What is one of your fall-back dinners when you really have nothing planned but need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or so? One of our go-to recipes is based on pasta. We pretty much always have some in the pantry, and with a ground meat of some type such as beef, turkey, lamb, or sausage this becomes the basis for dinner.
And if there is no homemade red sauce in our freezer, we always have a commercial jar or two in the cupboard. Our current choice happens to be the great tasting White Linen brand with a low-sugar content which can be found at Costco. It weighs in at a hefty 40 ounces allowing for lots of add-ins.
We start with about a pound of pasta cooked to package directions, brown up a pound of ground meat, sauté chopped veggies and add some fresh herbs like basil or oregano. Top with grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Reggiano, pair with a side salad, dinner done!
There is so much flexibility with this meal concept. With a plethora of jarred sauce options, just select your favorite. However, you may have to use more than one jar’s worth if the volume is much less than 32 ounces. The following list of ingredients is for reference only—adjust the amounts according to your own preferences.
Every autumn we always harvest any leftover basil from our herb garden and blend it with some olive oil, fill silicone ice cube trays with the mixture, and freeze the cubes. They come in handy when making soups, dips, and sauces. We threw one in this sauce along with the jarred marinara.
1 lb. ground meat such as beef, turkey, lamb or sausage
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, 3/4″ chop
1 large onion, roughly chopped
8-12 oz. mushrooms, cremini or white, roughly chopped
1 lb. pasta, cooked according to package directions
Grated Parm or Pecorino for topping
1/4 cup fresh basil or oregano, chopped, more for for garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Pour olive oil into a large sauté pan and when hot, add the ground meat. Cook until no longer pink, stirring often, about 8 minutes (depending on your meat of choice). Remove meat from pan to a cutting board and chop smaller if necessary.
Add the chopped pepper and onion to the meat drippings, cook until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking another 5 minutes.
Return the ground meat to the pan with the vegetables and pour in the jarred marinara sauce. Over medium heat, cook the sauce mixture until hot while the pasta finishes cooking.
Drain the pasta when done. Stir the fresh herbs into the sauce and plate each serving in large bowls, topping each with grated cheese and more fresh herbs.
This savory pasta dish was inspired by kawarma, the spicy ground beef topping spooned over hummus in Israel. Milk Street re-envisioned it over pasta with just a few adjustments, resulting in a ground beef sauce seasoned with fragrant spices and generous amounts of onion and garlic, all lightened with a good dose of mint at the end.
I was scratching my head over the ingredients, wondering how they would all come together. Well we were both surprised how delicious the meal was! While we didn’t change anything dramatically, the amount of ground beef was a stretch over the one-and-a-half pounds by another four ounces, no biggie.
Milk Street warns not use ground beef fattier than 90 percent lean or the sauce will be greasy. However, we happened to have an 85 percent lean ground beef in the house and just made sure to siphon off the grease after Step 2, before adding the tomatoes. The type of pasta was switched from linguine to cellentani because that’s what we happened to have on hand, plus I think the feta clung to those curves more willingly.
And by all means, make sure to use authentic Greek block feta, not the already crumbled bits packaged in plastic containers—the taste is immeasurably more pleasant. Rather than sprinkle the feta as a garnish, it is tossed in with the just-cooked noodles so it melts and coats the strands, or in our case, the cork screws because we used cellentani pasta.
Perhaps because of the extra beef and thicker pasta, our version would easily feed five.
12 oz. cellentani, linguine, or your choice of pasta
8 oz. block feta cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
1 cup chopped fresh mint
In a medium bowl, combine the beef, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper and ¼ cup water. Mix with your hands until homogenous.
Add the beef mixture, onion and garlic to a 12-inch skillet. Set the pan over medium-high and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the onion has softened and the beef is no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes with juices and bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium and cook uncovered, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt; cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water (you probably won’t need it all), then drain the pasta.
Return the pasta to the pot. Add about ¾ of the feta and toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper, add reserved pasta water a bit at a time to loosen if needed, then transfer to a platter.
Stir the mint into the sauce, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining feta.
We’ve been particularly enamored of Mediterranean-inspired dishes as of late and this vegetarian pasta dish is loaded with the robust flavors of that region. It’s a riff on a recipe from “The Italian Country Table” by Lynn Rosetto Kasper, who found inspiration for the citrusy, savory tomato sauce in the markets of Siracusa, on the island of Sicily.
We found this recipe in a recent copy of Milk Street Magazine where they prefer the meaty, concentrated flavor of oil-cured black olives, but insist milder green olives (such as Castelvetrano) work well, too. Having oil-cured black olives on hand, we used them. The only major difference we made was to use fresh oregano at a ratio of 3-to-1, that is 1 tablespoon of fresh for the 1 teaspoon of dried.
The sharp tang of pecorino Romano cheese is an especially good match for the fruity, herbal flavors. While warm, crusty bread makes a nice partner to the dish, we opted for less carbs and paired the pasta with a side salad.
It was wonderful again the next day for lunch. Just drizzle a little EVOO over the top, cover and microwave for a few minutes, top with more grated cheese.
TIP: Don’t boil the pasta until al dente. Drain it when it’s a few minutes shy of al dente, but don’t forget to reserve about 1 cup of cooking water first. The pasta will finish cooking directly in the sauce, which allows the noodles to absorb flavor.
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest, plus ½ cup orange juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
2 pints grape tomatoes
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn into small pieces
½ cup pitted oil-cured black olives or green olives, finely chopped
2 oz. pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (1 cup)
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, orange zest, oregano and pepper flakes, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and orange juice, cover and cook until the tomatoes begin to burst, about 4 minutes.
Reduce to medium, then press on any whole tomatoes with the back of a spoon so they burst. If the pasta is not yet done, remove the skillet from the heat, cover and set aside.
To the skillet, add the drained pasta and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook, tossing with tongs, until the pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.
Off heat, add the basil, olives and half of the cheese, then toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water if needed so the sauce coats the noodles. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and drizzle with additional oil.
What to do for dinner in late-summer/early-fall with an abundance of grape tomatoes and fresh herbs? Well that would be Skillet Burst Grape Tomato Casarecce with Lemony Breadcrumbs. It’s a very simple pan roasted grape tomato pasta with white wine, garlic, fresh herbs, topped with the most crunchy lemony breadcrumbs, and finished with luscious burrata cheese.
This perfect late-summer dinner is ready in under 30 minutes using basic pantry staples and end-of-season garden bounty. If you’ve never used it, Casarecce pasta is a very narrow, twisted, and rolled tube, almost resembling a scroll. If you can’t find it, substitute a similar twisted, tubular pasta like cavatappi, cavatelli, gemelli, or fusilli.
If you have any leftovers, keep the bread crumbs and buratta separate. When ready to eat, reheat the pasta in a microwave for a few minutes, then top with crumbs and cheese.
Skillet Burst Grape Tomato Casarecce with Lemony Breadcrumbs
1 pound casarecce pasta, or other twisted tubular pasta
1 1/4 lbs. red and yellow grape tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup manchego cheese, grated
2 cups fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 balls fresh burrata cheese, each ball split in two
In a large skillet set over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the bread, a pinch of red pepper flakes and pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until golden and toasted all over, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Slide bread crumbs onto a plate. Wipe the skillet clean.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
Meanwhile, place the same skillet used for the bread over high heat and add the remaining olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and oregano, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes. Pour in the wine, cook 1 minute.
Add the pasta and a splash of the pasta cooking water to the skillet, tossing to combine. Remove from the heat and add the manchego cheese and basil, toss to combine. If needed, thin the pasta sauce with a little of the reserved cooking water.
Divide the pasta among shallow bowls, nestle in half a burrata ball, and top with bread crumbs.