pasta, a glug of olive oil, some canned cannellini beans, and a final sprinkling of salt, pepper, and parmesan.
And suddenly, as I sit down to a steaming plate of goodness, I don’t feel quite so beleaguered. Short on time I may be, but I’m covering the important bases here—food for the body, food for the soul.
This is more of a method than a recipe. The ingredients can be adjusted endlessly to suit your tastes and the contents of your refrigerator. Ideally, it should include some protein—leftover fish, shrimp, tofu, or any meat you have–all are fair game. If you have a can or a handful of leftover cooked beans, use them.
This dish is a little different every time. Whatever combination of odds and ends present themselves becomes the building blocks of a satisfying peasant dinner, and maybe tomorrow’s lunch too.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, dice ¼ small onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Chop up 2-3 cups of mixed vegetables—anything goes here. Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, spinach, chard, or kale.
Add 8 oz of penne to boiling water, reduce heat and cover. While pasta is cooking, heat a tbsp of olive oil in large sauté pan or wok, and sauté vegetables quickly. Add meat and/or beans, a touch more olive oil, a dab of butter, and heat through.
Drain pasta and add to mixture in wok. Stir to mix thoroughly, then generously salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parmesan.