- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

On weeknights, my best friend is pasta. All I have to do is glance at the pantry shelf and use a little imagination.

While the pasta is cooking, I assemble the sauce. It might be roasted red peppers, or it might be a jar of marinara sauce and a little olive paste. Or it might be artichoke hearts with some fresh tomatoes, as in this recipe.

Who says weeknights have to be boring? This dish is welcome because the sauce is light and does not smother the tortellini.

For a beautiful yellow color, use yellow tomatoes in the slaw. Add a little chopped yellow bell pepper for bite, and substitute another herb for the basil, if you like.

To round out the meal, toss together a Caesar salad or steam some slender green beans. Serve fresh fruit, such as sliced apples and pears. For dessert, bake hot gingerbread right from the box.

Five time-shaving weeknight pasta toppers:

Begin with pasta of your choice — spaghetti, linguine, penne, rigatoni — then top it with something you create from the pantry and refrigerator:

• Toss chopped fresh or canned tomatoes with fresh basil, crumbled feta, sliced black olives, olive oil and a tablespoon of capers.

m Saute your choice of sliced mushrooms in a little olive oil and butter. Add a handful of chopped ham, then a little flour, followed by cream or milk to thicken and shredded Parmesan cheese.

m Saute garlic slices in olive oil until brown, then remove. Add slices of zucchini and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Fold in the cooked garlic and serve with Parmesan cheese.

m Season store-bought tomato pasta sauce with a smidgen of hot pepper, a touch of cream and a dash of vodka.

• Cook ground turkey, season with taco seasoning, and add a drained can of spicy tomatoes, a small can of corn, a cup of drained black beans and ground cumin to taste. Serve with shredded Monterey jack cheese and fresh cilantro.

Cheese tortellini with a fresh tomato and artichoke slaw

Salt (optional), for cooking the pasta

1 9-ounce package refrigerated fresh cheese tortellini

1 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts with their liquid

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon store-bought pesto

1 pint (2 cups) grape or cherry tomatoes, or 2 cups chopped tomatoes (from 2 medium-size tomatoes)

1 teaspoon capers, drained

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt, if using, and stir in the tortellini.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the tortellini, uncovered, until al dente, 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the artichoke hearts with their liquid, basil, and tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse 10 times, or until the mixture has a slawlike consistency.

Stir in the capers.

Drain the tortellini well in a colander, shaking it a few times to remove any water that might still cling to the pasta. Transfer the tortellini to a serving bowl or serving plates. Pour the slaw over the tortellini and sprinkle the cheese on top.

Serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

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

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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