Quick & Easy
By Beverly Barbour
Double duty dishes
What is good enough for company and fast enough for family meals? Pasta! Probably the most versatile food in the world (rice lovers may argue this) pasta pleases everyone. I've never met a person who didn't relish forking the satisfying food into the cavernous void, supplying food for the soul as well as the engine that keeps us moving around with open mouths.
The only thing to remember when cooking pasta is that the salted water in a very deep pot) must be boiling very had when the pasta is slowly added. To keep long strings of pasta from sticking together fan them out and push them into the water as the pasta softens. Keep the water boiling hard as the pasta is added and as it cooks, to keep the pieces from sticking together. A few drops of vegetable oil in the cooking water will help to keep the water from bouncing out of the pan.
Pasta should NOT be overcooked. The term the Italians us is al dente (to the tooth) which means just barely cooked through, so that the starch taste is gone but the product is still firm. After eight minutes pull out a strand and taste it. Larger, thicker pieces take longer. Most packages give good directions.
Here are a few elegant pasta dishes to add to your "REALLY, REALLY GOOD" file.
SPAGHETTINI WITH AUTUMN SQUASH
You can add 2 tablespoons diced red pepper for a touch of color, says Marlena Spieler of San Francisco.
1 pound peeled butternut squash, cut into bite-size pieces
Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and add squash pieces. While squash cooks, mash the garlic with the butter, chili powder, several shakes of paprika, a large pinch of cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper and the lime juice. Set aside. When squash is almost cooked through, add the spaghettini and cook in a rolling boil until both pasta and squash are al dente tender. Drain, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss pasta and squash with butter and cheese, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary to blend the ingredients. Serve very hot. Makes 4 servings.
Smoked salmon or flaked leftover cooked salmon both work well.
8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
Boil pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small pan and heat without boiling; stir in the Parmesan and keep warm,. Place frozen peas in large colander set in a large bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it into the colander over peas, The heat of the pasta and water will cook the peas. Reserve 1/2 cup of this cooking water and discard the rest. Turn pasta with the peas into a warm bowl. Add the warm cream-Parmesan mixture and stir-toss to coat pasta. Mix in salmon and fresh dill, adding a little of the reserved cooking water if pasta seems dry. Add pepper and taste for salt, as salmon can be quite salty. Serve with lemon wedges and grated cheese. Makes 6 appetizer servings or 3 servings as a main course.
CAJUN CHICKEN PASTA
Marlene Neufeld of Buhler, KS sent this excellent dish to last year's recipe contest.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips
Place chicken and Cajun seasoning in a bowl or plastic bag; toss or shake to coat. In large skillet over medium heat, saute chicken in butter about 5 minutes. Add pepper, mushrooms and onion; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat. Add cream and seasoning, heat through. Add linguine and toss; heat through. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Makes 2 servings.
PASSA THE PASTA ANYTIME