Super-fast pasta relies on a few tricks

Posted May 24, 2011, at 5:28 p.m.

You can’t beat a pasta dish when you need to toss together a quick dinner.

Dried pasta is the ultimate got-to-have pantry staple.

It’s ideal because most dried pastas can be ready to eat in less than 10 minutes. If you’re really in a hurry, fresh pasta can be ready in about 3 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, you can multitask as you prepare the other ingredients. The pasta cooking water can double as your kitchen helper.

Here are a few tips:

Cook the vegetables with the pasta. Add them during the last 2 minutes of cooking time. This saves time and energy. It also cooks the vegetables just the way I like them — crisp-tender. Add them sooner if you like them on the softer side.

Make sure the vegetables are cut uniformly for even cooking. Any vegetables will do. Think asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and even spinach. In today’s recipe, half a bag of mixed yellow and green beans squirreled away in the freezer did the trick.

While the water heats, instead of covering the pot with a lid to speed up the boiling process, set a heatproof bowl inside the pot. Add sauce ingredients, such as butter, olive oil and cheese to the bowl and whisk until heated through or melted. Once the water boils, remove the bowl and set it aside.

Before you drain the pasta, take a glass measuring cup or large coffee mug and scoop out some of the cooking water. You can use the water to thin out the sauce if needed or to moisten the pasta.

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is prepping the herbs. You can use any variety, just make sure they’re fresh, not dried. Keep in mind, too, that sage and rosemary are fairly strong and can easily overpower a dish.

When preparing fresh herbs, gently rinse them under cool water, but don’t soak them. Dry them well with paper towels before chopping. It’s best to chop them just before you add them to the recipe.

Finally, grate the Parmesan fresh. This pumps up the flavor, and you will use less of the pricey cheese.

Pasta with herbs and greens

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium shallots, peeled, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

½ cup vegetable broth or fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

½ cup dry white wine

12 ounces linguine, fettuccini or spaghetti

2 cups frozen mixed green and yellow beans

½ cup packed fresh basil leaves

¼ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

¼ cup snipped fresh chives

1/3 to ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, if desired.

Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium. Add the shallots; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, sage, oregano, rosemary and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute, stirring. Add broth and wine. Heat on high to boiling . Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Remove from heat.

While the sauce cooks, add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the frozen beans to the pasta.

Reserve ¼ cup pasta cooking water; drain the pasta and beans. Return them to the pot. Stir in wine mixture along with the basil, parsley, chives and reserved pasta water. Toss until well-combined.

Divide pasta among 4 serving plates or bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

Adapted from Good Housekeeping magazine, May 2011 issue.

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen.

446 calories (20 percent from fat), 10 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 69 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 370 mg sodium, 88 mg cholesterol, 5 grams fiber.

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