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Pasta is the way to go when you’re in a hurry

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

runch time is here as we get ready to go back to school or have already gone back.

After-school activities will start — lessons, sports, practice, homework.

Or you’ve been cooking so carefully all summer and you just need a little break.

Mondays can be crazy for any reason. Maybe you didn’t get your shopping done this weekend, or you don’t want to spend a lot of time cutting things up.

For many of us pasta is the go-to easy meal. It cooks up in 10 minutes, you throw some stuff in with it, dinner’s on the table.

Even people who are going gluten free can find acceptable pastas now. Corn pasta is a favorite because it still has a firm texture. You may find pasta made from brown rice, quinoa or a combination.

The tradeoff might be flavor and texture, but if your sauce is good enough, the pasta’s just there to hold everything together. Checking out some taste tests, it looks like corn is the winner, with a mixture of corn and rice or corn and quinoa as runners up.

You don’t have to do tomatoes in every pasta dish. There are great creamy sauces, and some that are based on things like basil pesto or wine, garlic and olive oil.

Here’s a couple the kids will enjoy.

Skillet Pizza Pasta

• 2 cups whole wheat penne pasta

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1/2 cup sliced pepperoni

• 1/2 green or red bell pepper, sliced into strips

• 1/2 yellow onion, diced

• 2 cups tomato sauce

• 1/4 cup black olives

• Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. While it is cooking, add olive oil to a large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.

Brown pepperoni, bell peppers and onion for 5-7 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium low and add tomato sauce and olives. Add cooked pasta and stir ingredients to combine. Once heated through, top with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Variation: Add or substitute mushrooms and sausage.

— Mom to Mom Nutrition

Ranch Ham Pasta Dinner

• 8 ounces gluten free rice pasta (or your choice)

• 8 Tbsp. butter, cubed

• 1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

• 1 cup frozen peas and carrots or mixed vegetables, thawed

• 3 cups cubed ham (or turkey or chicken)

• 1 cup sour cream, optional

Cook penne pasta to package directions.

While it is cooking, melt butter in a large skillet. Stir in ranch salad dressing mix until smooth. Add peas and carrots (or mixed vegetables) and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta liquid, and stir pasta into skillet. Stir in ham and cook until heated through. If the sauce needs a little thinning, add a bit of the pasta cooking water. If using sour cream, stir in after everything is heated through.

This can be rather salty, so cooked chicken or even canned tuna could be substituted.

— Lazy Gluten Free

For those in the family who like it hot:

Buffalo Chicken
Mac and Cheese

• 4 cups elbow macaroni (cooked to package directions)

• 1 cup whole milk

• 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

• 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

• 11/4 cups buffalo wing sauce, divided

• 1 cup cooked chicken, cubed

• 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, heat milk. Add sharp cheddar and mozzarella cheeses and stir until melted.

Stir in buffalo wing sauce.

Pour in chicken and cooked macaroni. Spread in the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbling and golden around the edges. Drizzle with more wing sauce and top with blue cheese. Bake another 5-10 minutes.

If that’s too much hot sauce for you, just leave some of it out.

— Baking Beauty

Ultimate Tuna Casserole

• 7 ounces macaroni, cooked to package directions

• 101/2 ounces cream of mushroom soup

• 1 cup sour cream

• 7.06 ounce albacore tuna in water (pouch)

• 1/2 cup milk

• 9 ounces creamed spinach, thawed

• 11/2 cup French-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine cooked macaroni, soup, sour cream, tuna and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon half of the macaroni mixture into the casserole dish. Spread with creamed spinach, then top with remaining macaroni.

Cover and bake for 55 minutes, or until casserole is bubbling. Remove from oven, remove cover, top with French-fried onions and bake for another 5 minutes.

— The Dutch Baker’s Daughter

Philly Cheesesteak
Pasta Skillet

• 1 Tbsp. olive oil

• 1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick

• 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided

• 1 medium red bell pepper, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1 pound ground chuck

• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 8 ounces dry rotini pasta

• 31/2 cups low sodium chicken broth

• 11/2 cups shredded provolone cheese, divided

• 11/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese, divided

Heat the oil in a 10-inch, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp. salt and sauté until beginning to brown and soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the peppers begin to soften and garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground chuck, black pepper and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until browned and no pink remains, 5-7 minutes.

Stir the pasta into the beef and onion mixture. Pour in the chicken broth, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the broiler to high.

Stir half the grated provolone and pepper jack into the pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Broil until the cheese melts and turns golden brown, 2-3 minutes.

Serve with a green salad.

— the kitchn

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