- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Don’t get me wrong, I love food shopping. It occupies much of my life, as a food writer and as a busy mom. But there are just some days I cannot walk into the store and be greeted by another line.

So I open my pantry, much like a book lover peruses a table of contents, and check out what I’ve got that could equal dinner.

Most often, the equation includes pasta.

Especially the quick-cooking noodles such as angel hair that are ready in as few as 2 or as many as 4 minutes — read the package instructions well so you don’t overcook these delicate and speedy pastas.

I think that a full-bodied Italian puttanesca sauce is a perfect accompaniment for these light pastas.

The version here is based on a jar of marinara that you doctor with store-bought black-olive paste, capers and hot red pepper flakes. All ingredients can be stored right in your pantry.

For a fresh garnish, add chopped parsley, if you have it. If not, add chopped scallions or chopped fresh basil from the garden. This is just the recipe for kicking back on Saturday night or any night you can’t bear to shop.

Oh, and if getting angel hair pasta to stay on the fork gives you trouble, break the pasta in half before you add it to the pot.

The difference is like combing out tangles in short versus long hair.

FIVE TIME-SHAVING WAYS TO USE MARINARA SAUCE:

Pasta sauce in the jar is one of the most useful time-saving ingredients in our kitchen. In addition to topping boiled pasta with it, here are some other ways I’ve found to use and enhance it:

• Spread thinly onto flour tortillas, cover in shredded mozzarella cheese, then heat on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven until the cheese bubbles, 8 to 10 minutes.

• Saute 1/2 cup chopped onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add a 26-ounce jar of pasta sauce plus 1 cup heavy cream. Cook over low heat until well combined, 3 to 4 minutes. Use as a tomato cream sauce over grilled lamb chops, or thin slightly with chicken broth or water, add fresh chopped basil, and serve as a creamy tomato-basil soup.

• Spread sauce on slices of French bread, top with grated Parmesan cheese and a dab of prepared pesto, if you have it on hand, then run under the broiler until the cheese melts. Serve alongside a main dish salad or with a glass of wine.

• Look into the vegetable bin and chop 2 cups of whatever you’ve got on hand — zucchini, eggplant, beans, onions, mushrooms, etc. Saute these in 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the jar of sauce, and let simmer down until the vegetables are softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over pasta and crumble feta cheese on top.

• And my favorite in-a-pinch main dish: Layer sauce, shredded mozzarella and sauteed eggplant in a casserole dish. Cover and bake at 375 degrees until bubbly, 40 minutes.

‘Saturday Night Fever’ pasta

The preparation time is 8 minutes, and the cooking time is 4 minutes.

Salt for cooking the pasta, optional

8 ounces angel hair pasta

2 cups store-bought marinara sauce (from one 26-ounce jar)

3 tablespoons black olive paste

2 tablespoons capers, drained

½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or more to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt, if desired, and stir in the angel hair pasta. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook the angel hair, uncovered, until al dente, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, place marinara sauce, olive paste, capers and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil, stirring, then remove pan from heat. Cover pan to keep sauce warm.

Drain angel hair well in a colander, shaking it a few times to remove any water that might still cling to the pasta. Return angel hair to pot. Spoon sauce over it and stir to coat pasta well. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Anne Byrn is the author of the popular “Doctor” series of cookbooks, including “The Cake Mix Doctor” and “The Dinner Doctor” and “Cupcakes From the Cake Mix Doctor” (Workman Publishing).

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